Karen Munson Savors the Sweet Taste of Success

Karen Munson, the president of Munson's Chocolates, in her retail store in Bolton, CT.  At this location, Munson's produces 350,000 pounds of chocolate per year.  (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)
Karen Munson, the president of Munson’s Chocolates, in her retail store in Bolton, CT. At this location, Munson’s produces 350,000 pounds of chocolate per year. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)

Karen Munson is the president of Munson’s Chocolates and a third-generation chocolatier. Her paternal grandparents founded the Dandy Candy Co. in Manchester, Conn. in 1946, using sugar rations from the end of WWII to create ribbon candy and other treats.

Today, the company known as Munson’s is the largest retail chocolate manufacturer in Connecticut. Munson’s makes 350,000 pounds of chocolate a year at its Bolton, Conn., headquarters and sells it through eight retail outlets across the state, employing 150 people.

Munson, who earned her bachelor’s degree at UConn in 1986, recently shared some of the business perspective she has developed over the years.

Do you ever get tired of chocolate? Do you have a favorite treat? And if you weren’t in the candy business, what would you be doing?

“No, I don’t ever get tired of chocolate. I love it and I eat it every day! As far as a favorite, that is kind of like picking your favorite child, but I love anything with caramel, nuts and peanut butter. And I honestly can’t think of another thing I would do. I have chocolate in my veins!”

As a third-generation family business owner, do you feel extraordinary pressure to make sure the company thrives?

“Absolutely. I feel tremendous pressure to live up to what my grandparents started and to make sure I’m not letting them down. They made tremendous sacrifices to build this company from scratch, and their struggles make my challenges pale in comparison.”

What prepared you to become president of such a well-known Connecticut business?

“I started working here as a young child, helping out after school. My first jobs involved breaking up jellies to be added to the candy and removing mint wafers from the packaging. My education was a key component. Studying psychology and business gave me the skills I needed to run an organization. I also must credit my father, who instilled in me my entrepreneurial skills. My father was the toughest boss you’d ever know. But it came from his unbridled passion for this business, that cannot be reduced to words. His worth ethic was ferocious and something I hope to pass on to my daughter, Alex, who is a senior at UConn and a third-generation Husky.”

Do you have any advice for young people interested in being corporate executives?

“To be an entrepreneur you have to be driven, focused, curious, determined and fearless. You have to be self-motivated and self-aware. You must have a fiercely strong work ethic. If you have those traits and that mindset it will prepare you for success. Any employer would be fighting for you.”

What is your favorite part of the job and what keeps you up at night?

“I heard someone once describe himself as the CWO, Chief Worry Officer. I think that’s an inherent part of the job and sometimes that does keep me up at night. My favorite part is the creative side. I’m always thinking ‘What can we do differently? How can we be more creative?’ When we try something new—like our Connecticut craft-beer chocolates or our wine-infused candy derived from the Connecticut wine trail—and it’s a hit, you feel such a sense of pride. One of the things we try to do is cross-promote other Connecticut companies.”

How has Munson’s embraced its traditional values while addressing the new challenges?

“We recently hosted 250 candy manufacturers from across the U.S. for a Retail Confectioners International conference. They couldn’t believe how spotless our facility is. We have employees who have been here for 20-, 30- and 40 years. They take tremendous pride in our business and in our brand.

“We always strive to be at the forefront of what we do. For our team, food safety is a very big deal. We use local products, and we track our raw materials constantly and carefully. We also strive to have zero waste. When we have leftover almond pieces, for instance, we make almond butter to incorporate into our chocolate.”