Confectionery: the perfect marriage of art and science?

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Flavor, Sugar

Confectionery: the perfect marriage of art and science?
Chemistry and art would be good subjects for aspiring confectioners to study – as well as developing a bit of business acumen - says the co-founder of Boston-based McCrea’s Candies. 

McCrea’s Candies has expanded into 170 stores in North America. It produces 14 flavors of handcrafted caramels, from traditional favorites to rosemary truffle sea salt and curried butternut.

The business – which was started in a home kitchen – has listings ranging from small boutique stores to national retail chains such as Home Goods and Whole Foods.

Jason and Kate April 2015
Jason and Kate McCrea

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The caramels are made using cane sugar, milk, cream, butter, molasses, and salt. Flavorings come from food ingredients.

Jason and Kate McCrea started their business in a home kitchen after being laid off during the economic downturn.

With backgrounds in biology and chemistry, Kate McCrea told ConfectioneryNews.com it was the perfect grounding for making caramel.

“Jason made candy out of that desire to do something fun, to keep people’s spirits up. And we realised this may be a door, an opening,” ​she said.

“Candy is a very scientific process in terms of temperatures; why that ingredient is in there, and what it does.

“It is also an art. I’ve always argued art and science are so tightly tied, and it’s wonderful to find somewhere we can be creative and have a craft.”

The ability to learn how to run a business is another key attribute for entrepreneurs, added McCrea.

“It’s one thing to stand at a stove in your home; it’s totally different to grow a business,” ​she said.

“A fab product only takes you to the end of the cash.”

ginger fusion
Ginger fusion

Flavours

McCrea’s candies include the flagship Hawaiian black lava sea salt, basil and cayenne, ginger fusion, curried butternut and rosemary truffle sea salt. It also produces traditional flavours such as vanilla, scotch, chocolate, maple, mocha and coffee.

So which is more popular – the traditional flavors or the new varieties?

Black lava sea salt takes the most sales, but overall the more adventurous flavors have a lower percentage of sales, said McCrea.

“However, the people who love these very interesting flavours tend to be almost fanatic.

“It’s an interesting mix. People want a traditional caramel, and their personal exotic flavour. They say: I’ll buy two.

“The other thing we find is that – in a retail location – samples are very important to the sales, especially of different flavours. Something like rosemary truffle – you really want to taste that before you commit to that purchase.

“For new shops coming on board, we do recommend sticking with traditional flavours. It depends a bit on the shop – we make personal recommendations. As people know the brand better and better they will go to our website or request the shop owner to stock different flavours.”

Production

The caramels are hand-crafted in small batches, but McCrea says there is still room for the business to grow using this method.

“I do not see us changing our cooking technique: we are committed to that as it’s the direct result of that process that gives our flavour. What I could see happening in a few years as our growth really continues and puts pressure on the process – I could see the packaging process changing.”

The business’ next step will be to grow availability of its core caramel products, and expand distribution up and down the east coast then head west. Further product development will follow.

“We have a lot of fun,”​ said McCrea. “We often say had we known [how hard running a business is], we might not have done it; but having done it, we wouldn’t go back and change it.”

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