Alene Candles: Beyond wax and wicks

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BY KAREN MEYERS

Tonight, Karen Meyers takes us to Milford and inside Alene Candles where they've been manufacturing candles for 25 years.

Karen: Chances are the candle burning in your home was made in New Hampshire.

Rod Harl: You never see our brand name in a store.

Karen: Alene Candles makes well-known labels they can’t divulge.

Rod Harl: We don’t talk about our customers because they are sharing brand assets that haven’t hit the market yet.

Karen: Alene manufactures about half a million candles a day out of two factories, one in Ohio and the plant here in Milford. The owners bought the company 10 years ago from its founders. Since then, the number of year-round employees has quadrupled to about 400.

Rod Harl: We are in an industry where, whether the economy is turning down or turning up, candles tend to grow a little every year. So even in a downturn, people shifting their purchases from a lamp for the home or furniture or something else that is more expensive, they will instead spend $10, $20 on a nice candle to bring a different sense of freshness into their home.

Karen: It starts here in the silos where hot wax is stored. It re-circulates to the wax department.

Max Donnelly: The waxer is almost like the kitchen of Alene, where they prepare, according to a recipe, the fragrance, the additives, and the base waxes that go into the finished product.

Karen: All the wax formulations are developed in house. Max Donnelly practically grew up at Alene. At his dad’s elbow on weekends as a kid, then he followed in his footsteps, becoming a chemist.

Max Donnelly: They have multiple components, the fragrances can have up to 60 different things in them and all those things have their own chemistry, interactions going on.

Karen: He must make sure the candles can stand the heat.

Max Donnelly: It’s called hot stability, we treated as a shifting test, we can get up to 105 degrees.

Karen: Once Max and the other chemists perfect the formula, Matt Link in the wax department mixes it all up.

Max Donnelly: What Matt is adding now is paraffin.

Karen: This one batch will make about 3500 candles.

Matt Link: All the candles we make here at Alene are fragranced container candles, so they are either in glass or ceramic or metal, some type of vessel.

Karen: Candles are a seasonal business and fall of the holidays are their busiest times. Two-thirds of all their candles are sold in the second half of the year. Staffing balloons two 1100 people. Sample lab manager Peggy Lafrance says fall fragrances tend to be more challenging than spring scents.

Peggy Lafrance: vanilla, maple, clove, they make be something more challenging than a lilac or florals.

Karen: Most important? Safety.

Max Donnelly: The product we make is intended to be set on fire in someone’s home. That’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

Karen: Samples from every batch run through the burn lab.

Andrew Massey: We are testing for various aesthetic and safety characteristics. 

Karen: Burn manager Andrew Massey tests flame height and how much wax adheres to the side of the container. Did you know you’re supposed to trim the wick each time you light the candle?

As a consumer, we are supposed to be trimming it?

Andrew Massey: You are supposed to be trimming it. We find that a lot, consumers don’t permit or they leave the debris within the candle. They might just stick the match in there.

Karen: The candles are put through the ringer, burning in the lab for eight hours at a time and then blown out. They allow the wax to solidify, and like them up all over again, continuing until the entire candle is consumed.

Andrew Massey: Every candle that we develop and sell goes through that consumer test.

Karen: They also do a soot test. These candles are well-balanced so no so it shows up on the slide -- so no soot shows up on the sly. If you see black smoke, time to trim the wick.

Andrew Massey: If there is one take away from burning candles in your home, it is trim the wick.

Karen: There are hundreds of different candle wicks. The correct one depends on the size of the container, the wax, fragrance and a rate. Every wick needs a little tug as it moves down the assembly line to eliminate any air pockets. The factory has to be the best-spelling workplace around, since they follow employees wherever they go.

Max Donnelly: I could go to dunkin’ donuts and they recognize me as an Alene employee because of the smell.

Karen: Ah, the sweet smell of success.