By Brady Grove, Times Reporter
For most people, candy is about enjoying that chocolate bar, hitting that sweet spot or just kicking back and enjoying a Junior Mint during a movie.
But for Dannah Davies, founder of Sweetsmith Candy Co., it’s a way of life.
“When I started the company, I hoped it was something I would do forever,” said Davies. “I went into it with the assumption it was going to be a great success. People thought I was insane.”
The founding of Sweetsmith Candy Co. began in 2008 when Davies’ father moved the family to Arizona to start a tutoring business. However, the economic downturn was right around the corner, which proved devastating for Davies and her family, and left them struggling to pay bills and forced them to rely on food stamps.
Davies didn’t set out to start a candy manufacturing company, but due to the tough times brought on by the downturn she had to. Davies and her mother began creating orders of peanut brittle and toffee which her father began selling at farmer’s markets and parking lots.
“When I started the company, I had very little business experience,” said Davies. “There was no business plan. There was no plan at all really. It was just ‘I know how to make candy and I know that people like it.’”
Davies moved back to Canada when she was 18 years old and she started selling peanut brittle candy and cooking out of her brother’s kitchen. Davies was fine selling in the summer but hadn’t anticipated what she was going to do in the winter. Eventually she caught her big break a year later and was invited to be a vendor at the Spruce Meadows Christmas Market.
However, the opportunity came at a cost of $1,800 to lease a space. After consulting with her mom, Davies took a chance. The gamble paid off as Davies has been at the same space in the Spruce Meadows Christmas Market for six seasons now.
According to Davies, farmers markets are a perfect place to test new products and get feedback from customers.
“We get feedback in the form of squeals of delight,” said Davies. “I think if you want to make a successful business, you have to be 100 per cent on board with making the customer experience everything that it could be.”
Davies had to drop out of Mount Royal University and quit her day jobs to focus on the business full time. She acknowledged that some people learn well at school, but she learned best in the business world and from other entrepreneurs.
Sweetsmith Candy Co. was officially created in July 2012 and moved its manufacturing facility to Strathmore in 2014.
Strathmore was chosen because there was a bigger and more financially reasonable space available on 3rd Avenue. On Sept. 1, Sweetsmith Candy Co. moved to a new location south of Highway 1 in the newer industrial area. It is the fifth space Davies has occupied as they keep outgrowing their locations.
“Every one of our staff is from Strathmore and the surrounding area,” said Davies. “We are a growing company and we want to put our roots down in Strathmore.”
The business offers 30 different flavours of peanut brittle, but it wasn’t just about selling the sweetest candy for Davies; she wanted health conscious customers to be able to try her products without fear of an allergic reaction.
Most of her products are wheat, soy, dairy and egg free because peanut brittle doesn’t usually contain these ingredients. She had people asking her if her products were gluten-free or vegan.
“I started to realize there was a demand in the marketplace for allergen-friendly items,” said Davies.
According to Davies, she also wanted to be involved in seasonal flavours such as pumpkin spice in October, and Christmas season is no different. Starting Nov. 27, four limited time flavours – gingerbread, candy cane, chocolate peanut brittle and groggnog (made from egg nog) – will be available at 24 Co-op locations around Alberta, including the Strathmore location.
Sweetsmith Candy Co. isn’t Strathmore’s only candy shop: Tasty Candy is expected to open in early December, which has the town thrilled.
“We are delighted to have more specialty shops and businesses in Strathmore,” said Chuck Procter, town planner for Strathmore. “It’s these unique businesses that help bring people to our town and make it easy for folks to keep shopping local.”