Van Melle N.V.

I make my way to Breda, a city of about 100,000 inhabitants, expecting a fun time at candy maker Van Melle but instead end up getting berated by the CEO's secretary.

Several miles from Breda's magnificent cathedral in the city center brings me to a large industrial park and the gated entry to a Van Melle manufacturing facility. The company produces a wide variety of candies including several global brands: "Mentos", "Fruit Tella" and "Meller" caramels. Revenues in 1998 were 408 million euros.

I explain who I am to the guard at the gate and he calls up the secretary to CEO Izaak Van Melle. I'm handed the phone and ask the secretary if she recalls my letter of introduction sent a month earlier and to whom it was referred. She remembers the letter and says it wasn't referred to anyone and goes on to say, "we didn't answer you-doesn't that mean anything?" I tell her companies don't normally contact me. She then goes on to lecture me about "just showing up at companies" and if they had been interested in a meeting I would have been contacted. I try and explain how difficult it is to pinpoint exact arrival dates but she doesn't want to hear any of it. I ask, "Is there someone who would have a few minutes to meet with me?" "No", is the reply. "Boy", I respond, "I thought it would be fun visiting a candy maker but I guess not". I ask if it's possible to get an annual report or some background information on the company and she says they'll be one in the lobby.

I'm instructed by the guard to leave my bike here at the guardhouse and walk the 50 yards to the offices, which seem to be incorporated into the lower floors of the large manufacturing plant. Walking over I'm expecting another verbal lashing from the secretary but she's a no-show, evidently preferring to do her tongue-lashings over the phone. The receptionist in the tiny reception area barely acknowledges my presence as she silently hands me the annual report. Taking a quick look around I notice they don't even put out a bowl or dish with samples of their candies.

Riding off I make a mental note to myself: when buying candy, check wrapper for the name of the manufacturer. Anything bearing the "Van Melle" name is off-limits.