What kid, or grown-up for that matter, doesn’t enjoy candy? And what if it’s good for you? Alina Morse, the 12-year-old CEO of Michigan-based Zollipops, says her candy promotes oral health and cleans teeth with every lick.
She said getting the good-for-you candy into retail was not easy, but it’s a mission she’s dedicated to continuing.
“Alina never gives up, and Walmart is an amazing organization to work with,” said Tom Morse, who has worked with and for his daughter Alina the past five years. “Getting into 4,500 stores was a big undertaking since pitching the product at Open Call in Bentonville just eight months ago.”
Alina told Talk Business & Politics the idea for Zollipops was born about five years ago after she made a trip to the bank with her dad and was told she couldn’t have the sucker the teller offered her because it was bad for her teeth.
“I got to thinking, why aren’t there suckers and candy that are actually good for your mouth? And my dad agreed. We set out to see to if we could create some,” she said.
Alina bootstrapped the company with $7,500 she had in her savings account from birthdays, holidays and tooth fairy funds, which her parents matched. From there, Alina said they worked for two years with food scientists in manufacturing to understand how the mouth chemically reacts to food so they could formulate a product that neutralizes the acidity in the mouth, and thereby reduces the risk for tooth decay. Alina’s Zollipops are a natural, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and non-GMO lollipop, containing xylitol and erythritol (healthy sugar alternatives), and certified sugar-free by Sugarwise.
The Zollipops name comes from Alina’s younger sister Lola, who was asked to try a “Xylipop,” one of the names they were considering because of the xylitol ingredient. Alina said Lola repeated “Zollipop” and that name stuck.
Alina said the company began selling Zollipops at Whole Foods more than two years ago and added Kroger and other retailers in the past 18 months. The product just went national, though, with Walmart in February. Tom Morse said the company uses Liquid OTC LLC to make the candy, so it qualified for the Open Call event held in Bentonville this past June.
Getting from Open Call onto store shelves was a big leap for the startup, but having their manufacturing already in place was a big advantage. Walmart had to inspect and approve the manufacturing facility, and the packaging also had to pass muster. Alina said there was a lot of paperwork, and then they had to double down on the product manufacturing to be able to fill the first Walmart purchase order. She said the packaging was a hit because of its bright colors. Given the product is on the bottom shelf at Walmart, it also needed to stand out.
Walmart purchased two of Alina’s products: Zollipops as well as Zaffi Taffy, which are sold in the oral health department next to children’s toothpaste. The bags of mouth-cleaning candy sell for $3.22 each. She said Zollipops’ greater mission is to help promote healthy smiles for children across America.
“For Walmart to believe in my product and vision to give back is so inspiring,” she said. “And for both Zollipops and Zaffi Taffy to be chosen from the Open Call just goes to show that kids really can do anything,” she said.
Alina also sells Zolli Drops in natural fruit or peppermint flavors, which offer the same oral health benefits as Zollipops, just without the stick. She said the company is also working on seasonal products they will pitch to Walmart and retailers prior to the holidays. She is hopeful the mouth-cleaning candy will also find its way into other spots in the store, perhaps the candy aisle next to sugar-free gum.
Walmart has said it wants to expand the scope of products on its shelves, and Zollipops, considered a health and wellness item, fit that criteria. Health and wellness is one of the categories Walmart is focusing on, with new products ranging from protein chips and cereal to mouth-cleaning candy. Health and wellness is poised to be the next $1 trillion global industry, according to Rodale Consumer Research, which cites better-for-you nutrition products make up about $270 billion of the growing industry.
Tom Morse said Walmart has also been supportive of the company’s 250,000 smiles campaign, which is important to Alina, who wants to use her Zolli-powers for good. The core mission for Zollipops is to reduce tooth decay and protect children’s smiles. The company sets aside 10% of its profits to support oral health education in schools and qualified organizations.
The 250,000 Smiles initiative promotes oral health year round and helps engage kids in discussions about science and chemistry, taking care of their bodies and entrepreneurship. She said Zollipops are donated to teachers who sign up online. The teachers help spread the message about oral health and give each child in their class a sucker to try and a coupon to take home.
While the new Walmart supplier is focused on health and wellness, Alina said they are also proud to be part of Walmart’s “Made in the USA” campaign, which opened the door for them to pitch the items now selling in stores. They anticipate the next meeting with Walmart will take place this summer, and they look forward to it.
Alina is one of the youngest suppliers to get her product in Walmart, and said she’s thrilled to work with the retail giant. She’s a bit of celebrity, having been interviewed by Steve Harvey, as well as making a national television appearance on “Good Morning America” in 2015.
When asked about her celebrity status, Alina shook off that notion and said: “I’m really just a normal kid.”
Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.