Written by Andrew Seale
If anything, 2018 is apt to be the year the world collectively decided it was time to hate straws. It’s a symbolic start to addressing the pervasive problem of single-use plastics – utensils, take-out containers, etc… – one that’s spurred food scientists and entrepreneurs like Liyan Cai, one of the co-founders of Candy Cutlery, to seek out novel solutions to society’s so-called plastic addiction.
It was at a sweets festival in Toronto where Cai first encountered sweet single-uses in the form of cookie dough shot glasses and dessert cups. The concept seemed ingenious to Cai, a food science student at the University of Guelph and founder of the school’s chapter of SpoonUniversity (it’s like the food BuzzFeed for university students run by university students, says Cai.)
So edible utensils were very much on Cai’s mind when Candy Cutlery founders Daniel Van Acker and Lyn Chen approached her at an entrepreneurship conference and asked her to help market their concept and refine the product.
“I liked the challenge,” says Cai. “As a food scientist, I’d never delved into it and explored confectionery… it's a very specialized field because of the way candy works, how you make it is very technical.”
Candy Cutlery has developed a line of candy spoons with flavours like coffee, strawberry and peppermint. The company also offers a candy cup that can be used more than 10 times before degrading.
“All our products are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and made with natural sugars,” explains Cai. “Even if (the consumer) decides they're full or have had enough of sweets (and) throw it out, it dissolves and disintegrates much faster than plastic cutlery.”
The startup joined the Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBaSE) at the University of Guelph. “CBaSE was the first accelerator I was part of,” says Cai. “I learned a lot of the business basics, I never really took business courses and didn’t know much about it (so I made) a lot of personal connections.”
After graduating from CBaSE, Candy Cutlery joined York University’s LaunchYU in Toronto, adding new mentors and resources.
“Toronto (is) such a hotbed of dessert and ice cream shops, there are always new businesses coming in,” says Cai. “Everyone here is so receptive to new products especially the millennials – everyone is about Instagram-worthy items and our product is exactly that: it's an Instagram-worthy sustainable solution to plastic waste and cutlery.”
Cai says Candy Cutlery isn’t naive to think that sugary utensils are the catch-all solution, the health issues surrounding sugar are well-documented. But it’s a jump-off for a broader vision, one that includes lower-sugar and sugar-free options like starch.
“We want to maintain the part where you can eat it rather than throwing it out… sturdy utensils that will last you throughout the dessert,” says Cai. Candy Cutlery is already used by Bean & Baker Malt Shop, Paintbox Catering, Fab Fete Events, and Cater Trendz among other shops with a pilot in several of Kawartha Dairy’s locations.
“It's definitely a growing interest amongst consumers,” she adds. “We'll see where it goes from there.”
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)