Processing special edition
Interview: How Stuffed Puffs’ founder Michael Tierney re-invented the S’more
For non-Americans, a S’more is ‘a dessert consisting usually of toasted marshmallow and pieces of chocolate bar sandwiched between two graham crackers’, cooked over a campfire or hot grill.
But juggling marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers around a campfire, or hot grill, can be a sticky challenge as, all too often, the marshmallow does not get hot enough to melt the chocolate.
It’s a simple idea, but very hard to execute, which is why it hasn’t been done before
Enter Michael Tierney, CEO and founder of Stuffed Puffs, who has ingeniously solved the problem by putting the chocolate inside the marshmallow. “The chocolate melts while the marshmallow toasts,” he tells ConfectioneryNews. “It’s the fail-safe way to make a perfect s’more.”
Breaks all the rules
Stuffed Puffs’ innovative filled marshmallows are made with real chocolate and Tierney says the idea was born around the campfire. “It’s a simple idea, but very hard to execute, which is why it hasn’t been done before. I spent seven years figuring out a truly innovative system that breaks the rules of traditional candy making. I’m so excited it’s finally here.”
He says he actually came up with the concept for Stuffed Puffs when he was just 18 years old and, after a career in fine dining, he created his first Stuffed Puff in his mom’s kitchen in 2012. From there, he raised some friends and family capital to begin pursuing this dream.
Within two years, he had created a proprietary manufacturing process. During that time, and searching for a manufacturing partner, he realized he wasn’t the first person to think of the idea for what eventually became Stuffed Puffs. He was, however, the first person to figure out how to manufacture this extremely technical confectionery.
When questioned on the process he hit upon by ConfectioneryNews, Tierney says he is reluctant to give away any trade secrets. “All I can tell you is that it has nothing to do with how you typically make a marshmallow.”
In the process, he says he has essentially become a self-taught engineer and food scientist.
To achieve the desired results of making the chocolate melt between the crackers, Tierney and his backers had to design build the equipment from scratch. “Every supplier we went to told us ‘no it can’t be done’, or ‘don’t you think we have tried this ourselves’, so we had to take a completely fresh approach to make a highly automated facility to make Stuffed Puffs.”
But he hit a snag with his invention. By 2014, he had exhausted all the capital raised and was out of options to bring his dream to life.
As he explains, the downside of creating a new technology is that you cannot take the common, low barrier to entry path, of using an outside copacker to launch a Consumer Packed Goods (CPG) brand.
He realized that he was going to have to build a plant from scratch himself - and that was going to take tens of millions of dollars. He quickly established Mikey’s Brand, a better-for-you baked goods for a local (Long Island, NY) retailer, which blossomed into over 8,000 retailers doors nationwide.
The idea for Stuffed Puffs was never far from Tierney’s mind and in 2018, Mikey’s had reached a point that he could go out and raise Private Equity Capita;, striking a $5M fundraising round with the new $250M CPG fund, Factory, LLC, he brought up his dream for Stuffed Puffs to the founding partners.
They saw his vision and dream for Stuffed Puffs and as he closed the Mikey’s deal, they also funded a $22M deal for Stuffed Puffs. He finally had the right credentials, and the right partners, to bring the dream to Life.
Tierney officially opened the Stuffed Puffs plant in April 2019 in Wisconsin producing “north of $30m worth of product” and demand has been so successful, Tierney says they are now in the process of building a second facility in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that can “house up to about $400m worth of capacity”.
At present, the main retail outlet for Stuffed Puffs is Walmart and the company currently employs 60 people, with more job opportunities available once the Bethlehem plant comes online.
Just turned 30 years of age, Tierney has been recognized by Forbes as one of the country’s leading young entrepreneurs.
Word of mouth
Most of the marketing/advertising has been word of mouth and the new process to “make a good thing even better” has led to plenty of media coverage.
A partnership with DJ Marshmello also brought “tons of interest” in the brand, which has led to him becoming an equity partner in Stuffed Puffs.
“Stuffed Puffs is the easy new way to make a good old-fashioned American favorite,” Tierney continues. “But S’mores are only our starting point. We are already at work on different flavor and coating combinations that will make Stuffed Puffs much more than just a campfire-season product.”