July 21, 2024

Tributes were flowing for Aurora-based company, which makes School Safe snack brand

Aurora snack company Treasure Mills celebrated its 20th anniversary with friends, family and colleagues with an event at the NC Armoury on Wednesday.

The company, which produces the School Safe brand of baked snacks, was founded by Robert Johnson in 2003, moving to Aurora a decade later.

Robert’s son, Branson Johnson, 23, grew up as the company grew, seeing it move into its 30,000-square-foot fully automated production space on Engelhard Drive in Aurora, with products shipping across the U.S. and Canada.

“I’m now 23. I’ve been in the company since I was about 15, I think is when I first started packing cookies on a line in the back,” said Branson. “I’ve been through every job in the plant, now seeing a lot. Now everything is changing in the whole industry.”

Branson said while Treasure Mills was one of the first companies to the market when a need sprang up for allergy-safe products, the market itself has changed now.

“The first thing was peanuts. Now there’s vegan, there’s gluten-free, there’s vegetarian — they say the ‘top nine allergies,’” he said.

School Safe products are dairy-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free, covering more than seven in 10 people with allergies.

“There’s 10 companies that own all these small brands. So, being a family-owned company, at the size we are and trying to compete, and stay and own our market and bring safe, quality foods to family, it’s been a pretty cool experience to be part of,” Branson said.

“When COVID hit, my dad said it every day: ‘Thank God we’re in the food industry,’ because people have got to eat,” he said.

Branson said while sales took a hit, he was heartened to see people were still buying snacks.

“It was still an everyday family snack item that they were relying on.”

Radio host Elvira Caria, who hosted the event, said she came to rely on the company’s snacks. Finding suitable snacks for her son, who has severe allergies to nuts, was a tedious experience.

“There is no such thing as running in and out of the grocery store. I spent 20 years reading labels. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to shop with me, because it takes forever,” she said.

Caria said she first met Francine Johnson shortly after discovering the School Safe brand and nearly came to tears.

“I’ll admit that I likely contributed to your revenue growth, because this is literally all I bought. I became that mom to bring snacks to every single school outing.”

Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas said he was “proud” to have Treasure Mills in town as an “anchor tenant,” adding he was excited to see what the future held for the company.

“You really do help me make my job a lot easier. When I’m out there pitching new businesses to come to Aurora, I often point to Treasure Mills as an example of what success looks like in Aurora,” he said.

Branson said it will be interesting to see what the future holds, adding he was interested in pursuing environmental endeavours with the company.


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