Every one of us has been hit with a massive sugar craving. We give into it, indulging in gummy bears or chocolate or donuts, only to be met with a massive crash about an hour or two later. But the story doesn't end there, because those sugar cravings always end up coming back.
As much as 40 percent of health expenditures in the United States are closely tied to overconsumption of sugar. There's also evidence that sugar has negative physiological effects on the brain. As a society, we're addicted to it. That's why Tara Bosch, CEO and Founder of SmartSweets, is riding a sugar-free high from revolutionizing candy consumption.
“Our first and foremost mission is really addressing the sugar and making sustainable eating choices that foster a healthy relationship with food. I really focus on encouraging and empowering a sustainable relationship with food and then ultimately themselves," says Bosch.
In just under a year after conception, SmartSweets expanded from Bosch's kitchen in Vancouver to shelves across Canada. Bosch herself went from a college student, studying arts, to a bonafide CEO. Now, SmartSweets has evolved even further, taking over grocery chains across America. Having launched in Whole Foods in March of this year, SmartSweets has increased its reach from 2,500 doors to over 10,000.
The 23-year-old founder says a conversation with her Grandmother gave her the idea to give sugar the boot. “She shared with me that she regretted having sugar, and so much of it for so long," says Bosch. “For me, it was really shocking because growing up I had an unhealthy relationship with food because of all the candy I was eating. It sparked my inspiration into sugar, what it's doing to us as a society, despite that it's never been more available in packaged foods today, specifically in the candy industry where it's the epicenter of sugar in excessive amounts. It inspired me to begin my quest and make the first candy that kicks sugar."
From there, Bosch began recipe testing like a madwoman. Her secret? She utilizes tapioca and chicory root as natural sweeteners. These ingredients also help you feel fuller longer and have the added benefits of plant-based fiber, she says.
Besides the lack of sugar, the most important thing is for SmartSweets to be comparable to the taste of the gummy bears we've all grown up with. “If people are to make a smarter, more sustainable choice it has to taste like the real thing," explains Bosch. “For us, we have 3 grams of sugar for the entire bag, whereas Haribo would have between 25 to 35 grams, and that's not for the whole bag. That's just a 50-gram serving."
Bosch is beating sugar at its own game, but success didn't come without risk.
She secured her initial funding through debt financing before getting SmartSweets onto shelves. “I signed my life away, essentially, but we launched with 120 thousand of debt financing, and that's what got us basically from the point of ideation to launching on our first shelf." says Bosch. "In January, we just raised 3M and before that I had done a convertible note, and that's really fueling our U.S. launch and really getting us to the place where we're able to sustain ourselves organically through our margins.
She learned to do all this through a resource already at anyone's fingertips - Google. “Everything is on google," advises Bosch. “That's how I found pretty much everything from our first raw materials to our manufacturing partner."
Bosch credits her success to her team and an accelerated business program she was accepted into after dropping out of school. “I'm probably the stupidest person on my team," she jokes. “Not in a self-deprecating way, just being brutally honest about what I'm not good at, and the knowledge I don't have, and then making sure to surround myself with the people that do. SmartSweets has been really lucky because I was accepted into an accelerated program when I dropped out of university, and as a sole founder that was really great because all of a sudden I was no longer in my kitchen by myself."
Bosch says she envisions the SmartSweets brand becoming a global leader in confectionary products that eliminate sugar, and a thought leader in empowering people with the choice to remove sugar from their diets.
As for the immediate future, SmartSweets will be launching two innovations each quarter. “At this time next year you should be able to go to your favorite store, choose your favorite candy product, whether it's Starburst or Skittles or licorice, and Smart Sweets be the brand delivering on the promise that we're using no sugar, sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners."
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.