Startup Spotlight

Harken Sweets reimagines ‘what a candy bar can be using the power of date fruit’

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Startup company Innovation

The founder of startup Harken Sweets, which launched earlier this month, wants to “nutritionally overhaul” the candy bar category by using “the power of the date fruit,” like how she helped Caulipower reinvigorate the pizza category with the “power of cauliflower” when she was company’s COO.

Harken Sweets​' flagship products include two modern takes on classic candy bars in which industry veteran and company founder Katie Lefkowitz replaces the corn syrup, cane sugar and artificial sweeteners commonly used in confections with a “family-famous date caramel recipe” that packs a hefty dose of fiber and allows her to slash the amount of sugar and calories in her bars compared to their traditional counterpart.

“Harken is really about reinvigorating the confectionary space with the power of the date fruit,” which has “been around, obviously, for centuries, but I think they are really gaining the momentum that they have now because people are realizing how incredible the fruit really is,” Lefkowitz told FoodNavigator-USA.

She explained that her date-base caramel retains the fruit’s vitamins, minerals and – notably – its fiber, which is a shortfall nutrient for many Americans and which Lefkowitz reinforces in the bars with prebiotic tapioca, sunchokes and oats.

“What we have created here, what we were able to achieve nutritionally has really never been done before because of all of that R&D and research that went into making this date caramel,” she said.

In total, each bar has 13 grams of prebiotic fiber, about half the daily recommended intake, no added sugar – but about 8 grams of total sugar from the dates and extra sweetness from Monk Fruit, and 140 calories, which is about 40% of the bars’ category leading counterparts, Lefkowitz said.

Harken Sweets’ first bar – The Nutty One – is a better-for-you version of a Snickers bar, and the second bar – the Gooey One – is an allergen-friendly take on the first without the peanuts. Both bars have a nougat layer topped with the date caramel and enrobed in an oat-chocolate.

[Editor's note: FoodNavigator-USA's Startup Spotlight Series highlights innovative products and enterprising entrepreneurs who are reshaping the food and beverage industry, and seeks to share lessons learned and different approaches to common challenges facing new and emerging brands. If you are new to the scene and have a breakout product, stubborn problem or savvy solution, let us know.]

Multi-prong marketing strategy helps drive velocities 5x faster than category average

While it is still early days for the bar, which has limited distribution in the New York market, Lefkowitz says it is “flying” off shelves with a velocity five times the category average.

Lefkowitz attributes this early success to a multi-prong marketing approach that includes building a ‘cult following’ online before launching into retail to ensure she could drive foot traffic and velocities. She also notes the importance of ensuring callouts on packaging grab consumers’ attention and meet their needs.

For Harken Sweets the most influential callouts on the bars’ packaging are that they have only 140 calories, have no sugar added or “fake stuff” and highlight the date caramel filling, which Lefkowitz notes is a primary differentiator from competitors.

Entrepreneurial intuition tops conventional wisdom

As Lefkowitz strikes out on her own to build Harken Sweets she says she is drawing heavily on her experience helping to build Caulipower alongside founder Gail Becker, who advised the team that it is better to say ‘oops,’ rather than dwell on ‘what ifs’ and what could have been.  

With this in mind, she says, she is all in and “going big … not going little.”

She acknowledges that this may buck conventional wisdom around go-to-market strategy, but she says, “a huge element of this is where you have to trust your gut. As an entrepreneur, you have to know your consumers so well and know what they want. And I just think relying on your own intuition just as much as other sources of input” is essential to success.

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