Industry: Food & Beverage
For Rademaekers, science plus creativity led to candy. A self-described "kitchen geek hobbyist," the former scientist and touring musician found the inspiration for his growing natural and organic candy company in a dream. "A Willy Wonka-type, kooky candyman took me into his laboratory and showed me all sorts of fantastical and great candy ideas," he recalls. "It created a spark of inspiration that I decided to follow a short time later when I realized that making candy was a perfect combination of my past career experiences."
A longtime consumer of organic and natural foods, Rademaekers saw an unanswered need in the candy market. "Traditional candy has always been full of junky ingredients and more focused on appearance and experience than the impact these foods were having on consumers' bodies," he explains. "I wanted to create natural and organic candies that had the fewest ingredients possible. But I didn't want to just create a healthier version of an existing product; I wanted to create something new as well."
After developing a recipe for "extremely delicious" caramels made with vitamin and mineral-rich, lactose-free coconut milk, brown rice syrup and other organic ingredients, Rademaekers began selling his handcrafted and hand-wrapped candies at the Boulder Farmers Market and quickly made a name for his company with local distributors and retail store buyers. JJ's Sweets has since grown from producing 1,000 pieces of Naked Cocomels each week in a small shared kitchen space in 2010 to selling more than 7 million pieces of naked and Chocolate Covered Cocomels in 2015.
Certified organic, non-GMO, kosher, vegan, dairy- and gluten-free Cocomels are now available in more than 2,200 stores across the nation including Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Kroger and Wegmans. Consumers can also order Rademaekers' candies from the company's website and Amazon.
Rademaekers expects to double production over the coming year while continuing to focus on the three pillars of his business: experience, innovation and mindfulness. "Mindfulness is the reason why we are organic, dairy-free and vegan," Rademaekers says. "In addition to the experience people have when eating a Cocomel, we care about what our candy does to their bodies, the environment and the people who are working to bring our ingredients to us. We want to be a responsible company that leaves things better than we've found them."
Challenges: While Rademaekers' products have won several awards -- including a Good Food award for Coconut Palm Sugar Cocomels and a best new product award from the National Specialty Food Association for Chocolate Covered Cocomels -- many consumers still haven't tried them. "We can tell people all day that we make delicious coconut milk caramels, but it's not until they taste one that they really get it," he says. "That's one of the challenges of innovation. We didn't want to be a copycat brand so we created something new. Now we're faced with the challenge of marketing and creating awareness around this new subcategory of caramel."
Opportunities: Rapid growth of a number of markets, including those of natural and organic products along with vegan and allergy-free foods, represent a huge opportunity for JJ's Sweets. "More consumers are becoming aware of the benefits of eating healthier food," Rademaekers says. "But there has long been the perception that organic and natural compromise on taste and experience. Our goal is to overturn that notion."
The company will also be introducing new chocolate covered varieties and seasonal options in the future. "We plan to launch some holiday-specific varieties so we can be a part of that big bump that happens during different candy holidays across the year," he adds.
Needs: "A growing company in the CPG food space needs a lot of cash," Rademaekers says. "It's an expensive business to grow a brand like this. We will likely be raising some capital in the near term and using that to build our team and expand on our marketing initiatives to help tackle our challenges."