Founder and CEO Mayssa Chehata knew -- and felt -- the downside of regularly satisfying her sweet tooth with conventional sugar-filled candy options.
"As I was getting older, things started to affect me differently, and the question I would ask myself is, 'Can something exist that is low sugar, doesn’t have any artificial ingredients, and still taste great?'," Chehata told FoodNavigator-USA.
Taste was everything to Chehata who knew that in a category such as candy, consumers would be less forgiving if a product couldn't measure up in sweetness and flavor.
Not a fan of the low-sugar options, and the artificial sweeteners that accompanied them, Chehata took an unconventional path to formulating Behave gummy bears and enlisted the culinary expertise of James Beard award nominee and confectionery expert Elizabeth Falkner to develop the recipe.
"We definitely went into Willy Wonka mode," said Chehata, who alongside Falkner went through over a hundred different flavor variations all with the focus of first nailing the taste profile and then backing into the nutrition panel to make sure the products could deliver on its low-sugar promise.
"I think sometimes in the nutrition space you start with a nutrition panel and you back into it. The great thing with Elizabeth is she put taste first," said Chehata.
The winning formulation of Behave gummy bear varieties contains 3g of sugar, 6g net carbs, and is sweetened with monkfruit. Flavors include lychee (a classic in French patisserie), passionfruit, and raspberry. Behave products are sold online through the company's website.
Disrupting $25bn candy industry
While the origin of brand stemmed from a personal nutrition dilemma Chehata was looking to solve, the addressable market for Behave is potentially billions of dollars.
US consumers saw the first major wave of reduced-sugar and sugar-free candy products hit the market -- mainly launched by legacy brands such as The Hershey Company and Russel Stover -- in the early 2000s. Over the past 20 years, consumers' awareness and monitoring of their sugar intake has exploded. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2020 Food and Health Survey, 74% of respondents said they were trying to limit or avoid sugar this year.
In 2019, reduced-sugar or sugar-free candy sales (including non-chocolate and chocolate products) accounted for roughly $229m in US sales, according to IRI sales data included in The Candy Industry's annual report.
However, an even larger opportunity for Behave is the non-chocolate gummy candy category -- as Chehata believes the products can eventually compete with category leaders such as Haribo -- which generated $3.9bn in sales in the year ending June 14, 2020, up 5.2% from a year ago, according to IRI, a Chicago-based research firm.
"We’re talking to that grown-up consumer who maybe feels they’ve been pushed out of the candy aisle," she said.
E-commerce as a pathway to audience insights
Launched online earlier this week, the brand is looking to learn all it can from its consumer audience through its DTC-first approach, where its first order of business is targeting the digital-forward millennial consumer, said Chehata.
"We want to make sure we can tell our brand story really clearly, and I think the best way to do that is in the e-commerce space," said Chehata.
"We have an omni-channel vision in the long-term but we first want to see what do our customers love, what do they not love, before we take that plunge into retail where you do lose some control over the brand experience and lose that direct line of communication."
Further down the line in its retail strategy, Chehata said the brand hopes to explore the alternative retail channel where it can sell Behave in outlets where a pack of gummy bears would be an unexpected find such as spin studios and offices.