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Smarties have been made the same way for nearly 70 years – and the brand is thriving

Meet the women behind the classic American candy company.
/ Source: TODAY

For over 70 years, the Smarties Candy Company has been manufacturing its signature rolls of that classic, multicolored treat out of a factory in Union, New Jersey.

Twenty four hours a day, five days a week, machines press, sort and wrap the pastel tablets in virtually the same way they’ve been doing it since 1949 when the company was founded.

A family-run business, Smarties was started by Edward Dee, who came to the United States from the U.K. with his family. Today, the company is run by Dee’s three granddaughters, Sarah Dee, Liz Dee and Jessica Sawyer, who all serve as co-presidents.

“We're third generation Smarties-ers,” Liz Dee told NBC News correspondent Savanna Sellers, who recently toured the company's factory.

Growing up, neither Liz or Sarah Dee knew if they wanted to work for the family business. While Liz said no one pressured them, they both eventually decided to join in, learning the ropes from the bottom up.

“I spent some time out in the factory when I first started. So I drove a forklift which was really fun,” Sarah Dee told Sellers.

Now the three women run the company together, and the make their signature product using the same method their grandfather employed many years ago.

“He came over with two machines in the beginning and what he was doing was pressing the tablets, which is actually how we still make the candy pieces today,” Liz Dee explained. “They were being rolled by hand, and packaged by hand, of course, and he was delivering them himself in the early days,” she added.

The production process begins in the tablet room, where the candies are pressed into small, circular shapes. “We do it through compression. There's no baking, there's no heating, there's no liquid. It's just the ingredients and pressure," Dee said. "And that's what makes a Smarties candy."

From there, the candies travel via a conveyor belt into the wrapping room. The wrapper gets cut and formed around the roll. Then, after it’s wrapped, the roll shoots into a bucket and heads off to be boxed up with others by robotic arms.

Smarties are made with just five ingredients: dextrose (a simple sugar), citric acid, calcium stearate, a mix of natural and artificial flavoring agents that vary by flavor, and food dye. A classic roll has six colors, which are each different flavors: white is orange cream, yellow is pineapple, pink is cherry, green in strawberry, purple is grape and orange is orange.

Perhaps another key to the candies' staying power? Smarties are also vegan and vegetarian friendly, and the product is also allergen safe, free of most of the common offenders, including milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.

Though the packaging and branding have been updated over the years and improvements have been made to the production process, the classic tablet recipe has remained the same for three generations.

“We've modernized a lot if you look at where we started," Sarah Dee said. "We've streamlined a lot and it's really exciting."

Currently, the company produces over 1 billion Smarties candy rolls per year, which equates to about 15 billion tablets.

In the future, the women want Smarties to continue on as a family-run business and hope their children will take over someday. But only blood relatives are allowed in the fold — none of the women’s husbands work for the company and they plan to keep it that way.

This post was originally published on Feb. 5, 2020.