Founded in 2016 by three young entrepreneurs, Markham, Ont.-based Candy Cutlery has set its sights on single-use plastics through its line of edible spoons and mini cups that can be used as dessert cups or shot glasses.
The team of university students — comprised of co-founders Liyan Cai, Daniel Van Acker
and Lyn Chen — was inspired to create a more sustainable solution to the single-use plastic spoons offered at many ice-cream shops. “We thought, what’s an alternative to replace these spoons that are used once and thrown out after five minutes?” explains Cai, the company’s lead product developer. “We thought of candy because it’s edible, it’s fun and it’s hard, so you’re able to scoop things with it.”
To make this dream a reality, the team turned to competitions and grants to fund the company — an experience that helped mould the young entrepreneurs.
“There are a lot of skills we learned while doing those competitions,” says Cai. “It also got us our initial capital; we used that to build our website, apply as a small manufacturer in Ontario and start making products.”
In the early days, Cai estimates 70 per cent of the company’s funds came from grants and competitions, but notes these funds were hard won. “The grants and competitions were very generic. There wasn’t much [focus on] green entrepreneurs, or even food incubators or food tech [at the time],” she explains. This meant Candy Cutlery was competing against projects focused on the tech industry, which are typically seen as having a higher value proposition. “Now, with plastic being a topic in government and more green initiatives being a big topic, there’s more focus on [items]like Candy Cutlery, so that has helped a bit…There’s more attention and support now in the industry.”
Getting the product into the hands of consumers also proved an early challenge. “Initially, we were targeting consumers,” Cai explains. “[But] we changed our direction to selling to hotels and ice-cream chains and found that was a better model for our business.”
Today, Candy Cutlery spoons can be found in ice-cream shops, general stores and other hospitality businesses, largely in Ontario. Customers include Kawartha Dairy, Marble Slab Creamery, Bridge Drive-In in Winnipeg and JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka. The hard-candy products are made from cane sugar, using natural colours and flavours and are compostable (if not consumed).
“A lot of the businesses really like the product,” Cai explains. “We’re slowly bringing on the Marble Slab locations, as well as more Kawartha Dairy locations.”
She also points out many ice-cream shops offer waffle cones at an additional charge, so introducing Candy Cutlery spoons as an additional add-on option is a natural fit. Many of Candy Cutlery’s customers charge $0.80 or $1 for the candy spoons and the company has even worked with customers to develop custom-coloured and-flavoured spoons to suit their branding.
Looking ahead, the company continues to perfect its products based on customer feedback and ongoing research and development. with plans to shift from recyclable packaging to fully biodegradable packages. The team also aims to make its products more affordable in an effort to push its candy cups and spoons outside of the novelty niche.