Bosch had CA$15,000 (around $11,400) she had saved from working part-time jobs over the years, but to fund her first manufacturing run, she needed CA$105,000 ($79,800). But it was difficult for a then-21-year-old with a limited credit history to get such a big loan. It took some maneuvering and the help of mentors at her incubator program — founded by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes — to secure the money. Mentors at Hootsuite also helped her find the right manufacturers.
Landing the first retailer for her gummies, however, would take persistence.
One of Bosch’s first targets was a local retailer called Choices Market. She cold-called and emailed so frequently that the store manager finally set up a meeting with Bosch.
“I felt like I wanted to throw up walking in. I was so nervous,” Bosch remembers.
But despite a stomach full of knots and a shaky voice, Bosch says she felt excited about the opportunity and quickly convinced the store to sell her original “Fruity gummy bears” product for CA$3.29 ($2.50) a bag at three locations.
After receiving her first “yes” — the rest is history, she says.
Her products quickly caught the attention of health-conscious consumers and Bosch soon struck deals with Bed Bath & Beyond and Popeye’s Supplements (a national supplement retailer in Canada). Then Whole Foods Canada called and her products were stocked in 700 stores across the country within the first six months she was in business.
Around December of 2015 Bosch changed the name of company to “SmartSweets” (a few early investors thought that “Stevi-Smarts” sounded unappealing to consumers) and she started creating a second product, “Sour gummy bears,” her favorite flavor, which sold for CA$3.99 ($3.00) for 1.8 ounce bag.
In its first year, SmartSweets generated more CA$2 million ($1.52 million) in sales through local stores in Canada.
Then, in 2017, not long after an appearance on Canada’s version of “Shark Tank” called “Dragons’ Den,” Whole Foods in the U.S. called. In March 2018 her products came to the States and eventually to all of Whole Foods’ 450 locations in the U.S. and Canada with the suggested retail price of $3.29.
She also developed three additional products including “Sweet Fish” (her take on Swedish Fish), “Sour Blast Buddies” (her take on Sour Patch Kids) and “Peach Rings,” all of which retail for $3.29 a bag.
“By the end of the year, we’ll be in 20,000 doors across the U.S. and in Canada,” Bosch says.
While Bosch won’t disclose the current valuation of SmartSweets, she says the company has raised more than CA$6 million ($4.5 million) since 2015. Additionally, it’s in the mist of working on deals with other major retailers including Target and Kroger for later this year, according to Bosch. Target and Kroger confirmed the deals.
Revenues for SmartSweets are on track to more than triple from last year’s CA$15.6 million ($11.69 million) to more than CA$50 million (nearly $37.59 million) in 2019, according to Bosch.
She has also hired over the last two years two industry veterans to help her scale the company: Cindy Bokitch, a former Starbucks and Lululemon executive, is now SmartSweet’s chief operating officer, and Michael Parisi, a former marketing executive at BarkThins and PopChips, is senior vice president of sales and marketing for the company.
Consumers do have some gripes with SmartSweets products: Though some Amazon reviews for Smartsweets say the products taste great, other buyers say the texture is not identical to traditional gummy bears. One reviewer also noted that the high fiber content “will give you bubble belly if you eat too many,” but it’s not “gastric distress” like with sugar alcohols. And many complain that the candy is too pricey.
With regard to the bubble belly, SmartSweets recommends eating no more than two bags a day due to the gummies’ high fiber content. As for the price, SmartSweets says it uses the highest-quality ingredients and a specialized manufacturing process, which drives up the price. However, the company has been working on reducing its retail price as it continues to grow.