How can candy satisfy your kids’ sweet tooth—and your strict standards?
Rob Wunder, co-founder of YumEarth, tells us how.
How’d you become interested in candy making?
My friend Sergio was feeding rice pudding to my 15-month-old, Jonah, and we imagined that soon he’d
begin asking for candy. We dreamt aloud of inventing an organic lollipop that tasted so good our children
would ask for it instead of ‘chemical candy’—with all that artificial garbage. We spent months developing a
recipe and perfecting the production process; two years later YumEarth candies are selling out in
thousands of stores nationwide and in 20 countries. Apparently, a few other parents also feel the same way!
What’s in your lollipops and candies?
Wanting the very best ingredients for our children, Jonah and Rose, Sergio and I chose organic. But we took it a step further, sourcing our ingredients from around the world to use which we feel are best in class. Citric acid made from Israeli sugar beets instead of genetically modified corn; bright red coloring from purple carrots instead of artificial red dye; real pomegranate extract for our Pomegranate Pucker lollipops and candy drops. Organic pumpkin and black currant is also used to create the vibrant colors. We really have fun with the recipes and truly make the candy for our children and families first—we aim to wow them.
What does conventional candy contain that we might not be aware of—what are we really feeding our kids?
Food manufacturer executives are going to have to stand before Congress someday (like the big tobacco execs did) to explain the thought process behind putting high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and other junk into their foods. Many of them label their products ‘All Natural’ because there is apparently no regulation preventing them! Parents haplessly put this stuff into their children’s mouths all the time, so they’re generally thrilled to find an alternative like ours that their kids truly
love to eat.
What sets your candy apart from the rest?
Taste. People assume YumEarth will taste like health food, but our tart, delicious flavors make them jump for joy. We also have a huge allergy following. Families often struggle with allergy problems—not being able to find treats that allow their kids to feel ‘normal.’ We hear that word a lot. It’s uplifting to us when we hear that YumEarth is usually the only candy they can have—whether it’s an autistic child with a severely restricted diet or someone with intolerance to corn, gluten, or artificial colors. Nothing gives us greater happiness than YummyEarth being their lollipop.
Are your candies actually good for kids?
Funny you should ask that. Our sour apple tart flavor is colored with wheat grass juice. We tested the lollipop for nutrients and found that the wheat grass juice nutrients survive the process (we stopped using this fabulous ingredient in October 2008 because it concerned gluten free people that were still concerned even after it tested as gluten free). Some of our lollipops will soon feature Organic Acerola Berries, a South American fruit rich in Vitamin C. But we’re not trying to be a health food, just a healthy alternative to what our kids want to eat: candy.
Which sugar substitute works—and tastes—best?
We use a raw organic brown sugar called organic evaporated cane juice. It’s unprocessed and better for you than white sugar and chemical substitutes—why put that stuff in your body? We also make our candies and lollipops small so kids don’t get a sugar rush—each contains only about 22 calories.
How do you come up with new flavors?
We listen to phone calls and email from kids, moms, and dads and try to make the flavors they want. We also try to come up with unusual combos, such as Blood Orange Cocktail and Chili Mango Mambo.
Did you experience any “eco-conflicts” in manufacturing?
We’re not big fans of packaging, for example, we love selling bulk-size bags on Amazon.com because less packaging is consumed. But the reality we faced when offering YumEarth in stores is that consumers aren’t looking for a plain brown sack of lollipops—and stores won’t put it on their shelves, either—so we had to use something if we wanted to sell to more than just a few people at a farmer’s market. Today all of our packaging is reusable or re-sealable. One challenge we confronted was from our corn-sensitive fans, who have kept a steady drumbeat of requests against using [biodegradable] corn-based wrappers. These would be more eco-friendly, but ours is the only candy they can eat because it contains no corn products. We chose them and their plight over using a corn-based wrapper. Not an easy decision, but a personally rewarding one when we get their feedback.
Looking at the runaway success of YumEarth, there seems to be a high demand for natural candies,
yet there are relatively few on the market. Do you see the trend toward natural and organic sweets
increasing in the near future?
I do see a trend in that direction, but I see large corporations making only half-hearted attempts—as their main goal is to make a label claim, not to actually use the best ingredients to produce something good for your family. In the natural food world, it’s always been a challenge to make healthy food taste great. I truly hope that our success can serve as a model for others to create delicious candy that you’ll want first for its taste, not just because it’s good for you.
You mentioned that these sweets are the only ones you could get “mom approved” for your kids. Are
they allowed any other candies or chocolate?
Both my and Sergio’s wives are pretty strict about what goes into our children’s mouths—as are many moms today. We review ingredients—they’re allowed to eat our candy as well as organic chocolate we feel comfortable with. At first, it wasn’t easy saying no, but they learned quickly. Jonah will ask, ‘Is this made of garbage?’ If we say ‘Yes’ he just puts it back and says, ‘Yuck!’ But I don’t know how easy it would be if we had no delicious alternative for him.
Do you and your family eat organic and natural foods?
It’s not hard to eat organic or natural foods—it’s much more of a challenge to be a vegan or kosher. Most restaurants serve salads, steak, chicken, eggs, and cheese. It may not always be organic, but it’s easy to avoid fast food and chemicals in your food at the supermarket or restaurants. It just takes a little extra effort and you get paid back in great health dividends.
Have you and your wife ever had an eco-fight?
My wife and Sergio’s wife went to Cornell University, located in the heart of the uncommonly green town of Ithaca, New York. It’s become one of my favorite places on earth. My wife has influenced me tremendously and I gladly lose every eco-fight we have. Sergio grew up in Mexico City and loves the earth and trees and plants as his friends and extended family. He grows many fruits at his house and smiles most when under a tree with his family. They are both my inspiration.
What would you say is your biggest eco-chore?
Separating and managing recyclables. I’ve never been a fan of taking out the garbage, but today the process has been elevated to an art form!
Is there any food you wish were green but isn’t?
I wish hot dogs in Central Park were made of something good.