Sugarfina Founders Have Sweet Dreams Of Artisanal Candies
From an auspicious date night to multimillion-dollar reality, South Bay couple and entrepreneurs Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick play their own winning game of Candy Land.
- CategoryMakers + Entrepreneurs
- Written byRich Thomas
- Photographed byShane O'Donnell
Many of us have a complex relationship with candy. Do we like it? Of course. Do we want it? Maybe.
We sneak it. We feel guilty about it. During Halloween, when it’s sitting in that cute little glass bowl in Joan’s office, we promise ourselves “just a few pieces”—when really we’re just waiting for Alice to leave for the day so we can fish out all the Reese’s Cups and pink Starburst.
Candy divides us into factions: Tootsie Pops against Blow Pops, Twizzlers against Red Vines, black jelly beans against everyone else. It’s the treat that’s socially acceptable to purchase a few times a year, when we shovel it into skinny plastic bags or heave pillow-sized packages into our shopping carts at Target.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
“I think most candy stores are stuck in their ways,” says Rosie O’Neill, cofounder of gourmet candy company Sugarfina. “It’s definitely an easier and less expensive model, but I think there’s a segment of the population that’s been craving a better experience. I think maybe they gave up on candy a while ago, and we’re showing them there’s more.”
Sugarfina’s origin story is deliciously ironic. Early in their courtship, after an outdoor showing of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory no less, Rosie and Josh Resnick decided they wanted to shake up the status quo and follow their dreams. Rosie was working at Mattel as marketing director for the iconic Barbie brand, and Josh had sold his company—Pandemic Studios—to Electronic Arts for a whopping sum five years prior. Apparently toys and video games were simply too grown-up.
The first Sugarfina boutique opened in Beverly Hills in November 2013. In four short years, the company has ballooned to 22 stores across America. A “shop-in-shop” partnership with Nordstrom—mini-boutiques that offer a pared down selection—adds another 13 locations to the mix.
And the revenue? Well, that’s the really sweet part. The company is experiencing just over three times the growth it enjoyed in 2015, when they brought in $7 million.
“We’ve never done retail, never done confections and never done international, but I think that’s part of what makes it so exciting,” says Rosie. “It’s like every day is the most challenging day of my life.”
So how—at a time when people seem to have less discretionary income and are more health-conscious than ever—does a candy company post such astronomical growth? By combining luxury aesthetics and marketing with a playful yet sophisticated eye for detail.
When you step into a Sugarfina boutique, the first thing that strikes you is its stark interior. Your run-of-the-mill candy shop is a motley-colored orgy of product, bursting at the seams with canisters, troughs and kitschy packages from umpteen different brands. You can take home the World’s Largest Gummy Bear, or perhaps you know someone who’d enjoy 6 feet of licorice rope?
At Sugarfina samples are individually wrapped and delivered on silver trays by employees who are dressed to the nines in bowties and crisp whites. An item isn’t “out of stock”—it’s “stuck in traffic.”
Colorful cubes filled with canary yellow Parisian Pineapples, Blood Orange Fruttinis, neon green Cowboy Cactus and rainbow-colored Kyoto Blossoms are stacked—only two rows high, of course—against a textured backdrop of perfectly plain paper flowers. Themed three-piece and eight-piece sets come bundled in beautiful blue bento boxes that would give even your most avid iPhone unboxer butterflies.
“We’re obsessed with details, maybe in a way that’s not so healthy,” laughs Rosie, “but I really do think those things matter to people, even if it’s not consciously.”
For all the whimsical confections and cheeky turns of phrase that typify the Sugarfina experience, the greatest example of their obsession might just be those tiny cubes—cubes Rosie and Josh “agonized over for months” before they decided on the specs. They are made from Lucite, not plastic, giving them a slightly different feel and clarity. While an off-the-shelf option would have been much cheaper, the cubes are custom-molded.
And if you’ve ever stared longingly into the bottom of an empty cube and thought, “That’d make a great container for my paper clips,” you’re not alone. The company recently upgraded their labels to a specific material that leaves no sticky residue behind once you peel it off.
“It’s a complete circle. The first impression sets the stage for what’s to come,” says Rosie. “We thought not just about the individual products but the whole experience.”
Whether it’s the handwritten note in your shipping boxes or the fact that any email you receive from the company is sent by “Rosie at Sugarfina,” the attention to detail has paid dividends. When Sugarfina debuted, 50% of their candies were exclusive offerings, but none were original. But capital begets scale, and scale has given Rosie and Josh the ultimate gift—the ability to truly play Willy Wonka.
“Our focus from here on out is to invent and bring to life things that didn’t exist before,” says Rosie.
Champagne Bears infused with Dom Pérignon and the wildly successful Rosé All Day gummies—made with Whispering Angel rosé—are just a few of their bespoke creations. But that’s what happens when you’re able to place 6,000-pound orders and lines go out the door the first day sold-out items come back in stock.
Rosie’s and Josh’s passports have been stamped through to Italy, Greece, France, the U.K., Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Mexico—all in the name of eclipsing the au courant. They’ve become the largest customers of third-generation candy-makers all over the world … and in the process helped reinvigorate their artisanal spirit.
“It feels really good to see these small, family-owned companies having financial success because we’ve been able to grow together,” says Rosie. “In the candy industry, so many of these small players are getting acquired by larger companies and just shut down. It’s really sad.”
During our interview, Rosie divulges a few top-secret collaborations in the works, which means a few styles will eventually drop out of inventory. To retain that curated feel, Sugarfina only keeps 150 varieties in the rotation at a time. It’s a measured strategy that’s mirrored in the way the company has grown their team, which now includes former Godiva Chocolatier CEO Jim Goldman, who recently came on board as both an investor and advisor.
Over at Sugarfina’s headquarters, the company’s five core values are painted on the wall in their signature Pantone 310c blue: Spread Sweetness, Cultivate Innovation, Lead with Integrity, Act as Entrepreneurs and Deliver Luxury. Unlike most mission statements that serve as cosmetic reminders to companies that may have lost their way after years of putting profits before people, Sugarfina has embodied their principles every step of the way.
“I want to maintain that personal touch and detail-oriented soul as we grow bigger,” says Rosie. “We’ve been really fortunate to build a team that represents that. It’s so fun to watch people come into our stores; their eyes light up … it brings out the kid in them. I hadn’t felt that way about candy in so long, and it’s been fun to create something that really resonates with other people.”
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