“We wanted the packaging to match the product in it,” Jason McCrea, co-founder of the small caramel company in Boston named after his family, told FoodNavigator-USA.
This meant going for a simple, minimalist package design to match a simple and understated ingredient list. “We don’t use corn syrup,” Jason said, “We use tapioca syrup to control the crystallization.”
The result is tender and chewy caramel that melts in your mouth instead of sticking to your teeth, he added.
Candy is chemistry
Jason’s candy-making enthusiasm dates to his childhood, learning from his mother who was experimental in the kitchen. “And I just love caramel,” he said about why he chose to start the business.
With a background in chemistry and work experience with statistics, opening a caramel business was the logical next step for Jason after he was laid-off from a number-crunching job in 2009. “I’ve been able to use all my previous skills and passion and incorporate that into one thing, my company,” he said.
The caramels are made out of four types of sugar, all coming from sugarcane grown in the US. Milk and butter come from dairies in Massachusetts, adding an element of localness to the brand. The whole process is done by a computer-driven batch cooker, one of the company’s first investments made after Jason struggled to keep up with demand making the caramel in a stove-top pot with a wooden spoon.
There are 11 flavors of caramel to choose from: Tapped Maple, Single Malt Scotch, Deep Chocolate, Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt, Ginger Fusion, Café Noir, Dark Chocolate, Basil Cayenne, Black Lava Sea Salt, Classic Vanilla, and Cape Cod Sea Salt.
Targeting consumers who aren’t buying for themselves
“My wife was the one who really observed that people were giving candy for gifts,” Jason said about his business (and life) partner Kate McCrea. “She advocated for changing the packaging to position it as a gift item.”
An award-winning design firm in Minneapolis called Westwerk (who just tweeted that their design for McCrea's won an award) gave the brand’s image a facelift. Sleek appearance aside, McCrea's Candies is still very much a small company with a facility located in a cozy corner of an unassuming residential neighborhood in the south of Boston, employing local talent in their workshop.
Their candy is still made in small batches, packaged all in paper in either a cylindrical tube, gift set, or pillow, shipped mostly to Northeastern retailers that range from grocery stores to gift shops.
The company expanded to the West Coast earlier this year, and it had a booth at last month’s Sweets & Snacks Expo 2016 in Chicago to ramp up their Midwestern presence. Though production is still small, the media and food community have noticed—it was in USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice “Best Gift for Foodies” for 2016, won a Good Food Award, and was a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made contest in 2015.
“As an entrepreneur, you start something off like this and you’re never sure what will happen,” Jason said. “I was surprised, pleasantly surprised. We’ve had tremendous growth since we started.”