GTPulse: Sugar, Spice and Everything Naturally Nice at Hidden Traverse City Candy Store
Healthy candy might sound like an oxymoron, and unless you count gummy vitamins as candy, it is. Natural Candy Store in Traverse City is a little store turning out a lot of candy all over the U.S. and it’s the closest you’re going to get to calling candy healthy.
Before Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks ago my colleague was looking to buy nice candy for his significant other. Living in Traverse City for some time, he was surprised when he came across a local candy store he hadn’t yet heard of. Especially one that had all kinds of vegan, gluten and chemical-free candy. He found that he couldn’t shop around the store, but could order and pick up candy that day on East Twelfth Street. Cute, quick, and makes acquiring candy feel an exciting errand of secrecy.
The brown building on East Twelfth Street is unassuming and easy to miss. The entrance led me to a tiny waiting room with a single hanger for my coat, and a friendly face behind the counter. Victoria Roberts is the marketing manager at Natural Candy Store and showed me around the office and candy storage space.
Alan Bennett owns the store and runs it with his wife, daughter and a small team of dedicated employees. He opened the store in 2017. When the family moved to Traverse City, Alan was a retiree from working with IT software but quickly discovered that he didn’t enjoy being away from work.
“I wasn’t ready to be retired. I needed a place to go every day and something fun to do.”
Walking into a waiting room isn’t a typical experience when shopping for candy and Natural Candy Store doesn’t look like a typical candy store because it isn’t. The store does most of its sales through e-commerce.
“So, I started to look for an e-commerce business. It’s like buying a house. There are websites out there selling businesses and there are some that are specialized in selling e-commerce businesses. I was able to locate quite a few businesses for sale across the country.”
He was drawn to Natural Candy Store, a California-based company that was started by a mom and her two daughters. One of the daughters was a dietician and had a lot of dietary expertise that had given the business a solid foundation.
“It was 10 years old when we bought it. The big thing about Natural Candy Store is people don’t shop here just to buy candy.”
Most of the store’s customers are moms and grandmas that are looking to give the children in their lives the same experiences that other kids their age are having. Children with allergies to common allergens like dairy, gluten, dyes and peanuts have to be careful what kinds of candy they eat. Natural Candy Store breaks down candy with categories for vegan, gluten-free, allergy-friendly, kosher and more.
“People are trying to avoid something. It could be personal preference like vegan, or it could be health consciousness or maybe they have a health issue. Kids with ADHD, for example, get very negative reactions to red dye no. 40 which is the most predominant red dye that’s used in food.”
The location has an office space connected to temperature-controlled storage rooms where all the candy is kept. The storage rooms are kept at a comfortably cool 60 degrees and smell like Andes chocolate peppermints. The shelves are stocked with all kinds of natural chocolates, gummies, colorings, sprinkles and gum. The biggest shelf is where they rotate their seasonal stock. Right now they’re preparing for Easter with plenty of chocolate rabbits and eggs.
The store’s candy comes from trusted suppliers and undergoes thorough ingredient research. If an ingredient is deemed natural by the USDA the store will carry it. Controversially argued natural ingredients don’t make it into the store.
“The most controversial ingredient is stevia. Maybe it’s a natural sweetener, it depends on who you ask. It comes from a plant but the process they use to convert it from a leaf to something that can be used to manufacture a product does involve chemicals.”
Alan hasn’t advertised the store locally, but every once in a while a local will discover the store online.
“It’s growing. The most frequent thing that happens is they find us on Google and they think we’re a regular retail candy store. We have people walk in the door thinking that we have a display that they can just shop like they could shop anywhere else.”
There are no displays, but there is a local pickup option at the online checkout with most pickups being available on the same day.
The most fulfilling part of the job for Alan is being able to take the stress out of buying candy, and the most difficult part of the job?
“There are always new products, and of course we have to sample all these things. It’s a hard job but somebody’s gotta do it.”