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June 18, 2012

Organic candy: Satisfying a sweet tooth


But let's back up: To start Torie & Howard Organic Hard Candy, Burke and Slatkin had to essentially put their other careers in deep freeze. The two had designed spaces together for 20 years — he as designer, she as color consultant with a separate firm — and had accumulated enough cash to start their business with added investments from friends and relatives. They figured it would take a year to launch.

As a founder of Slatkin & Co., Slatkin already understood what it took to bring fragrance products to market. Why should candy be any harder? But, as he notes, "a food product is a whole different world," especially one that wants to slap a USDA "organic" label on its packaging.

"People in the food industry would tell us, 'You don't have to be so strict' " about the organic designation, Slatkin adds. "But that was non-negotiable."

Despite the rigors of USDA certification, more specialty food companies appear to be entering the organic market, says Louise Kramer, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, the nonprofit organization in Manhattan that produces the Fancy Food Shows. "There has been a 6.5 percent increase in exhibitors this year versus last summer who identify themselves as having natural/organic products," Kramer writes via e-mail.

That figure is a little misleading: The rules for the USDA certified organic label are strictly defined; not so for the term "natural," which can be widely applied to products without actually imparting much useful information to consumers. The government has no official definition for "natural."

To give you some idea of how difficult the organic certification can be for candymakers, consider one component of their product: food coloring. Most colorings used in food are artificial; food manufacturers typically use one (or more) of seven dyes certified by the Food and Drug Administration, says Bob Dukes, sales representative for the New Jersey-based International Foodcraft Corp., which produces food dyes.

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