‘I can imagine my stepfather toasting me with a loud ‘Skål!’: How a Toronto publicist started a side business selling Swedish candy
Like most people in the throes of a pandemic, Jen Knox craved comfort…and candy. But rather than picking up a bag of M&Ms at 7-Eleven, the 43-year-old publicist launched Chocolates, a brand of Swedish sweets she discovered thanks to her stepfather. “If you’ve only tried Maynard’s Swedish Berries, you have no idea what you’re missing out on,” says Knox, who launched his sweet and sour e-commerce in November.
—As told to Courtney Shea
“Other kids had sweet pies and gobstoppers, but with us it was Swedish sweets. My favorites were Bilar, which looks like a fruity marshmallow, and Viol, a chewy violet candy that tasted a bit like soap. My stepfather, Klaus, came to Canada from Jönköping, Sweden when he was in his twenties. It’s the same town where ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog is from, and they went to high school together. He and my mother met at a New Year’s party when I was eight, and they got married a few years later.
“Every time he came home for a visit, he would bring us sweets or godis, as they are called in Sweden. All my new in-laws would send us candy at Christmas, and at Easter they would send these oversized decorative eggs that split in half and were filled with a mix of bittersweet candy and chocolate. We thought it was definitely better than what the Easter Bunny brought, and it was a way for my stepfather to share a piece of his homeland with us.
“When he passed away suddenly in 2019, I was devastated. I was still mourning him when Covid-19 hit and suddenly there were all these new reasons for despair. Like most people on the planet, at that time, I was stressed and looking for comfort. Guess that’s why I suddenly had this huge craving for Swedish candy. But where can I find it?
“I am a communications professional. I started my career a few years out of college as an HGTV publicist at Alliance Atlantis. For the past 15 years, I’ve done PR for Etsy, Universal Music Canada, TIFF, and a cannabis brand. I was working at Universal when the pandemic hit, which meant days of Zoom meetings with colleagues and musicians. As the contract was coming to an end, I was thinking of other ways to challenge myself and learn a new skill during this unexpected break in life. For a long time, I had fantasized about running my own business; something small and practical. I love working in PR, but there are a lot of emails and now Zoom meetings and jumping in and out of a million different projects – I wanted something I could have control over, I just didn’t know what it could be.
“During my time at Etsy, I was constantly inspired by so many designers, creating income from their art, but frankly, I suck at crafts. You should see my attempts at ‘easy’ macrame – they’re shameful. The alternative was to find a product that was in demand, and that’s where my desire for a side hustle and my love for Swedish sweets collided.
“A few years ago I was in New York and came across a store called Sokerbit which is all about Swedish sweets. Flash forward to me, desperately searching for a solution in the darkest days of lockdown and going on their website to see if they shipped to Toronto I had picked out everything but when I went to checkout the shipping charge was about $50 so I canceled my order but not my mission With the pandemic so out of anyone’s control, getting my hands on this candy has gone from something I was interested in to something of an obsession. I was online checking out distributors in Sweden and suddenly there was this moment of – I know the term “a-ha moment” is a cliché, but that was really it. It was like, wait a second, I’m not the only person who likes this genre things.
“As a kid I knew Swedish candies were delicious, but as an adult I appreciate that candy makers use natural flavors and real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The result is a less sweet but much better candy If you eat a strawberry candy it’s like a strawberry exploding in your mouth The Swedish Maynard berries you get here just don’t compare – they are actually Canadian candy I started googling to figure out how difficult it would be to import a large amount of wholesale candy from Sweden to Canada.
“The manufacturer I ended up with is called Candy People and they’re based in Malmö. They make about 30 different types of candy so there was plenty to choose from. I opted for a gluten-free and gelatin-free sweet and sour candy mix. I went with a lot of the classics: tart lips, marshmallow skulls, berries, of course, plus a few new ones, like Social Candy, gummies in shapes that spell LOL and YOLO. I spent $3,500 on the first shipment, then came up with a business plan.
“So I had the product, but I needed to work on the branding, which I have a lot of experience with. I landed on the name quite quickly: Konfekt is taken from the Swedish word konfektyr, which means confectionery. I liked it because it has those harsh consonants and really sounds like a Swedish word, but it’s also clear what it means in English. And it has some of the letters from my last name in it. I wanted the packaging to be clean and have that Scandinavian design feel, I hired a great designer who brought my vision to life – we had fun developing the logo and all the playful candy images you see on the website and the packaging.Right now I’m focusing on e-commerce, selling through the website and social media.
“It’s a lean operation. My mom was kind enough to let me run this business from her basement, so that’s where everything is delivered. She really appreciates having an unlimited supply of candy when her bridge band arrives. The sweets arrive in bulk, around two kilos per container, so my partner, Magali, and I will spend time filling the bags and fulfilling the orders every other weekend. We put on our gloves, tie up our hair, play music and spend a few hours transferring candy into individual wrappers. I have no rules about sampling – call it a workplace perk.
“The company was launched to the public on the evening of March 11, 2022, the day my contract with Universal Music Canada ended, and it has been going strong ever since. So far I’ve bought about $10,000 worth of candy and made about $9,000 in sales. The biggest challenge has been the supply chain – with stock coming from overseas, everything is a bit unreliable at the moment. I hope to be able to find new Swedish suppliers to increase my inventory, but I will have to find a shipping broker to bring the candies to Canada.
“It’s funny how many people have come out of the woodwork to support Konfekt. I got orders from old friends from high school and camp, co-workers I haven’t seen in a decade. If the delivery is in Toronto, I will often go myself. It’s great fun to go to houses where there are children and be called Candy Lady. I get the cutest videos of kids eating candy and giving feedback on which ones are their favorites. I get a lot of little junior job seekers, but I’m not sure expecting a kid to “work” in a candy store makes much sense.
“Not that kids are the only ones who like this stuff. Since launch, I’ve provided large shipments for birthday parties, back-to-office employee gifts, and baby showers. A friend of mine asked me to make personalized candy packets for her wedding favors. She has a bit of a pink/strawberry theme, so all of her guests will be able to take home sweet Konfekt strawberries in personalized packaging. So far, my pick-and-mix bags have been runaway favorites – people like to try a bit of everything. And for me, that’s great because if a certain type of candy is out of stock, I’m not stuck waiting for inventory to fill those orders.
“Then I ask my designer to create a summer mix and a pride mix. My plan is to create seasonal collections throughout the year and then see where that takes me. I might consider selling in stores depending on how things go, who knows? There was a lot of enthusiasm, so I never say anything.
“Experiencing the pandemic has been pretty awful for everyone. I think people are eager to celebrate and enjoy the sweeter side of life, or sour, if that’s your thing. It’s not like I’m quitting my day job, at least not at this point. But it’s really fun to have this passion project that I can dedicate myself to and see the results. I think my stepfather would be proud. I can imagine him toasting me with a “Skål!” strong – a glass of schnapps in one hand and a handful of sweets in the other.