Launched in 2016, Vancouver-headquartered SmartSweets has a range of sweet and sour gummy products made using stevia leaf extract instead of sugar coupled with tapioca and chicory root fiber. With no added sugars, sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners, each 50g pack contains 3g sugar and between 80-90 calories.
Available online and in Canada and the US across a range of stores, including Whole Foods and GNC, the brand is set to launch its fifth variant 'Peach Rings' into US Whole Foods stores this June and more than double its store count by the end of 2019.
SmartSweets' 23-year-old founder Tara Bosch predicted that this year would be “really exciting”.
“Currently we're in 10,000 primarily natural and speciality stores, and by the end of the year that store count will have more than doubled and see us moving into mass, drug and grocery,” Bosch told FoodNavigator-USA.
“...The focus has always been on maintaining and growing store count and velocities, while also creating accessibility for our tribe – we call our consumers the tribe – and this year it's really exciting to create more accessibility for them.”
'Making candy cool again'
SmartSweets' 'tribe', she said, were from Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (post-Millennials) – consumers now aged anywhere between 20-35; a group Bosch directly related to.
“It's been really awesome to have the optics - I am our consumer – on how they're thinking; what's resonating; what's not resonating; and really have that authenticity.
“...One of the things we're really excited about, and I think is really cool, is we're making candy cool again. We're bringing back Gen Y and Gen Z to the candy aisle – an aisle they had stopped shopping. [Our candy] is in their basket loud and proud, rather than hiding under their kale and vegetables.”
Bosch said this presented great growth opportunities for retailers. “The leading conversation with retailers we have is that, regardless of the channel, we're in alignment with trends here to stay: sugar reduction, natural snacking and Gen Y and Z.
“...We didn't just come and say 'hey, we'd like to be another addition to your set', we had a very clear vision on how we could create concrete value to the non-chocolate category and bring that consumer who stopped shopping that aisle back.”
However, Bosch said SmartSweets had been careful with its expansion strategy and would continue to be. “While we're growing fast, we've been really focused on saying 'no' more than we say 'yes' and being smart on where we grow. It's about stripping back that excitement and looking strategically at serving our tribe.”
'We're not an alternative; we truly are an additional choice'
Asked what SmartSweets considered competition, Bosch said: “Right now in the candy space it seems there are two kind of different alternatives to traditional sugar confectionery. The first on is sugar-free, so the candy that addresses sugar through the use of sugar alcohols, and the second is all-natural candy that uses all natural, organic ingredients but doesn't necessarily address sugar at all. There's really no-one right now that is meeting at the intersection that we are in.”
Candy alternatives weren't competition, nor were traditional confectionery products, she said, despite being positioned right alongside them.
“We like living in the candy aisle because ultimately (…) we're not an alternative; we truly are an additional choice for the consumer. They don't have to sacrifice on anything to enjoy our product.”
Bosch said SmartSweets would continue to innovate, drawing inspiration from the staple candy and treats of the 1920s, and invest in product development throughout 2019.
“The overall theme of sugar reduction is no longer a trend, it's the norm. And now for the confectionery category as a whole, a category made up of sugar, the question is: how do we innovate and evolve?
“...What [innovation] looks like for us, is being really committed to relentless learning and continuing to listen to what our tribe is saying and how we can out-achieve the value proposition for them.”
Engagement with these consumers, she said, would continue to be a significant priority for SmartSweets, maintained on social media and through its specially-developed 'SmartFoods Champion' program with 500 consumers.
Understanding the consumer 'why'
“I have weekly conversations with them on email and they're really brought into it as if they're part of the team. We talk about everything from innovation, to where they're shopping, to what their dog's name is – holistically getting to know our tribe and understanding their 'why' and why they're passionate and what drives their smart snacking. That's been massively important having that real time feedback and putting it into ideation and product development,” Bosch said.
SmartSweets may eventually move beyond confectionery, if the right opportunity came up, she said, but, again, this would be spearheaded by the consumer.
“If we saw the opportunity to create value that would be incremental to what we're already creating in a different format, it's something we would always be open to. It's just going back to what the tribe want; they guide us on those decisions, in conjunction with strategic partnerships with retailers and looking at what the data is saying.”