Lovely Candy Company's lovely story
Illinois-based confectioner starts out with gluten-free licorice goal, ends up creating a whole line of premium chew candies.
On the back of every Lovely Candy Co. package, you’ll find the company’s story.
“The journey started when Jackie asked her husband Mike to go on a quest for her favorite candy... licorice,” it reads. “Hers was a special request, it needed to be consciously crafted with select gluten-free ingredients.”
“What began with licorice, evolved into additional family favorites. The Lovely Candy Co. was started with hopes to sweeten a lovely wife’s and families’ world — and yours too!”
And while that may be the short and sweet story, it’s also all true.
Lisa is actually Lisa Nakamura, who’s married to Mike Nakamura, now the Lovely Candy Co.’s ceo.
And he really did get into the confectionery business as a quest. His wife and daughter both have a gluten allergy, but they also both loved licorice. Unfortunately, nearly all licorice is made with flour, which contains gluten, making the candy completely off-limits.
So, after searching long and hard for someone who already made a gluten-free licorice to no avail, he realized that what he really needed to do was just make his own.
He, his wife and his daughter sat down to brainstorm a name and his wife suddenly blurted out, “Lovely Licorice,” which evolved into the Lovely Candy Co. And thus, once upon a time, a candy company was born.
However, it turned out that gluten-free licorice was a little harder to perfect than they originally thought, and so when the company launched at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in 2013, they did it without the product that inspired them to start Lovely in the first place.
That didn’t stop them from offering delicious treats at the show though. They debuted Original Chewy Caramels, Chocolate Swirl Caramels and Superfruit Chews, featuring real bits of fruit in three flavors: Cranberry, Raspberry and Blueberry — and all the products were, of course, gluten-free.
“We got some nice interest right away,” Mike Nakamura recalls.
The all-natural product line immediately struck a chord with national retailers including HomeGoods and Hallmark, along with regional grocers such as The Fresh Market, Giant Eagle Market District, Bristol Farms and Gelson’s. And by February Lovley’s line had been picked up by Target.
Now, about two-and-a-half years later, Lovely confections can be found across multiple channels, from mainline grocery stores to independent retailers. And, Lovely Candy has even crossed borders already, selling in Canada and Korea, with plans to sell in Dubai in the works.
Lovely did have an advantage from the get go, though. Mike Nakamura, and the man he tapped to be his vice president, Brian Heiser, both had experience in the confectionery industry.
Mike, and Ann Arbor, Mich.-native, got a taste for the candy business early in his career. After starting out in retail management, he answered an ad for an entry-level position as a candy buyer for Ann Arbor Drugs. By age 30, he had worked his way up to director of general merchandising, creating the import program for the company.
However, Nakamura had big dreams – even bigger than those of playing ball for the Cincinnati Reds, which had invited him to try out in 1979. He went to work at an international trading company based in Chicago, where he learned about overseas manufacturing, sales and supply. All of which came in handy when he decided to launch Lovely.
Meanwhile, Brian Heiser used to work in marketing at Wrigley.
As for their original goal — the licorice — they eventually were able to create an extruded licorice made with rice flour and tapioca so that it’s gluten-free but still has the same texture many American consumers are used to. Like all their products, it’s also made with only all-natural ingredients, like cane sugar and black carrot juice concentrate for coloring. And now they offer it in three flavors, including: original (black), strawberry, cherry.
“There’s million of consumers who have a gluten-free lifestyle, either by choice or by need, and we now have a gluten-free licorice available on the market place. And there’s this instant consumer base out there looking for this product, which the retailers know about it. And boom they can bring this in and they’re going to get sales because the consumers have been wanting this product for so long.” Heiser explains.
Lovely’s product line also includes three types of caramels, including: original, sea salt caramels, and caramel apple caramels; as well as three types of chocolate chews, including: Chocolate Swirl, Fudgee Rolls, Raspberry Fudgee Rolls. There’s also Lovely’s Original Fruit Chews, with blackberry, cherry, and apple flavors; and Superfruit Chews, with the cranberry, blackberry and raspberry flavors.
“We’re a premium chewy candy confection. That’s what we are first and foremost. And then to support that, we have all these great product claims,” Heiser says. “We don’t necessarily want to get pigeon-holed into, ‘we’re the gluten-free candy brand,’ or ‘we’re non-GMO.’ It’s really about offering a great line and a great assortment.”
It’s that line of thinking that inspires those at Lovely to put so much focus on the most important part of any candy — the taste.
“If somebody doesn’t go, ‘Wow, that’s really good,’ you’ve got a dud,” explains Heiser of their taste-testing process. “You can tell if somebody’s being nice. So we look for the big, ‘Wow, That’s delicious.’ Anything short of that, doesn’t cut it.”
Once they finalize a recipe, nearly all of the Lovely Candy is manufactured at a facility in Chicago.
As any good marketer will tell you though, there’s more to selling a product than taste, which is where Lovely’s gorgeous branding comes into play.
The company’s logo — which features the word “Lovely” is in sort-of half-cursive, half-print letters swirled together so that it’s hard to tell where one stops and the next begins, and then the words “CANDY CO.” written in small capital letters below that — was designed by DRC, a Naperville, Ill.-firm.
The same firm also helped Lovely create its packaging design. Heiser describes the bright, inviting packages as a sort of “Bohemian style.” And each line of confections has it’s own theme. So while the licorice packages feature swirls and flowers, the fruit chews has a doodle-inspired background.
Thus, Lovely Candy is carefully crafted from the cane sugar to the stand-up pouches it’s sold in — but even that isn’t always enough to get consumers to take a chance on new confections. So, Lovely does national sampling and includes its products as part of subscription discovery boxes that allow consumers to try before they buy.
While things are going pretty great for this relatively young candy company, the owners still have lots more on their to-do list.
“We have pretty high expectations for the brand and growing the brand footprint,” says Mike Nakamura.
They understand that retailers don’t just want a single new product to put on a shelf — they want a statement of items, a whole line. As a result, they’re looking into even more product development. They’re also looking into different packaging sizes, and more seasonal items.
The company also is working hard to source ingredients so that they can have even cleaner labels.
“We have a better-for-you ingredient profile,” Mike Nakamura says. “And it’s a very inclusive of the board market, so if customers do have allergies, and they’re trying to stay away from certain ingredients, they can eat this product. So, at the end of the day, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, it delivers on flavor, in a very premium way.”
That doesn’t just sound delicious, it sounds quite lovely.
At-a-Glance: The Lovely Candy Co.
Corporate Headquarters:1725 Kilkenny Ct.
Woodstock, Ill. 60098
Products: Lovely Candy Original Chewy Caramels, Lovely Candy Chocolate Swirl Caramels, Lovely Candy Super Fruit Chews (in Cranberry, Raspberry and Blueberry), Lovely Candy Fruit Chews (in Apple, Cherry and Blackberry), Lovely Licorice Black
Lovely Licorice Strawberry, Lovely Licorice Cherry, Lovely Candy Fudgee Rolls, Lovely Candy Raspberry Fudgee Rolls, Lovely Candy Seasonal Candies in 8 oz. and 16 oz. packages
Price:S.R.P. ranges from $1.49 - $12.99 per package