Atlanta — Since launching in 2013, all-natural cotton candy purveyors Cotton Cravings have been quite busy. First the candymaker needed to develop equipment to run the all-natural products, then it set about developing more than 40 flavors and earlier this year made further inroads at traditional retail with grab-and-go packaging.
“Cotton candy is fun and nostalgic, but for a long time there was no change in the segment. It was pink and blue. You could go anywhere in the world, and cotton candy might have a different name, but it was still just pink and blue. We saw a golden opportunity.” David Karsh, Cotton Cravings chief encouragement officer, tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “We love cotton candy and wanted to reimagine it in a way that we desired, and more importantly, that consumers would want.”
Part of meeting consumer demand was developing clean label products, which have 100 calories per serving, that were also kosher as well as allergen and gluten free, which Karsh notes is “why we have a business. We don’t see clean, natural ingredients as a fad.”
In addition to clean labels, a pediatrician helps develop and approve every flavor before it hits the market, he adds.
A commitment to natural formulation wasn’t without its challenges. Chief among them was how to ensure a recipe would not only taste good, but also have the ability to be processed without burning.
“One of the beautiful things about this industry is the amount of knowledge sharing that goes on, but no one else was doing cotton candy like this,” he says. “We couldn’t follow in someone’s footsteps, there was no path to follow. We had to figure things out from scratch, but we never stopped thinking or believing we could do it.”
It Started With Apple Pie
From the word go Cotton Cravings set out to separate itself with flavors not often seen cotton candy, with an apple pie variety being the first flavor.
“When we hit on the apple pie flavor, we knew we had something, and that added to the motivation to get the product out there,” Karsh says. “We made it with all-natural cane sugar and only natural flavors and colors, and to have it come out fluffy and smelling like apple pie, we just knew it would be a hit.”
When developing flavors, Karsh says the R&D team goes through a number of variations in-house. This strive for perfection in everything from the ingredients and formulation to packaging puts added pressure on the production team as the margin for error is considerably slimmer than if they were producing more traditional flavors.
Karsh gives for example French toast cotton candy, which launched at Cracker Barrel, saying it had to not only taste like the breakfast food, but also smell like it.
“We won’t let a product out into the market unless you can taste it in a dark room and pick the flavor out,” he tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
As a relatively young company, the need to wow consumers right from the get-go is critical. Especially considering that you never know when the line between consumer and category captain will blur.
“The buyer for Adventure Aquarium came across Cotton Cravings at a Cracker Barrel; our French toast item caught his eye,” Karsh explains. “He tried it, said ‘wow, I need to get this,’ and now it is a big success for his team. That’s why we say, ‘just try it’ and you’ll see it is a whole new ballgame.”
Driving flavor development are trends from other candy sectors that can be translated into cotton candy such as sours, and sweet and savory blends. Flavors in the line include maple bacon, cinnamon fireball, Chai Latte Luxury and toasted marshmallow. Additionally, the company offers seasonal varieties such as candy cane, pumpkin spice and eggnog.
“Consumers want wild flavor options, they might opt for bubble gum or birthday cake cotton candy, but at the end of the day they want to know those wild flavors are out there,” he says. “When I travel, I see it firsthand. The first thing people says is ‘what, I didn’t know you could do that with cotton candy.’ When people don’t know something is possible, it surprises them when they see it.”
The Live Experience
Prior to launching the grab-and-go packs this year, Cotton Cravings’ business was largely driven by “live spinning,” according to Karsh, who explains the company’s equipment allows for each consumer to get a different flavor from the same machine.
“That is the thing about the machine, it is a different experience. Consumer can order the flavor they want from a menu and the same machine can do all the flavors, one right after another.” he says. “The flavors don’t mix, and the equipment can do high volumes.”
In fact, Karsh notes placement of Cotton Cravings equipment is a big driver for grab-and-go packs, as shoppers “see the machine’s show and spectacle, and afterward want to take some home so they grab a few flavors in grab-and-go containers.”
Placement of the equipment has also led to special partnership. For example, Cotton Cravings developed a sweet mesquite variety for MLB team the Atlanta Braves.
“If you can imagine a flavor, we can hit it perfectly in cotton candy,” he adds, noting the taste has to have at least a hint of sweetness. C&ST