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Confections Go Organic By Leslie Koren Which of the following confections are organic: a. Toffee crunch chocolate bar b. Milk chocolate coffee truffles rolled in cocoa c. Candy canes The answer is, “d. all of the above.” Organic confections are one of the biggest trends in the market, tempting consumers at specialty and sweet shops across the nation. “People come in looking for the organics,” reports Doug Alpern, owner of Village Candy, a one-year-old shop outside of Pittsburgh. The organic chocolate and candy market grew 49 percent in 2005, the last year for which the Organic Trade Association compiled statistics. Sales totaled $49 million, more than twice the $23 million of 2003. Industry professionals attribute the rise to increasing availability, recent news promoting the health benefits of dark chocolate and a greater interest in eco-sustainability. “Our customers are highly educated and want to do away with pesticides,” Alpern says. And this is just the beginning, believes Joan Steuer, president of Chocolate Marketing, LLC, Beverly Hills, Calif. “It’s hitting the mainstream as we speak, but there’s lots of room for growth,” she says. The Production Challenge It’s a long trip from cacao tree to chocolate bar or fruit flavors to lollipops, and most people don’t associate treats with farm-based raw ingredients. But as with all foods labeled organic, the ingredients in confections must be grown pesticide-free, with natural fertilizer. To use the term organic, products must be certified. The certification process is extensive and expensive, and becoming organic has been a challenge for many confectioners with even the best of intentions. Lake Champlain Chocolates, Burlington, Vt., launched its organic line last November, several years after the first discussions, because it couldn’t find an organic chocolate that matched its taste quality. CharlesSiegel, owner of Charles Chocolates, Emeryville, Calif., is still on the hunt. His high-end treats are made with organic herbs, butter, cream and fruits, but not chocolate. “We are having trouble sourcing couverture. And while we feel strongly about using organic products, we aren’t willing to compromise quality just to say it’s organic,” Siegel notes. Price is another barrier. Suzanne Lombardi and her partner Ayis Antoniou had intentions of getting Tiny Trapeze marshmallows, caramels and other products certified organic when they started their Hyde Park, Mass.-based company four years ago, but costs were prohibitive. They surveyed acquaintances, especially parents, to determine the importance of the label and found the term “all natural” sufficed. As consumer demand rises, options are increasing and there are now many top-notch products on the market. Quality and regulatory issues stymied Boulder, Colo.-based Chocolove’s organic line for more than a decade, but its current organic chocolates are made from premium certified-organic Belgian chocolate. “It has a unique flavor and we are truly ecstatic about the profile,” says Timothy Moley, chocolatier and owner. Big conventional players are getting into the organic chocolate game as well. Cadbury bought the British company Green and Black’s in 2005 and last year, Hershey’s acquired Dagoba Organic Chocolate, LLC, Ashland, Ore. Setting Organics Apart Organic lines tend to be limited and could easily get lost on the shelf. James Kinard, proprietor of For the Love of

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Chocolate, in Richmond, Va., suggests starting with an organic line from a manufacturer you already carry. Kinard stocks organics next to conventional chocolates from the same brand and uses signage to highlight the special ingredients. He also looks for organics with sophisticated flavors and ingredients, like Lake Champlain’s Dark Spicy Aztec or Milk Sea Salt and Almond, to enhance the value proposition of the more expensive bars. Merchants can also opt for smaller pick-up items for displays or at the front end, as a low-investment introduction into organics for customers. The organic label alone, however, is not enough. Taste matters, perhaps more in this market than any other, notes Steuer. Confections are, above all, an affordable indulgence. Consumers buy them because it feels good and they like it. Organic is low on the priority list, she adds. Steuer recommends highlighting the story or origin of the ingredients. Look for cause-related products like Indianapolis’ Endangered Species bars, which explain the plight of endangered animals and are made from ethically traded chocolate. “I look at organic as a way of life for consumers rather than a stamp,” Steuer explains. Kid-Friendly Novelties Organic novelty treats exist in growing numbers. Most kids don’t care if the candy they eat is organic, but more and more parents do, so retailers should highlight the health benefits of these treats. Or consider showcasing organics around holidays, when parents are driving candy purchases. Organic novelties and penny candies are coming onto the market. Last year, two new dads, Sergio Bicas and Rob Wunder, started Ridgewood, N.J.’s YummyEarth, which makes organic lollipops and drops; they have already been featured on NBC’s The Today Show and in USA Today. Similarly, Canada’s Pure Fun began 18 months ago. “We wanted to make candy for children with no pesticides, artificial colors or dyes,” says Luna Roth, president and co-founder. Pure Fun’s original organic cotton candy has already tripled production, and the company has expanded to include candy canes, pinwheels, citrus slices and lollipops in its product line. Education is essential: The Pure Fun website is not only colorful and entertaining, but also contains volumes of information about the benefits of organics. “People were so used to conventional candy, at first they thought we were flakes,” Roth says. “But parents arebecoming much more cognizant of what they feed their children. Candy is an indulgence food, but we all need it.” Leslie Koren’s articles have appeared in The Washington Times and the Bergen Record.

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Confections Go Organic  

Describes how the organic movement has impacted the candy business.