Gary Shortt ’86, plant manager for the Reese’s factory in Hershey, PA

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Overseeing the Hershey plant that makes a quarter of the world’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is the pinnacle of a candy career

By Joe Wilensky

The first chocolate fountain Gary Shortt ’86 ever saw was on the Hill, in the dining hall at what’s now Robert Purcell Community Center. While he doesn’t recall the occasion, he remembers being fascinated by the delectable, constantly flowing centerpiece.

Nearly four decades later, Shortt is overseeing something akin to it, but on an industrial scale: as a plant manager for the Reese’s factory in Hershey, PA, he directs the daily production of 15 million peanut butter cups, which are packaged for distribution across the continent.

“You watch these cases going by, and you think, ‘This is happening 24 hours a day,’” Shortt marvels. “It’s just mind blowing.”

Originally built in 1956, the factory has been expanded and enlarged several times and now comprises 516,000 square feet on 35 acres. It includes 10 production lines and employs more than 900 workers over three shifts, seven days a week.

The plant pumps out 15 million Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups per day in four sizes and multiple varieties.
The plant pumps out four sizes of peanut butter cups, in multiple flavors. (Provided)

That translates to more than 5.4 billion peanut butter cups annually, as well as a billion Kit Kat bars. (While the Kit Kat brand is owned by Nestlé, Hershey has the license to produce and sell it in the U.S.)

An adjacent facility roasts the 47 million pounds of peanuts the plant goes through each year—along with (among other ingredients) 106 million pounds of sugar, 23 million pounds of cocoa butter, and 17 million pounds of flour.

You watch these cases going by, and you think, ‘This is happening 24 hours a day.’ It’s just mind blowing.

All in all, factory produces a whopping 25% of the company’s Reese’s treats.

The plant itself may not be as fanciful as a Willy Wonka-inspired fever dream—but the wafting aroma of chocolate, the serpentine production lines, the glint of foil-wrapped miniatures, and the seemingly endless rolls of bright orange wrappers all make for a jolly (and mouth-watering) atmosphere.

“It takes a certain kind of person to work in plants,” Shortt observes. “You’ve got to enjoy people—and some sort of chaos.”

video clip scenes of various stages of peanut butter cup production
Production lines, in perpetual motion. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

Shortt, who recently marked his 10-year anniversary with Hershey, has been the Reese’s plant manager for more than two years.

He knows every foot of its production lines, casts a discerning eye over its machinery, and offers gregarious greetings to dozens of employees as he walks the floor.

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But has working on the front lines of candy production dimmed his appetite for the treats? Not at all.

“Like everybody else, I love chocolate,” Shortt says, noting that his personal favorite is Reese’s Dipped Animal Crackers.

Chocolate production at the Reese's plant in Hershey
Liquid gold—er, chocolate. (Provided)

Fondly known as “Chocolate Town, U.S.A.,” the village of Hershey was founded by the company in 1903 and remains its global headquarters.

Shortt’s factory, located a few blocks from the main drag and its iconic Kiss-topped streetlights, is just one (Reese’s) piece of the candymaker’s larger chocolate universe.

Shortt’s own résumé includes a rainbow of sugary delights: director of manufacturing for Hershey’s Twizzler plant in nearby Lancaster; contract manager for Godiva Chocolatier; VP of operations for Stauffer Biscuit Company; product manager for Nabisco, where he oversaw Oreo cookies and granola bars.

As a general ag major in CALS, Shortt gravitated toward food science classes—acquiring hands-on skills in food processing from such faculty as the legendary Robert Baker ’43, inventor of the Cornell Chicken recipe.

(His late wife, former food science major Andrea Malmendier Shortt ’86, was also a CALS alum.)

Shortt’s Big Red training came in handy during the pandemic, which spurred a multitude of challenges for the factory.

Shortt chats with a plant employee amid thousands of Reese's mini cups
Chatting with an employee amid thousands of mini Reese’s cups. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

They included employee turnover followed by a spike in hiring and training—not to mention the need to step up production as chocolate fans sought comfort in their favorite indulgence.

Says Shortt: “We could not make enough.”

The era also begat worker initiatives that Shortt has championed, including more flexible schedules and training opportunities, expanded tuition reimbursement programs, and events like an open house and factory tour for employees and their families.

Shortt himself was recently honored by having his name and signature emblazoned on limited-edition bags of Reese’s cups.

Dubbed “Direct from the Factory,” the extra-fresh candies are available a few times a year at the Hershey Chocolate World flagship store in Pennsylvania as well as online.

Gary Shortt with hockey buddies at Lynah Rink at Cornell
Shortt (second from right) regularly returns to the Hill for Big Red hockey games with his buddies. (Provided)

“We’re not just churning out candy; we’re making something that’s going to brighten up somebody’s day,” Shortt observes.

“At the Twizzler plant, I’d watch the bags go by and imagine one would end up in the minivan of a family traveling across the country, and it would be part of their vacation. That makes you feel good—the happiness that people are going to get.”

Top: Shortt oversees production at the Reese’s factory in Hershey, PA. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

Published July 25, 2023


  1. Elizabeth

    Beautiful read. Shortts’s thought of a family on a road trip eating Twizzlers manifested. We took a road trip this summer from NY. We visited MD, VA, and multiple cites in NC. We had our bags of Twizzlers. The synchronicity of it all is, our daughter is a junior at Cornell 💕

  2. Jacob (Jack) Hershey Martin, Class of 1954

    When I was very young, my uncle, Roy Hershey, not related to M S Hershey of Hershey Chocolate, said that he had visited the Reese family when they were making peanut butter cups on the back porch of their house out of dishpans.

  3. Sushil Singh, Class of 1989

    Gary lived on my floor in Dickson—blast from the past!

  4. Diane Dunn Tokoph, Class of 1978

    Great and interesting story! Not only are we a family of chocolate lovers twizzlers are always on our road trips as well! Who knew?
    Also, it’s hard to even fathom how many Reeses peanut butter cups are manufactured and eaten in the world! Wow!

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