Kate Meadows 2014-04-10 03:27:23
People visit Winterset for lots of reasons. The small Iowa town has more than a dash of glamor. Visitors gawk at the boyhood home of John Wayne, marvel at the covered bridges (Winterset is located in the Madison County and Clint Eastwood filmed here) and shop at a quaint quilt store owned by “two of the world’s best-known quilters,” according the town’s website. But when native Sheri Holliday was young she made a beeline to the nondescript Northside Café. She rummaged through her pockets, plucked down a quarter or two and clutched a roll of Lion mints, displayed on the counter by the register. The mints were easy to spot, packaged in shiny paper that bore the Lions Club logo. A colored stripe indicated the flavor–green for wintergreen and blue for peppermint. The dozen nickel-sized candies had a distinctive taste, too: a zesty zing of mint and sugar, flavors easily welcomed on the tongue. Holliday, now 49 and a proud Winterset Lion, was not the only one buying Lion mints back in the day. In the 1990s annual sales topped 10 million rolls. For years the candy was–pun intended–on a roll. The mints probably were the No. 1 candy product used by Lions worldwide to fund projects. Things are different today. The mint is still a bestseller. But it’s sold differently and it’s no longer sold by one of its manufacturers. Times change. The mint remains popular, but Lions have rolled with the punches, part of which involves an apparent decline in honorable behavior. Lions have made do, flexibly adapting to a changed membership, market and morality. Holliday now is a seller, not a buyer, of mints. She works as a technology systems manager at Principal Financial Group in downtown Des Moines, a short car ride from Winterset. A counter? She doesn’t need no stinking counter to sell mints. She sells them hand over fist from her cubicle. Within one two-month span, she raked in more than $100 in mint sales, and two of her co-workers now buy mints from her by the box. Other Lions find similar success in peddling the mints. Gary Fry, the state secretary in Iowa, always travels with a roll or two in his pocket. Many of Iowa’s 350 Lions clubs are still involved in the mint program and do quite well, Fry points out. He says he has noticed an increase of mint orders at the Iowa state office. The little mint powers important service. From sales of Lions mints alone, the Texas Lions Foundation boosted its bank balance by thousands of dollars in the mid-1980s. In Illinois, proceeds from street sales of the Lions mints during the annual Candy Days have boosted the funds of local clubs for decades. In Australia, mint sales generate $15,000-$35,000 per year. The mints do much more than raise funds. “The purpose … is to make a little money,” acknowledges Van Stone, the executive director of the Lions of Illinois Foundation and member of the North Aurora Lions Club who heads up the state’s Candy Days. “But more importantly, [Candy Days] is a way to keep the Lions organization and the Lions name visible.” Yet mint sales today hover around 3 million rolls, less than one third of the sales in their heyday One factor is that retail countertop displays are not as prevalent. The retail market has become increasingly more competitive, and shelf space is at a premium. At the Northside Café, for example, the mints rest not on the counter but on a shelf beneath the cash register, largely out of sight. The trays were often poorly manned, meaning the mints disappeared with little money being collected. In short, it seems the “on your honor” philosophy was no longer working. That’s why the mints are no longer sold in Mitchellville, a bedroom community of about 1,400 people outside Des Moines. The Mitchellville Co-op was at one time the local hotspot for Lion mint sales, catering to area farmers. “I think we did a poor job of monitoring it,” Fry says. Moreover, candy doesn’t cost what it used to. Where people might drop in one dime or one quarter for a roll two decades ago, they won’t as easily drop in two or three quarters now. “I remember the nickel candy bar,” says Stone. “And now you’re paying a dollar and a quarter for a candy bar.” The Lion Mint may seem like an all-American product but its origin is Australian. In 1976, Australian Lion Jim McLardie proposed conducting a multiple district project around a special peppermint candy to be made by Life Savers Australia Limited. A year-round fundraiser, members of the Australian clubs realized, would allow them to focus more on service and less on numerous fundraising activities. Bud Goodwin, secretary of the Michigan Lions, helped bring that idea, along with the mints, to the United States in 1986. Since then, the Michigan-based candy company Sayklly’s has been the exclusive supplier of the Lion mint in the United States. The mints are a good bargain–both for the customer and Lions. Sayklly’s sells the mints to clubs by the case. Each case costs $135 and contains 576 rolls. That means clubs can purchase the mints for just under 24 cents a roll. The suggested retail for a roll is 50 cents. The average Candy Day donation is $2 per roll, according to Sayklly’s. A single mint also is available in an individual package. The suggested sales price is 5 cents. But clubs commonly use the mint drops for parades and special events, or the clubs sell them by the case to hotels, restaurants and funeral homes for their candy dishes. The Lion mint remains the No. 1 candy product used by Lions clubs worldwide, says Chad McCann, the director of the Lions Foundation of Michigan who works directly with Sayklly’s. Currently, 1,100 Lions clubs in 39 states sell Sayklly’s Lion mints. And the Michigan company has been inundated with calls and orders from clubs around the country in recent months. That’s because a competitor that also made Lions mints ceased production. In the 1980s, the Chicago-based manufacturer F&F Laboratories, best known for its private-label cough drops marketed under the brand Smith Brothers, started producing its own private-label candy, the Lions (plural) mint. F&F Laboratories was bought out of bankruptcy in 2010 by a private equity firm and renamed F&F Smith Brothers. Now backed by some healthy investments, the Smith Brothers brand is being revived. Part of that reviving, though, comes with a decision to stop manufacturing the Lions mints last October. The two mints were not exactly alike. McCann calls Sayklly’s Lion mint the “big mint,” nearly twice the size of the F&F’s mint. Over the years, both the singular and plural versions of the mint chiseled out their geographic niches. The F&F mints were popular in the western and southern states, with Texas, Montana, Nebraska and South Carolina being notable customers. The sales of the Sayklly’s mint historically were concentrated in the Midwest, McCann says, with the exception of Illinois, which supported the F&F mint. Sayklly’s also counted big sales in the more heavily populated western states, including California and Arizona, and East Coast states. The main reason mint sales have declined is the drop in membership or the aging of members in clubs that sold them, argues McCann. Also likely at work is the different ethos of volunteering of newer, younger members. They prefer a more hands-on approach to civic involvement, says Fry. Young people also don’t foster the same giving spirit as those of older generations, who often are the face of local Lions clubs. But Sayklly’s, for one, sees a future for the mint. It is now selling two newer flavors, fizzy fruit and sugar-free, which have helped bump sales. Maybe it’s also a matter of simply making the mint available. “I still think [placing the mints in local establishments] is important,” Holliday says. “It gives the Lions notoriety. If nothing else, hopefully people will associate the Lions with the mints. They don’t always see us, but they know we’re there.” “It’s good publicity,” she adds. “It’s fun publicity. And it’s a taste-good publicity.” Holliday thought the Lion mint was becoming a thing of the past. But now, with her recent activity at work, a different–and exciting–picture is emerging. “I have all kinds of people from different departments coming to my desk to get them,” Holliday says. “I think it’s all about the venue,” she says. “If you can find the places where people want them and will look for them, then they’re as popular as they’ve ever been.” Love Worth a Mint Young Daniel Osborne, now a college freshman, eagerly squeezed the door handle as his family’s car neared its destination and then rushed from the back seat when it finally stopped. Pa and Nana would be patiently waiting–invariably sitting outside their home on lawn chairs. Osborne knew his grandfather would take him to the pond to fish and to his woodshop to build wooden swords, shields or birdhouses. He adored Pa. “He invested his time and love to every person he interacted with. Most of all he gave me Green Mints,” Osborne wrote in his senior essay in high school–the one he read at Pa’s funeral a little more than a year ago. Pa was Jim Bates, who marched home from the battlefields of World War II and worked from dawn to dusk as a homebuilder and contractor. He and Rosemary lived in Indianapolis, and in 1969 he joined the Ben Davis Lions Club. He approached community service with the same gusto he applied to his job. “He worked hard for the Lions,” recalls Rosemary. The Green Mints were part of his identity–a way he showed his affection. Osborne cherished the ritual of seeing his grandfather. “As the hugs and kisses were exchanged, Pa would reach for my hand and place Lions Club’s Green Mints inside,” he wrote. In perfect health, Bates, 88, died in his sleep Jan. 8, 2013. Club members “have been very helpful to me in the days since Jim’s sudden passing,” says Rosemary. At the funeral home, Lions placed heaps of Green Mints in bowls. His widow was the last to say goodbye at the casket. She embraced him a final time and felt an odd bulge in his shirt pocket. She reached toward her husband and pulled out a package of Green Mints. His grandson had quietly placed it there. “It was the last package his Pa had given him,” says Rosemary. “He put it there to go on to heaven with him.” –Jay Copp
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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