It’s safe to say that Morse was one of the youngest—if not the youngest—exhibitors at this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago. Her brand of xylitol candies, marketed for their teeth-friendly credentials, has been embraced by national retailers Whole Foods, Kroger, and Toys “R” Us.
“I’ve always wanted to create a business,” Morse told FoodNavigator-USA at the expo. “I’ve always been pretty driven to help people, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to help kids and adults around the world.”
Dental caries, the number one childhood chronic disease
The idea came up when she was offered a lollipop at a bank branch. “My dad told me I shouldn’t have candy because sugar is bad for my teeth, so I asked ‘why don’t we make a healthy sucker that’s good for my teeth so I can have candy and it won’t be bad for me?’” Morse was seven years old at the time.
Morse did research with her dad and found that, according to the US Surgeon General, dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic childhood disease—five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
Made with xylitol, erythritol, and stevia, Morse said that the candies increase PH balance in the mouth after meals, neutralizing acid, and strengthening tooth enamel. “Lots of people think if [they] brush their teeth after a meal, it would be nice and clean, but actually, if you brush your teeth after a meal, it could brush off your tooth enamel,” she claimed.
Better-for-you in candy category
As a confectionery brand promoting a functional health benefit, Zollipops squarely hits the ‘better-for-you’ trend that, like other segments of the food and beverage industry, has encroached into the candy space.
Last year, Netherlands-based data company Innova Market Insights found that functional features in candy are still niche, but new product launches of confectionery items boasting organic and free-from claims (often perceived as healthier by consumers), saw an uptick.
Additionally, blurring of the categories snacks, candies, and even dietary supplements means competition is growing from all corners. This year, for example, marked the first year that dietary supplement giant NBTY exhibited at Sweets and Snacks, promoting its sports nutrition brands Met-RX, Pure Protein, and Balance.
Tom Morse, Alina’s father and manager of the company while his daughter is at school, told ABC 7 that “for the first quarter of 2017, we’ve already done more sales than in all of 2016.”
Zollipops’ novelty as a ‘better-for-you’ candy has won it media attention, from national morning shows to Shark Tank, and is even noted for being the only candy given out at the White House Easter Egg Hunt in 2016 under the Obama Administration.
“There’s a high demand for more organic, healthier things,” Morse said. “I definitely want to keep doing this, I think it’s made an impact and it’s been helping more people, and if we keep going, we can help every kid in America have a healthy smile.”