Nello Ferrara (left) and his son Salvatore Ferrara pose with their respective Kettle Awards. Nello Ferrara died Friday at 93 years old. Archive photo, courtesy of Vito Palmisano.

Peter Blommer, president and ceo of Blommer Chocolate, first met Nello Ferrara in 1991 at a Western Candy Conference in Arizona.

“When Nello took the stage at the gala dinner and broke into song, I knew this was a special man and a wonderful industry,” Blommer recalls in an online guestbook on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

Ferrara — chairman of the board for the Chicago-based Ferrara Pan Candy Co. — died February 3, at 93 years old.

Known for his work with the family business famous for treats such as Lemonheads and Boston Baked Beans, his name will forever be tied to the company’s Atomic FireBalls, a round, spicy, hard candy.

He invented the confection in 1954, and it was an immediate hit with consumers.

“When the product was presented to the candy industry, the capacity at Ferrara Pan was limited to 200 cases per day,” reads the company website. “Within three weeks of sending samples to Ferrara Pan brokers, orders were rolling in at a rate of over 50,000 cases per day, far beyond the capacity Ferrara Pan could handle at that time.”

More than half a century later, people still can’t seem to get enough of the candy — more than 15 million FireBalls are eaten weekly by candy lovers all over the globe.
Ferrara was honored for his efforts in the industry when he received Candy Industry’s Kettle Award in 1975.

“Nello was a giant in the candy industry and will surely be missed,” Dom, former president and ceo of NECCO, and his wife, Joan, Antonellis wrote in the online guestbook. “I will always remember Nello for the many times he shared his knowledge with a young man growing in the industry.”

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