Torie Burke was runner up of ConfectioneryNews’ 2014 Personality of the Year competition, which recognizes unsung heroes in the candy industry. She narrowly lost out to Jelly Belly’s R&D manager Ambrose Lee.
Burke captured readers’ attention after her Connecticut-based company Torie & Howard grew its distribution to over 4,000 retailers just three years after launching. The company expects to have listings in a further 3,000 stores in the first half of this year.
Speaking to this site, the entrepreneur said: “We want to expand further into the drug channel and we will eventually be in club store.”
Torie & Howard produces hard candies for aspirational consumers in flavors such as pomegranate & nectarine and pink grapefruit & tupelo honey. The USDA-certified organic sweets come in 2 oz tins, retail for $4.99 and contain 12 calories per piece. A portion of the company’s earnings are donated to non-profit organization Autism Speaks.
“I think in organic there are not a lot of us” said Burke. The company co-founder said that although many candy firms had positioning brands as ‘all-natural’ in the past few years, few were prepared to go the extra mile for organic certification. She said it was a massive amount of paperwork and a lengthy process as each ingredient needed full traceability.
Burke said that Hillside Candy and Yum Earth were the only other organic-certified hard candies to her knowledge in the US market.
From color consultant to candy entrepreneur
Torie Burke entered the confectionery industry three years ago after a lifelong obsession with hard candy and a career as a design colorist.
“I am a hard candy superfreak from when I was a child,” she said. “I used to ride my bike across a four lane highway to go to the Target store to spend all my dimes on candy!”
Twenty-seven years ago Burke started a decorative art and painting company and from there became a color consultant.She advised on the color of walls for high-end residential clients and retail customers. Her design company is still running but Burke says she is a “full-on confectionery, candy girl now”.
Room for organic candy
Burke set up Torie & Howard with her business partner and friend Howard Slatkin. He also ran a design firm and was a client of Burke’s. Both had food-related health issues at the time. Slatkin was overweight (he has since lost 100 pounds) and Burke said she had developed gluten intolerance. “We both had to change the way we ate,” said Burke.
In late 2009, the pair agreed to start a food company. “We found a lot of room in the confectionery world to offer a clean organic option and at the time there was not a lot of companies out there like that. We thought we could definitely make a lot of difference here,” said the Personality of the Year runner-up.
Lifestyle brand for women
Burke and Slatkin - Torie & Howard - spent two years working on the products and found a co-packer in Mexico. The brand was formerly launched at the Winter Fancy Foods Show in January 2012.
“Our product is positioned as a lifestyle brand,” said Burke. She said that Torie & Howard products were aimed at aspirational women aged 22 to 60.
Tins for multiple channels
According to the CEO, Torie & Burke’s tin packaging was chosen to allow multi-channel penetration. “We can be in book stores, drug stores, car washes, coffee shops, gift shops and vending machines – it can be sold almost anywhere…our packaging also brings us into a giftable area with a handbag.”
To complement the tined range, the company has developed a flavor assortment packaged in a handbag design for the gift market.
Big prospects in Asia and Western Europe
Grocery is currently the firm’s largest sales channel and around 10% of sales come in international markets. Torie & Howard has distribution in many Asia-Pacific markets including the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand,
Burke said: “We are certainly focusing on Asia…Asia has got a huge demand for organic products. Everyone is trying to make better-for-you choices….we’re all trying to watch our waistlines.”
The entrepreneur said that the US would remain the company’s strongest market for some time but the sales balance could gradually shift to 70:30 international to domestic sales.
The company’s other international markets are Chile, the Caribbean and Canada. The firm also has a light presence in the UK, France, Germany and Austria.
“We want to focus on Western Europe. We feel we don’t have good penetration here yet,” said Burke. She said that 58% of global confectionery sales came in Western Europe, so it was a natural market to tap.