by Jeannette Ferrara
How a kid like you created a sugar-free candy business
On a trip to the bank with her dad, 7-year-old Alina Morse was offered a lollipop by the teller. Alina loved candy. But her dad reminded her that candy was full of sugar and bad for her teeth. Alina asked her dad: “Why can’t we make a sucker that’s good for your teeth?” Alina, who lives in Michigan, had a notebook of ideas for new inventions. But she was most excited about this one! So, with help from her family, she set out to make candy that kids could eat without harming their teeth.
About two years later, Alina founded Zolli Candy, a company selling sugar-free lollipops that actually protect your teeth! The company has expanded to sell other types of candies— most recently Zolli Peanut Butter Cups. Here’s how Alina, now 16, built her business.
Finding a Recipe
Before creating her candy, Alina studied what causes tooth decay. She learned that when people eat sugar and many other foods, their mouth becomes more acidic, or contains more acid. Acid can eat away at enamel—the hard, protective coating on your teeth—making cavities more likely to form.
Alina looked for ingredients that could replace sugar but were better for your teeth. She researched online and also talked with her dentist and dental hygienist to come up with new ingredients.
Eventually, Alina decided to replace sugar with a natural sweetener called erythritol (er-RITH-rih-tahl). Found in many fruits and vegetables, it can make saliva less acidic, protecting teeth.
Alina tested out candy recipes in her family’s kitchen. It was messy! “I even ruined a few kitchen appliances,” Alina says. She soon reached out to a local manufacturing facility to make the test batches.
Managing a Business
Once Alina had perfected her recipe, she designed the packaging. Then she presented her candy to stores. In 2014, Whole Foods became the first store to sell her candy. Zolli Candy is now found in thousands of stores in the U.S. and around the world.
Alina, who is still in high school, balances running her business with schoolwork and dance. She manages a team of 10 people working on different parts of the business. As her company has grown, Alina has never stopped learning from the people around her. “Asking questions is important,” she says. “I feel like once you stop asking questions, you stop being curious, and you stop growing.”