In 1914, the American Licorice Company’s factory began in a rented space on West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. The company’s first product was Black Licorice Twists. During the depression black licorice cigarettes and licorice cigars were made. At the time, every metropolitan center in the country (except for the southern states) had at least one licorice manufacturer. All the licorice was sold unwrapped and was generally not shipped outside the metropolitan areas.
By 1920, operations were moved to a building at 2321 N. Keystone, Chicago, purchased from a company that had previously manufactured munitions during WWI.
In 1925, American Licorice Co. purchased the assets of a bankrupt licorice company in San Francisco named Universal Licorice Co. and began operations on the west coast. It was a difficult time to start up a new operation, but the company persevered, shipping virtually all the candy made each day to customers. That year Charlie Chaplin asked the company to create a licorice shoe to be used as a prop for his classic film The Gold Rush, in which his character eats shoe leather to avoid starvation.
In the 1930s American Licorice Co. introduced Snaps®, a chewy black licorice center panned with a sweet pastel-colored candy coating.
During WWII only one item was made – the Lic-Ris-Ets, which was solid candy cut into ¾” pieces packaged into a plastic coated box with a cellophane window. After the war there was so much demand for product, the inventory would get consumed within three weeks of it having left the factory.
In the 1950s American Licorice Co. expanded beyond traditional black licorice and began producing Raspberry Vines. Unlike black licorice, which uses extract from the Glycyrrihiza glabra bush root for its flavoring, red licorice has a fruitier taste. The public called it red licorice because of its similarities in format and texture to the original black. Later Raspberry Vines were renamed Red Vines® and the packaging was updated with the addition of a tray in 1958. Though sales were slow with red candy in the beginning, eventually red candy became a much bigger seller than black.
In 1963 American Licorice produced unwrapped Red Ropes and Licorice Ropes, the longest pieces of licorice to hit the market. The pieces that were formally cut up to make the Lic-Ris-Ets became the rope candy. Later that decade, American Licorice began wrapping the ropes individually, thus creating the Super Ropes® brand.
In 1969, a project to move San Francisco operations to Union City broke ground. Union City candy production began in 1970. Four years later, the Chicago plant was relocated to a 40,000-square-foot space in nearby Alsip, Illinois. That decade Purple Vines (grape flavored), Green Vines (peppermint flavored), and Chocolate Vines were created. At one point a Natural Licorice Bar, sweetened with only molasses, was made. A Natural Orange Bar was also made with natural flavor and colored with annatto seed powder. This natural coloring agent was used by the Central American Indians as facial war paint. The Natural Licorice Bars were individually wrapped in metalized film.
In 1983, American Licorice Co. began offering Red Vines® in a knob-top jar, which became an iconic form of packaging for the company. In the late 1980s American Licorice Co. began converting Alsip licorice production to a continuous cooking process. The Union City plant continued to use a batch process for Red Vines® and black licorice production.
Corporate headquarters moved to Oregon in 2000. In 1990 American Licorice Co. expanded into the sour candy market with the Sour Punch® brand, sour-flavored candy in a thin straw format. Various other sour brands were created over the next decade: Sour Punch® Bits, Sour Punch® Ropes, Sour Punch® Beanz and Sour Punch® Twists.
In the mid-1990s American Licorice Co. created several varieties of candy that used organic ingredients and had no preservatives. In 1997, a debut was made by Herbal Candy Chews and real fruit Twistetts, a similar product to the traditional Lic-Ris-Ets and Red-Ets. Riza, a natural licorice brand, was launched in 1999. Riza was made from root extract and sweetened with blackstrap molasses, while a Berry variety used organic cane sugar. Both were available in Bites, Vines, Super Rope, and bar formats.
In November 1999 American Licorice Co. joined with Ferrara Pan, Spangler, Goetze, and New England Confectionary (NECCO) to form the Candy Alliance LLC. The Alliance works to promote the mutual interests involved through the coordination of ingredient purchasing to get lower prices, the creation of cooperative marketing and distribution programs, and the cross-licensing and development of joint products.