'You won't see us carrying gummy worms'

The sweet taste of success from the A-list’s (sometimes kosher) candy man

Life and business partners Josh Resnick and Rosie O’Neil aren’t selling your conventional confections — and their line of sometimes kosher boutique treats are flying off the shelves

Sugarfina founders Josh Resnick and Rosie O'Neil started the company in August, 2012. They are currently engaged to be married. (Courtesy)
Sugarfina founders Josh Resnick and Rosie O'Neil started the company in August, 2012. They are currently engaged to be married. (Courtesy)

Under the bright lights of the Beverly Hills-based sweet shop, Sugarfina, customers won’t find Swedish fish, jaw breakers or Red Hots.

“We don’t sell joke candy,” says co-founder and co-owner Josh Resnick. “You won’t see us carrying gummy worms.”

Still, the company does put it own spin on whimsy. Sugar crystals dust flirty tricolor “Sugarlips” in tart watermelon, berry and bubble gum flavors, delicate speckled blue candy shells surround adorable “Robin’s Egg Caramels” enrobed in dark chocolate, and champagne-infused handcrafted Wondermade marshmallows are dipped in digestible 24-karat gold.

Sugarfina offers these kosher treats amidst more than 100 other bite-sized not-all-kosher morsels. Packaged in charming Bento-style boxes, Sugarfina’s eats and boutiques — online and on land — boast an inventory with a distinct personality.

“We really pride ourselves on it not being too sweet,” Resnick says.

Amidst a host of chocolates, boozy cocktail candies, gummies and jellies, there are also licorice, marshmallows and metallic yet edible dark chocolate bling rings. A standard 3.5 mini cube ranges in price from about $6 to $8 (and about 250 to 400 calories) depending on the selection. Dark chocolate pomegranate seeds, triple chocolate swirl malt balls, mint chocolate caviar pearls and a cornucopia of other choices are all under rabbinical supervision.

Sugarfina candies come in small packages inside a 'Bento box.' (Alina Dinh)
Sugarfina candies come in small packages inside a ‘Bento box.’ (Alina Dinh)

Similar candies are, indeed, available elsewhere and often for less; bulk purveyors such as Nuts.com carry some parallel kosher products. Sugarfina, which began online in 2012, has nevertheless claimed a niche with smart branding, trademark bright aqua packaging and gobs of media attention since its transition from virtual to physical. Resnick’s co-founder and sweetheart Rosie O’Neill dubbed the rare move from “clicks to bricks.” Sugarfina’s headlines include Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal,Vogue and other fashion magazines.

A-listers have fast followed suit.

“It took off pretty fast in terms of word of mouth and early positive press reviews,” Resnick says. “It’s a been a little nuts and an amazing journey. How can you not have fun running a candy boutique?”

This summer, Sugarfina gained more name recognition when it introduced (not-kosher) “Yes Way Rosé” wine-infused gummy bears. The product drew a waitlist of more than 18,000 that crashed the website.

Although the Sugarlips are kosher, most gummies are not. Kosher products, however, are among Sugarfina’s many bestsellers, such as Birthday Cake Caramels, Maple Bourbon Caramels and Champagne Bubbles, which made an appearance on the “Today” show.

“Everyone deserves a little treat, an indulgence,” Resnick says. “Our candy plays a part in that. If you’re going to indulge, why not the best?”

Bacon, white and dark chocolate pretzels or milk chocolate-covered toffee bites may not sound heimish. But these “Sugarfinas” not only answer to a higher power. They also sell by the ton.

“I was expecting a compromise but they taste like real bacon,” Resnick says. “The candy man we work with is just a master at bringing these flavors to life.”

The stores, like the candies themselves, are carefully curated to provide the ultimate experience. (Alina Dinh)
The stores, like the candies themselves, are carefully curated to provide the ultimate experience. (Alina Dinh)

Sugarfina purchases kosher candies and re-certifies them under Chaf-K supervision. That’s because they receive bulk product at their L.A. warehouse and re-pack them into museum-quality lucite cubes sealed with the Sugarfina logo.

In addition to kosher products, there are also vegan, non-GMO and exclusive candies; all clearly labeled. Although the Reform-raised Resnick doesn’t keep kosher, Sugarfina aims to satisfy kosher consumers in North America’s major metropolitan areas.

“There is a meaningful group of our customers in the US,” Resnick says. “We’ve opened up a lot of boutiques in L.A., New Jersey, Miami and New York and it’s important to them, so it’s important to me.”

Sugarfina’s substantial list of kosher options includes Resnick’s weakness for a classic.

“It’s so hard to choose my favorites because we are constantly introducing new products,” Resnick says. “My go-to favorite and one of our top five success stories is our Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel.”

They are, indeed, memorable. So is the company’s “meet-cute” origin. Sugarfina is the brainchild of a love story that began on Match.com in 2010. For their third date, Resnick invited O’Neil, then a marketing director at Mattel for Barbie, to see the film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Their date promoted a shared lament over the lack of candy for adults.

‘I was expecting a compromise but they taste like real bacon’

The couple started the business while dating. To get started, O’Neill and Resnick, both self-described Type As who had already earned MBAs, drew up business plans and each initially invested $30,000. The collaboration led them abroad to research treats. Meanwhile, O’Neill downsized into a studio apartment, traded in a luxury car for a less expensive model, and gave herself a $100-per-week budget. The couple worked on Sugarfina on the side, traveled as their schedules allowed and sourced candies on the road.

Eventually O’Neill left Mattel and the duo went full-time within a few months after their online launch in August 2012. By January 2013, Facebook contracted Sugarfina as its first candy partner. A Valentine’s Day promotion yielded more than 18,000 orders in a few hours. Not long after that, the pair got engaged.

“We keep having Sugarfina babies so we haven’t had a chance to get married yet,” says Resnick, who can’t name exactly the number of rapidly expanding locations, which include boutiques and retail partners. “I’m starting to lose count. We have around 20 stand-alone shops in the US, New York, LA, Boston, Chicago and places like that.”

Sugarfina also operates a growing number of shops within shops. These petite 200-square feet boutiques are pocketed within Nordstrom’s stores. Resnick has already begun exporting the concept to Canada, the UK and elsewhere.

With a keen attention to detail, O’Neill handles all of the marketing, store design and packaging design.

“Any of the creative aspects of the business are under her domain,” Resnick says. “Operations, facilities, finance, HR, legal, all that, I handle. Rosie is the true creative visionary behind Sugarfina’s success. We both get the fun job of candy discovery, tasting and selection.”

‘We keep having Sugarfina babies so we haven’t had a chance to get married yet’

To create their inventory, the couple carefully evaluates and rotates items.

“We’ve tasted thousands of candies and curated it down to 135. We have a full process. We taste it. We look at the ingredients. We look for a certain texture and size and mouthfeel to come down to the 135. We don’t want to overwhelm our customers. It’s important for us to stay highly focused on a curated group of candies. There are only so many that can pass our taste tasting.”

Resnick consumes at least a three-ounce cube a day.

“Either we are taste testing or I have the urge,” says Resnick, whose exercise of choice is Spinning. “It’s really about treating yourself but doing so in moderation. We’ve consciously designed our candy and our packaging with moderation in mind. All of our candies are little bites and our packaging is all small, little cubes. Whether you are treating yourself, a friend, an employee, or a loved one, our core units are those small cubes.”

Josh Renick eats at least a 3-ounce box per day. (Jeff Mindell)
Josh Renick eats at least a 3-ounce box per day. (Jeff Mindell)

Prior to meeting O’Neill, Resnick founded a game development company, Pandemic Studios, that he grew into a global innovator. He sold it to video game giant Electronic Arts in 2008 for a hefty $860 million. Now 49, Resnick grew up in Malibu and visited Israel multiple times before settling in Brentwood. In high school, he toured the Holy Land with a group of tennis players.

“We thought we were good until the Israelis decimated us,” says Resnick, who’d like to return to Israel to visit with O’Neill and his three teens from a previous marriage. Like Resnick, his ex also spent time living in Israel.

“It’s about 25 years since I’ve been there,” Resnick says. “I’d like to expose the family to Israel for the sites, the sounds, the flavors, the people… It’s such a magical place to be.”

No Israelis are represented among the current product line, which reflects 17 countries and 27 artisan candy makers.

“We are always looking to expand the number of countries represented and the number of candy makers we are working with. Israel is not represented yet but we hope to [source there] in the future,” Resnick says.

‘Israel is not represented yet but we hope to [source there] in the future’

“From a tiny workshop in Genoa, Italy to a family-owned factory in Greece, we pride ourselves on working with high quality artisans who create candies the old-fashioned way, using only the best ingredients and techniques,” Resnick says. “Take our Champagne gummy. The response is ridiculously awesome. It’s the only grown up gummy bear out there. It’s all premium ingredients. It’s not too sugary. The taste is light and refreshing and crisp.”

More than two-thirds of Sugarfina candies can’t be found elsewhere in the US. “Rosie and I are constantly designing new candies and hoping to have that number climb over time,” Resnick says.

“We’ve thought about every detail not only in the product selection but the packaging design and in the store design as well,” Resnick says. “When you order online from us, ‘the unboxing experience,’ we’ve thought that through so it’s delightful.”

Sugarfina now has over 20 locations across the US. (Jeff Mindell)
Sugarfina now has over 20 locations across the US. (Jeff Mindell)

Sugarfina has also thought through its charitable giving. Kiva supports enterprise in developing countries, and Tree People in L.A. focuses on replanting and preserving urban forests. As for Resnick, he also prioritizes the Jewish National Fund.

“JNF is one of my big ones and a lot of other Jewish and Israeli causes,” he says.

With the environment in mind, Sugarfina largely uses recycled or recyclable materials. The company runs an upcycling campaign on social media with the hashtag #100waystobento.

“We see ourselves as being radically different,” Resnick says. “Our mission is to create a really small selection of interesting, fine and unique candies from around the world. And we get to tell these amazing stories through our candy.”

With wholesale agreements with Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nieman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, a profitable exit looms somewhere ahead.

“It’s kind of my same strategy of what happened with Pandemic,” Resnick says. “It was never my plan. We were focused on creating great games and having fun.”

So too with Sugarfina, Resnick says. “I’ve found when you stay focused on the passion part of the business, the good will come.”

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