At Gerrit J Verburg Company, it’s no accident that we chose to lovingly resurrect some of the most iconic chewing gums in American history. It’s no accident that we distribute a selective list of the finest candies and sweets available to many excellent retailers across the country. It’s no accident…because it all comes from a passion for what we sell.
Gerrit loves the candy industry, and he’s been involved with it in one way or another since he was growing up in the Netherlands in the 1950s. We recently sat down with Gerrit to talk about his journey from door-to-door salesman to vintage candies executive, and we’ve put together all the fascinating history for your reading pleasure!
Gerrit was born on a farm in Holland in the 1950s, which wasn’t exactly his ideal lifestyle. By the time he was 8, Gerrit said, “... if nothing else, I knew I didn’t want to live on a farm. So, I became focused on being an entrepreneur.” At 19, Gerrit caught wind of an opportunity selling Stimorol, a pellet-style Danish gum that was new to the burgeoning sweets market. He was eventually offered the sales position and spent 5 years building up a network of stores across Holland before making his way to the States.
If those early years taught Gerrit anything, it was how to say no. People will always ask things of you, and sometimes you simply can’t do them. In those situations, being direct and honest is the best way for everyone to leave happy. “It really liberates you,” says Gerrit. “If it’s a no, it’s a no. It’s so simple!”
Once stateside, Gerrit found his home in Flint, Michigan, and he immediately began searching for fine stores to stock more Stimorol. For much of the 1970s, Gerrit traveled from store to store in a new Chevy Vega outfitted with the Stimorol logo—all the while preaching the Stimorol gospel. “I’m a loyal person,” says Gerrit, “Living in Michigan, I never understood why I would see people driving Japanese cars to their jobs at a factory making American automobiles. That’s not how I think.”
Gerrit built up a massive following for Stimorol all around Michigan, but his aspirations were for something bigger: it was his dream to find amazing gums or candies that he could sell to the entire country. However, he needed his foot in the door before he could distribute any piece of candy or gum to every single state.
Gerrit took this dream to a worldwide candy expo in Germany in 1985. He was searching for the right opportunity, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was going to look like. Although Gerrit didn’t have the money for anything too impressive, he ferreted out some novelty whistles that he could afford in bulk and thought might sell well enough to get him started. Much to his surprise, the whistles exploded in popularity both inside and outside of Michigan, providing Gerrit with the distribution he needed to re-enter the candy business.
With a bit of good fortune, Gerrit came across a business associate who was making black licorice of his own back home in Holland. He began offering this candy to his new list of nationwide retail stores, and he received amazing responses and feedback from several urban centers in the United States. The Washington Post eventually picked up on his licorice thanks to a local store selling it in Washington D.C. From there, its popularity skyrocketed, eventually landing it in every Dean & DeLuca department store in the country and cementing Gerrit J. Verburg Company as a permanent player in the candy industry.
When Gerrit heard of an opportunity to bring Black Jack, Beemans, and Clove back into the limelight, he jumped at the opportunity. As someone so deeply involved in the candy industry, the idea of revitalizing three of the most iconic chewing gums in history was a dream come true. In fact, the love runs so deep that Gerrit won’t even pick a favorite: “They are all my babies now!”