David Lurie is a self-proclaimed chocoholic.
So, it only seems natural that he be in the candy-making business. But his candy, Sun Cups, is not like any other chocolate. It’s gourmet chocolate that everyone can enjoy, because it’s gluten-, wheat-, tree nut-, soy- and peanut-free.
That’s good news for the millions of Americans who have allergies to gluten and peanuts. And that’s more people than you might think: the Centers for Disease Control estimates peanut allergies affect 6 to 8% of children under age five and about 3 to 4% of adults. Even a tiny amount of the food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. It can also be life threatening for some. So for people with a peanut allergy, peanut butter cups are strictly off limits.
But, thanks to one dad’s challenge to Lurie, there is now an alternative candy that is safe for everyone.
Jody Kerzman visited with Lurie about Boulder, Colo.-based Sun Cups.
Explain the idea behind Sun Cups.
David: I never imagined I’d be running a chocolate company. I was in the hotel business for many years — I started my hotel career in Switzerland. That’s the perfect place for a chocoholic like me to work! I thought I’d be in the hotel business for the rest of my life. But as my kids started to grow up, I realized I needed to be home more. So I gave up the big paycheck to be closer to them and to spend more time with them. I ended up joining forces with two candy-making brothers. They had formed a company called Seth Ellis and were making beautiful high-end European-style truffles here in Colorado.
Those truffles were delicious, but they had a very short shelf life, just 60 days. So while that would be fine for a store front business, we were not a store front business. We were selling our truffles in the retail industry. That meant we were flying to many different locations to deliver our candy. We did that for about three years.
Then, the game changer happened. One day a man called me and said, “I need to see you. I can’t talk to you about this over the phone.” I told him to come over that day at 4:00. When he arrived, he handed me a jar of roasted sunflower seed butter and asked if I thought I could make a peanut butter cup using that instead of peanut butter. I said yes, probably, and promised to try.
When he left, I took the sun butter into the candy-making area and dipped it in chocolate. It was really good. I made the cups the next day. I called him, and a few hours later he arrived with his wife and his five-year-old son. I handed them each a Sun Cup.
All three took a bite, but the son gobbled it up with a huge smile on his face. His parents started crying. I asked them why they were crying — were my Sun Cups not good? They smiled and explained that, no, they were delicious and they were crying tears of joy. Their son was highly allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, and they had never found a candy bar that was safe for him to eat. At that moment, I knew we had found our niche.
What makes Sun Cups stand out?
I think what makes us stand out is that Sun Cups are safe for people with severe food allergies. Millions of Americans are allergic to peanuts — so allergic that there can’t be any peanut products in the house. So when you include the people with the allergy and their families, you’re talking about around 21 million people affected by peanut allergies. Another 20 million people are affected by gluten intolerance.
Sun Cups gives those people the chance to enjoy what many of us take for granted – a delicious treat.
We are also very community minded, and I think that makes us unique. We have partnered with the group called Food Allergy Research Education (FARE) & Celiac Sprue Association. They are a large percentage of our customers, and we make sure to donate our product to their walks and fundraisers. Giving back is very important to us at Sun Cups. For us, it’s more than just being a candy maker and making a million dollars. Success for me means we are no longer borrowing money! We are operating on our own cash flow, and that gives us the ability to focus on providing one of the very few candies that people with allergies can enjoy.
We are allergen free of seven of the top food allergies (soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish and eggs). We are also corn allergen free. That’s important to me as a father because my 16-year-old son has allergies to gluten, and he also has a sweet tooth like me. His best friend is highly allergic to peanuts, so it feels good that I can make something they can enjoy.
The cool thing is, while people with allergies love our product, everyone who tries Sun Cups falls in love. It’s just a delicious treat.
We are a small company. We have about 12-14 employees, and they are all part time. Most of our staff is moms. We are a very mom-friendly company: we don’t work weekends or long shifts. We run the factory from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., so it really is perfect for moms who are looking for a good job they can work while the kids are in school.
We like having moms work for us because they have an amazing attention for detail, plus they like to come in and get their work done, and have time to go pick up the kids from school. And we have fantastic benefits — they get to take the rejects home with them! By the way, the “rejects” are still delicious. Our chocolate is made in Europe and we believe it is the very best chocolate in the United States.
Where do you get the sunflower seed butter you use in Sun Cups?
From the very beginning, we have used sunflower seed butter from Red River Commodities in Fargo, N.D. Their sunflower seed butter has given us the best quality Sun Cup. And we know the product comes from North Dakota — there’s no guessing about where it’s come from or that it’s been exposed to peanuts. It’s pure sunflower seed paste. Red River Commodities has been a phenomenal partner since day one. And they’re willing to try new things. We’ve talked about a couple of new ideas that we’re very excited about.
What does the future appear to hold for your company?
We are working hard on getting Sun Cups on more shelves in more cities across the country. Right now, we’re in mostly natural grocery chains. We’d love to be on more shelves, in bigger stores. We’re working on creating a place on our website to help more retailers get our product into their stores.
As for our product, there are no thoughts of changing Sun Cups. We think they’re already perfect. We know who we are, and that means continuing to make chocolates with roasted sunflower seed butter.
Are you doing advertising, public relations, social media or grassroots efforts to promote your products? If yes, what?
We rely a lot of social media (www.facebook.com/suncups) and our website (www.suncups.com) for advertising. We have done some traditional advertising, but I’ve learned the key is bloggers. We’re working to attract bloggers to spread the word about Sun Cups. That is the future of advertising for Sun Cups.
Back to Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil Stories
Back to Archive Categories