Holding a framed certificate wider than himself, Joe Dutra smiled broadly as he stood next to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
Dutra, CEO, president and founder of Kimmie Candy, accepted the President’s “E” Award in Washington, D.C., for his company’s work in the export market. It was among 123 U.S.-based companies that were recognized Monday for growing their export market for the past few years.
“I was very honored because I didn’t think we were in the running,” Dutra said. “We were very proud to have received it.”
Companies who show successful export growth over four years qualify for the award, said Derrick Small, U.S. commercial service communications specialist.
“It’s for companies who show exemplary status in exporting through various markets,” Small said.
Since 2008, after moving Kimmie Candy productions back to the U.S., Dutra said he’s seen his business’ export market expand.
About 85 percent of his sales are U.S based, while 15 percent come from overseas. His biggest sales are in Mexico and Canada, but his company has business growing in Korea, the Philippines, and most recently, the Middle East.
The Sacramento, California, native dove into the candy business in late 1998 after a friend offered him a deal: if Dutra bought 40,000 pounds of candy at a low price, they’d sell it all, Dutra would get his money back, and they would split the profit.
But breaking into the industry wasn’t easy, Dutra said. They had a hard time getting the company off the ground.
“Everybody told me I couldn’t start a candy company from scratch, and that motivated me more. So we just put all of a lot of efforts into making it a successful company,” the 63-year-old said.
He read “The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the World of Hershey and Mars,” a book that told the successes and hardships of bigger candy companies, he said. He was fascinated by the candy industry, and in 2000, he first established Kimmie Candy Co., named after a friend.. He later dropped “Co.” from the name to give it a more personal touch.
Janis Kalnins, director of the Northern Nevada Export Assistance Service, said he knew Dutra would be a candidate for the award because of his experience and expertise in the market.
“He just does everything right. He’s a great business man, it’s a great company, it’s a great product,” he said, adding that he knew the candy company met the criteria of the awards qualifications. Kalnins said there have been times where he’s turned to Dutra for advice.
“The “E” award is the highest achievement that a company can receive from the (U.S) president,” he said. Two Nevada companies applied for the award, but Kimmie Candy Co. is the first Nevada company to receive the award in a while, he said.
Dutra said he’s in the process of figuring out whether his company is the first candy company to receive the honor, something he hopes to add to his company’s growing list of accolades.
Later this fall, Dutra said he hopes to have the store settled in a bigger building in Reno to accommodate their company’s growth. His two children are a part of the 36 employees who work for the small family-owned business, a benefit Dutra enjoys.
“I had thought this was a good business to leave as a legacy to my children, and they work for me,” he said. “We’re basically family-run, and it’s nice. I get to see my kids most of the time.”