ConfectioneryNew caught up with Torie & Howard CEO Torie Burke.
Can you tell me what your business looks like right now? Are there any challenges or missed opportunities?
TB - Simply stated, growing fast. The organic hard candy line that launched Torie & Howard in January 2012 continues to climb with considerable interest from retailers, and with the additional launch of our new Chewie Fruities the vertical climb has steepened. The 2-ounce hard candy tins and 4-ounce bags of Chewie Fruities candy are being picked up by Publix Greenwise stores in Florida, Whole Foods Market in Texas, Fresh Market in North Carolina, Raley’s in California, Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy and HEB in Texas, Big Y in Connecticut, Lowe’s in North Carolina, and Spartan Stores in Michigan. Additionally Walgreens is carrying the handbag gift package for Easter and Mother’s Day, and it has been placed internationally. The handbags and tins have been placed in Cold Storage in Singapore, City Super in Hong Kong, Zebra International in New Zealand, and ABC stores in Guam.
With the penetration of specialty foods and confectionery outside of traditional natural foods and gourmet food retailers, our opportunities have expanded into conventional grocery - our Halloween package was picked up by Kroger - and to other retailers such as CVS, Toys ‘R Us, and Saks off Fifth.
Tell me about your new distributor, Max Natural Foods. How did you reach out to them? How will Max Natural Foods help expand your business?
TB - We met Max Natural Foods at the Winter Fancy Food Show in January. They visited our booth and Rod Bambach our National Sales Manager followed up with them. Max Natural Foods will allow us to penetrate additional natural and specialty retailers in the Metro NY market. It is a grocery wholesale distributor in New York metro area including Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
What’s your understanding about clean eating trend? How do you apply this trend to your business?
TB - Clean ingredients can mean a variety of things to different consumers from organic foods to those containing no artificial colors or preservatives or no genetically engineered ingredients. For some, it also can mean free from gluten and other allergens. Consumers are making good lifestyle choices, watching for clean labels and caring what goes into their bodies. Our business is based on our desire to provide products that align with a healthful lifestyle for a customer’s entire life. Because I began experiencing severe food allergies, this was an important consideration for me when Howard Slatkin and I founded the company.
All Torie & Howard candy is USDA Organic, contains no preservatives, artificial dyes or genetically engineered ingredients, and also is free from major allergens, including soy, wheat, gluten, nuts, and dairy. With major corporations, such as Mars, pledging to eliminate artificial colors, clean ingredients are moving from trend to mainstream by demand- and we are thrilled to see it.
Can you talk about the growth of your business? What’s your new business strategy this year to increase sales?
TB - As a closely-held corporation, we don’t release sales numbers, but as an indication of growth, in July 2014, our candy was in about 3,500 retailers. That number rose to more than 6,000 retailers by October 2015, and by the end of the first quarter 2016 we will be in 26,000 stores – a significant gain.
Strategy-wise, we will continue focusing on expansion at retail, but also will emphasize connecting more with consumers, particularly those who are actively seeking better-for-you options for themselves and their families. We see social media as a good way to connect with those consumers and people who just like good candy.
How will you compete with other candy companies as more realize the value of clean ingredients?
TB - As an early entry in the arena of organic candies, we believe we have an established consumer awareness of our brand among many who seek healthy indulgences. Again, we are a small company that can develop a personalized connection with consumers who want to know who is behind the food they consume and what their story is. We like social media as a vehicle for nurturing consumer relationships.
What’s in the development pipeline?
TB - Line extension is in play as we come up with new flavor profiles, new merchandising options for our retailers is also in the works. At this time it is premature to disclose these and other expansion plans, but soon!
How do you see the development of your candy company in the next decade?
TB - Customers view Torie & Howard brand as a company synonymous with a healthful organic lifestyle. We will continue to fill the demand for our products while maintaining our allegiance to innovative flavors and products.