You’ve probably already seen the star power that Unreal has unleashed to endorse their new candy company, which is trying to take on the $200 billion sweets industry with new offerings that use better ingredients.
But what’s the real story behind the Tom Brady and Matt Damon cameo? Adam Melonas, the company’s chief innovation officer says origins of the brand go back to a conversation between a 15-year-old, Nicky, and his dad (who happens to be tech investor Michael Bronner). Nicky wanted candy and his dad saw an opportunity to dejunkify junk food—after all, junk foods account for almost 40% of American youth calories, feeding an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. Through a molecular gastronomist pal, they ended up on the phone with Melonas, who was living in Spain at the time.
"Basically it was the right place and time for all of us," says Melonas. "One sunny afternoon in Spain, I was on the phone with a 15-year-old kid. I was caught off-guard, but three days later, I was on a plane from Spain to Boston."
Melonas, who is of Greek descent but raised in Australia, never realized before that candy was a way of life in the U.S. Where he grew up, he says, candy was a reward or a treat. But when he went to the Bronners’ house and saw piles of candy on the dining room table, he says "it was like a rainbow vomited on the table."
As the group started tasting their way around the table, opening up each packet, Melonas realized: "If we could affect people’s lives in something that has been symbolically bad—a guilty pleasure—then we could take the consumer with us on a journey and make everything they come into contact with better."
The result is a product line that looks remarkably like the candy you already know—Unreal has peanut butter cups, a Snickers-like bar, and a nougat bar—but with healthier, more natural, and sustainable ingredients. The result, they say, creates candy with 40% less sugar, 20% fewer calories, 49% more protein, and 250% more fiber on average per serving.
So why not make something new to tingle the taste buds? Melonas says that consumers want the tastes and textures they’re used to, but they feel bad about. "We went through a very solid process of understanding what people want. Is it the combo of flavors or is it the texture people love? And we eventually figured out that these are the forms that they love."
Melonas went through thousands of iterations of recipes to source the best materials and the best methods. "If we were going to use peanuts, we were going to use the best peanuts for you. Eventually we found a place to roast peanuts in peanut oil instead of canola or other oils—which makes sense because it tastes better. Then we went through on the roasting, figuring out the exact roasting time and temperature to create the perfect combination." It was the same for the caramel, for the chocolate. The team went though years of testing.
Melonas says that the team is willing to tackle other junk foods—a healthy cheese puff, perhaps?—depending on how quickly they can break into the candy market. "The innovation doesn’t stop, so there are two to three other products we have in the pipeline," he says.
The candy is now available at 30,000 retailers around the country, at prices that are commensurate with normal junk food brands according to the company.
"The most important part is that the world doesn’t need another candy company. We want to do everything the right way, and impact positive change. This company is all about humanizing candy," says Melonas. "For me particularly, one of the greatest compliments is that this tastes like it was made in a kitchen not in a factory."