Photography by Tanya Goehring.
Five years ago, when Tara Bosch began connecting her health and mood to the amount of candy she consumed each day, she knew she'd have to drop sugar from her diet. "I've been a candy lover my entire life. But the excess sugar was really impacting the way I felt about myself,” she recalls. “I ended up having a conversation with my grandmother, and she shared with me that she regretted having so much sugar over the years, especially from candy—something that we had enjoyed so often together. It was a shocking moment for me, and I asked myself, ‘Why can’t you feel good about candy?’”
Bosch’s personal quest to develop a higher-quality, low-sugar version of her favourite treats led her to buy a gummy bear mould online and begin recipe testing in her own Vancouver kitchen. After “hundreds of failed recipes,” she created a low-calorie, all-natural candy that she believed was too good to keep to herself. “I felt so much conviction and passion for innovating delicious candy without all the sugar, so I really decided to lean in,” she says. “I dropped out of university, joined an accelerator program based out of HootSuite called The Next Big Thing, and just under a year later SmartSweets launched nationwide across Canada.”
The company’s six products are cleverly crafted to mimic the taste, texture and mouthfeel of their traditional candy counterparts, minus the usual refined sugar, corn syrup, sugar alcohols and artificial ingredients. Instead, they include stevia; natural flavours and colours; fibres like tapioca and chicory root; and either gelatin (in the Fruity and Sour Gummy Bear varieties) or pectin (in the plant- based Peach Rings, Sour Blast Buddies, and Sweet Fish, SmartSweets’ No.1 SKU). Each 50-gram, single-serve bag of candy contains 19 to 21 grams of fibre and just three to five grams of sugar.
“The plant-based products are definitely the growth drivers,” says Bosch, noting they were introduced in response to demand from SmartSweets’ considerable online fanbase. “Everyone’s asking themselves how they can engage with the consumer of today and tomorrow, and that’s through lower-sugar, higher-quality options,” she says. “From a consumer standpoint, people don’t want to compromise anymore; they want to be able to enjoy their favourite foods and feel good about the nutritional profile. So giving people that freedom to feel good about something they love is a large part of our success.”
Bosch adds that her vision “is to be the global leader in revolutionizing candy, and a radically smarter choice” for consumers. Part of being a candy revolutionary means pioneering new formats and ingredients such as allulose, a sweetener made from fruits such as figs and raisins, which enabled SmartSweets to successfully introduce its first non-gummy candy, Sweet Chews, in the United States (allulose is not yet approved for use here in Canada) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before launching in April, Bosch says, “We paused and asked our online community, ‘How can we actually serve you during this time? What is most meaningful that you want from us?” Customers said they wanted something to bring “a smile to their day-to-day lives,” she says, so they decided to go ahead with the launch, albeit with a shift in marketing strategy. The three Sweet Chews fruit flavours were to be originally marketed as on-the-go snacks, but since people were no longer “on the go” during the pandemic, that would have to change. “We took the opportunity to pivot our messaging to introduce Sweet Chews as ‘a daily dose of sweetness,’” explains Bosch. “Buying patterns also show consumers are purchasing SmartSweets as an everyday snack, versus a moderately enjoyed treat, meaning we’re beginning to change the purchasing and consumption behaviours of the category. That’s great for retailers in terms of driving the velocity, and in terms of people being able to enjoy candy every day if they like to.”
SmartSweets is now available in more than 23,000 stores across the United States and Canada, including Whole Foods Market, Loblaws and Sobeys. Sales in 2019 were $59 million, and are expected to top an estimated $95 million this year. In addition, says Bosch, “this year we celebrate our most impactful milestone to date, and that’s having helped people kick over a billion grams of sugar by choosing SmartSweets since we first launched on shelves. Now, as we think about our next stage of growth we’re asking ourselves, ‘How do we help people kick the next billion, and the next 10 billion, and the next 100 billion grams of sugar?’”
This article appeared in the June/July issue of Canadian Grocer.