Haven’s Candies, the Westbrook-based chocolate maker that counts Intel and HBO among its customers, is under new ownership.

Erin Collins, a Freeport resident who spent the last 15 years in the financial services industry, acquired the chocolatier on Friday and took over as CEO on Monday.

“It’s a real honor and I’m looking forward to servicing Haven’s legacy well and showing everybody what I got,” Collins, 36, said on Tuesday.

Haven’s – Maine’s oldest chocolatier – is approaching its 100th birthday, having been founded in 1915 by Herbert Haven in Portland. The company employs 28 people at its chocolate factory in Westbrook and two retail locations in Portland and Scarborough. No employees are expected to be affected by the change in ownership, said Collins, who is the seventh owner in the company’s history.

While she has a passion for chocolate, Collins didn’t set out to own a chocolate factory. After a career in financial services, most recently as vice president of client services at HeadInvest in Portland, she decided to pursue her dream of owning her own business. She is an Ellsworth native and said she comes from a family of small-business owners. She and her husband began looking at businesses for sale about a year ago. They wanted to buy a long-standing business, at least 30 years old, with a well-known brand, she said. Working with a broker, she toured several manufacturing businesses, but none of them felt like a good fit. That changed when she met Andy Charles, who bought Haven’s Candies in 2001 and operated it until Friday.

“When we found out from a broker it was for sale, we didn’t have to think about it too long,” she said. “And then when we met Andy it was practically a done deal for me.”

The feeling was mutual. Charles began looking for a buyer for Haven’s earlier this year. He said there were several interested buyers, but Collins with her financial background stood out.

“It was extremely important to me that I found a buyer – aside from the financial side – a buyer that would honor the history and legacy and be a steward,” Charles said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Haven’s grew under Charles’ leadership to where it now has more than $2 million in annual sales. He opened the retail stores in Portland and Scarborough and expanded the company’s wholesale and corporate gifts segments. While it’s best known for its chocolates, the company also makes other sweets like fudge and saltwater taffy.

The retail stores make up a little more than half the company’s sales, while wholesale trade accounts for another third. But it’s the business of providing custom chocolates to corporations that is the fastest-growing segment of the business, Charles said. Last year, for example, Haven’s provided Intel with 3,000 chocolate bunny men to hand out at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company has become a “repeat customer,” he said.

“It’s the smallest business segment, but it’s growing double digits every year and under Erin I have great confidence that corporate gifts will surpass the wholesale trade the company does.”

Collins confirmed that growing the corporate gifts segment is one her goals, but she is also committed to not losing focus on existing retail and wholesale customers.

“We really want to go after corporate gifts and grow that business,” she said.

Charles opted to sell because he said he “would rather leave too early than too late.”

“I’m still at the point with Haven’s that I love the business, the customers, the employees,” said Charles, who’s 56. “What better time to hand the reins over to a new steward of this amazingly wonderful brand and not stick around too long so I get a little ragged around the edges.”

Charles made clear, though, that this is not a retirement. After a few months of helping Collins with the transition, Charles said he would pursue “some travel adventures” before deciding on his next business move.

He said he has no regrets about selling – well, maybe just one.

“My only regret is I won’t get to use my favorite line: ‘I get to eat chocolate every day and call it work,’ ” he said. “But now Erin gets to use it.”


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