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Finding Minnesota: Oprah's Nod Means Big Business For Candy Company

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In one of Minnesota's smallest towns is a small company that's suddenly getting huge amounts of attention -- after a close encounter with one of the world's most famous people.

Annie B's Candy Company in Kellogg, population 456, has been turning out small batches of buttery caramels for decades.

Justin and Amanda Henke have owned the operation for about two years.

"We have an old machine named Rosie back here," Justin said. "She has some years on her. I don't know the exact year she was born, but she came over from Europe a long time ago."

The company had developed a modest following among gift shops and family stores. But this fall, everything changed when Oprah Winfrey tried the caramels and liked them.

In the latest O Magazine, Annie B's made the list of Oprah's Favorite Things for 2014.

It's a list that used to cause hyperventilating on her TV show, which Amanda enjoys watching.

"Everyone just kind of loses it," Amanda said. "She has this amazing effect on people."

Amanda says she experienced her own sense of amazement when she got word that her company had been selected.

"It's almost like you want to burst," she said. "You can't believe that the hand of Oprah is reaching out and touching you, you know what I mean? It's just unbelievable."

It was actually O Magazine's creative director who discovered the caramels at a trade show in Atlanta, and took them back to Oprah.

The Henkes bought the business in early 2013. Their own attempts to start a company with homemade caramel recipes weren't going well. That's when a friend told Justin about Annie B's, and he took home some samples.

"I was pregnant, so I ate 12 of them in one sitting," Amanda said. "And I said, 'There's no way we're going to beat these guys.'"

Luckily for them, the original owners were set to retire.

In the weeks since Oprah's endorsement, they said total sales are up 75 percent, and online orders have increased by 700 percent.

The Henkes are now looking for a larger building nearby to expand their business.

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