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Sunbursts Nibbles Niche in Candy Market

Monday, December 2, 2002
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

Sunbursts Nibbles Niche in Candy Market

The candy-coated sunflower kernels are being carried nationwide by Nordstrom’s this Christmas

The small chocolate candy-coated sunflower kernels called Sunbursts are so addictively delicious, support groups (Sunbursts Anonymous?) might be needed for those who can’t get enough of them.

That would suit Joe Dutra just fine. In fact, the president of the small company that makes Sunbursts—Kimmie Candy just outside of Sacramento, Calif.—might have just one question for Sunbursts fans: How many would you like, and what color?

Cracking the giant, corporate-driven candy market is a daunting task for anybody, much less for a farmer with no experience in the candy industry. But Dutra is establishing a niche, led by Sunbursts. “It’s been a struggle to get people to even look at the product, but now we’re finding tremendous interest,” he says.

Dutra grew up on a farm near Sacramento, and still grows alfalfa, as well as corn and hybrid vegetables for seed. Dutra got into the candy business to diversify his farming operation, and still runs his candy company with four employees from the farm site.

Since its start in 1998, Kimmie Candy has been trying to open doors, slowly establishing a network of brokers and distributors to carry its sweets, with Sunbursts as the company’s flagship product.

Marketing efforts are starting to pay off. The candy started off being sold in a local drug store but can now be found in 20 states, Canada and the Philippines. Close to 4,000 outlets now carry Sunbursts nationwide, including grocery and convenience stores. Kimmie Candy doesn’t have a big marketing budget, and depends on word-of-mouth and media attention to help build awareness of Sunbursts. One example is mention on NBC’s “Today Show.” During a feature on “up-and-coming” candies, the host singled out Sunbursts as a favorite. “Those kind of things get people interested,” says Dutra.

Kimmie Candy got a big boost recently, as Nordstrom’s department stores nationwide are stocking the sweet treat during the holidays. Sunbursts will be available in red and green Christmas colors in a gourmet pack developed for the high-end retailer.

The company’s ability to provide its Sunbursts to customers in desired quantities and 11 tailored colors may prove to be its biggest advantage. Kimmie Candy will mix and match colors to suit occasions (such as weddings) and holidays (red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July, for instance). Corporations are buying Sunbursts in gift packs that match the color of company logos. Another budding market is team colors for schools and athletic teams. California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo is selling Sunbursts in the school's green and gold colors, and green and yellow one-pound tubs are being packed for a customer to promote Wisconsin’s favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers.

“We think what we’re doing is unique. No other candy company is doing these kind of things with sunflower kernels,” says Dutra. “Sunbursts are also universal in their application. They can be used to decorate cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other confections. There’s great versatility.”

Distributors in Europe, Australia, and Mexico are showing interest in Sunbursts, which will soon be marketed as a natural product line as well. The natural brand of Sunbursts will have no artificial ingredients or colors.

A key to the growing success of Sunbursts is the sunflower kernel. “People see our candy as being healthier, because it is made with sunflower kernels,” says Dutra.

Sunbursts can be ordered from the company’s web site, – Tracy Sayler

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