Last year at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, I stumbled across The Lovely Candy Company, an Illinois-based start-up specializing in gluten-free and gmo-free confections.
Fast forward to May 2014, and what do I see in the candy aisle at Target? Bags of Lovely Candy.
This fast-tracking candy company, founded by successful serial entrepreneur Mike Nakamura, started when Mike’s wife Jackie challenged him to find an all-natural, gluten-free licorice product. Mike came up short, and that’s when the light bulb moment hit. Mike and Jackie got busy to find a manufacturing partner capable of creating premium, made-to-matter, gmo-free and gluten-free confections.
I had a chance to ask Mike about his start-up. Here’s the scoop:
Me: Launching a health-conscious candy company is certainly ambitious. What was the journey like?
Mike: It actually was not that stressful. Once you make a firm, 100% commitment to ideals, vision and goals, it brings a certain level of confidence. We are happy to make that commitment to consumers by offering high-quality products that are gluten-free and non-gmo.
Me: When did The Lovely Candy Company officially launch?
Mike: We launched in May of 2013 at the National Confectioners Association’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.
Me: Did you ever think you’d get into candy manufacturing?
Mike: Yes for certain! Providing enjoyment to millions of people is very gratifying and fulfilling a consumer plea makes us feel accomplished.
Me: How long did it take to perfect a gluten-free, tube-shaped licorice?
Mike: That was actually the product idea that got the whole thing started. Our quest for the licorice began with a request from my wife, Jackie two years ago. We have developed fantastic premium chewy confections in the meantime, but the gluten-free extruded licorice will finally be unveiled at this year’s Sweets & Snack Expo in May. It’s very exciting, and so many consumers are waiting.
Me: What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Mike: Honestly, the consumers are great and embrace what we are doing and what we stand for. The biggest challenge is probably the disconnect between major retail management and their buying staff. Some retailers are fantastic at really bringing innovation and goodness to the consumer, like Target. On the flip side, so many retail operations are publicly making statements regarding commitments in the health, natural, and organic arena, but the message sometimes gets lost at the buyer level, in spite of the trends in the marketplace.
Me: What has been your biggest victory to date?
Mike: I would say the overwhelming positive responses that we get everyday from the consumer. When moms tell us how appreciative they are of The Lovely Candy Company’s products, it reaffirms why we are in business.
Me: Do you work with several manufacturers or just one?
Mike: Our quality sourcing leads us to work with several manufacturers. We make sure they are aligned with our consciously crafted motto.
Me: How difficult was it to find a gluten-free, non-gmo manufacturer?
Mike: In some cases it takes time and collaboration. I believe good manufacturers see the trends and also the opportunity to make better ingredient products with potentially higher margins that premium products can bring.
Me: Your logo and packaging graphics are beautiful. What was your inspiration?
Mike: It really started with the idea of my lovely wife, Jackie. That’s where the name came from. The initial vision for the packaging was a bohemian look, with a female-targeted demographic. We softened it a bit, but over a five-month process, I believe we nailed it.
Me: So, what’s your favorite candy in The Lovely Candy Company lineup?
Mike: Currently, my favorite is Chocolate Caramel Swirl. It has great notes of chocolate with our insanely rich, caramel formula.
To purchase products online, visit The Lovely Candy Company’s shop.