museums&MORE Spring 2016
Sweet Retreat By Zeke Jennings

Plenty of specialty candies are out there, if you know where to look

Like so many others, Jason and Kate Mcrea’s job situations unraveled during the Great Recession of the previous decade. The Massachusetts couple went from two incomes to one when Jason, a scientist, was laid off from his job. Just a few months later, Kate’s career suffered the same fate.

But the McCreas turned their sour situation into something sweet. Jason, with his background in chemistry and love of natural ingredients, began tinkering in the kitchen. He got so good at making caramel that the couple decided it was time for a new career path. McCrea’s Candies was born.

The company was born out of our layoff situation,” said Kate McCrea, who oversees marketing and product development. “We put together a business plan, and we’ve now been doing this for about four years.”

Specialty candies and snacks born in small kitchens just like the McCrea’s are all over these days. While plentiful, sometimes such small operations can be hard to find. Young company owners can only hope to progress to the point of mass production and expensive marketing campaigns.

So, how do these local specialty products reach store shelves, and how can you, as a retailer, go about finding them?

“Checking out food hubs in your nearby region would be a great way to help make a connection,” said Stephanie Pierce, sales manager for Cherry Capital Foods in Traverse City, Michigan, a distributor for Michigan-made foods of all kinds. “Not all food hubs distribute, but it’s likely they could help a retailer find someone who does distribute local/regional products. The National Good Food Network has been doing a lot of work all over the country to support the development of food hubs and could also be a good resource.”

Amy Ruis’ tenure as a specialty food and beverage retailer dates back to when the market really exploded. She started Art of the Table in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some 12 years ago before the west Michigan city became something of a hotbed for craft beer and foodies.

“It was still very grassroots. It was hard to find things. Most distributors only had huge lines,” said Ruis, who relied on farmer’s markets and word of mouth to build up her local selection. Art of the Table, which has been named one of Gourmet Retailer magazine’s top 50 retailers, no longer has to go searching for products, but Ruis still employs the same principles today. “People still come into the store and say, ‘I had this great savory pie at the farmer’s market’ or ‘I had this or that up north,'” Ruis said.

Both McCrea and Ruis said trade shows are effective. Specialty foods can be found at many retail trade shows, but there are some dedicated to food and beverage, including the winter and summer Fancy Food Shows, Philadelphia Candy Show, Coffee Fest and others. While the larger national offer more choices, consumers’ growing want for local products can translate into good finds at regional shows, as well.

“We participate in the New England Made shows because they draw buyers from all over New England,” McCrea said. “Buyers go there knowing that whoever is there manufactures in New England, which is a great way for us to reach those retailers who are interested in showcasing local businesses.”

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Zeke Jennings

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