Family Expands Candy Business

By Jenny Callison, posted Aug 18, 2023
Lauren Rich, Kimberly Smith and Brooke Harrell work at their family business, Carolina Candy Co. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
Carolina Candy Co. is celebrating its Sweet 16 anniversary this year by thinking big. Next month, the owners will host a grand opening in the company’s new quarters at 894 S. Kerr Ave., Suite 1A, and they plan to use the larger and higher-profile space to expand both their market and their array of products.

Kimberly Smith’s confection connection began in 2007, when she and her two daughters had the opportunity to buy an existing candy business.

“The owner rented a small space inside a bakery, and we bought Carolina Candy from her,” Smith said. “We changed some of the recipes, including the toffee; we got real packaging and commercialized it. Now we have all kinds of candies.”

This isn’t Smith’s first foray into the food industry. She ran a bakery years ago when her daughters were very young. But because her husband was in the military and often deployed overseas, Smith had to put her sweet dreams on hold for a few years to focus on their family. 

“As the kids got older, this [Carolina Candy] opportunity came up, and I knew we could make it work,” she said. “Our families have always cooked. We have lots of family recipes that are absolutely delicious, and we knew [the candy business] could go somewhere.”

At first, the family considered expanding their venture into the bakery as well, said daughter Lauren Rich, but found they had their hands full – literally – with toffee, chocolate bonbons and more. 

Carolina Candy Co.’s new home is a step up in several ways from the original store up the road at 1045-B S. Kerr Ave., Rich said. 

“We really love our new location. The old location was hard to find. Now we have more road frontage and ample parking.”

The new quarters boast a larger kitchen and more room for retail than the former location did.

“We didn’t have enough space to do what we wanted,” Rich continued. “We now have some new equipment and can make items like cotton candy and brittles – things we didn’t have the space for before. We’re catching up with demand.”

Cotton candy? How can this transitory summer delight be packaged and sold for later consumption?
“Our cotton candy is made fresh in-store and packaged in gift containers to preserve freshness and make it shelf stable,” Rich explained. 

Smith, her husband, Charles, and daughters Lauren and Brooke are Wilmington born and bred. They realized that their hometown lacked a local source for what Smith calls “true nostalgia candies,” so they are moving to fill that void. Cotton candy is on that list, as are saltwater taffy, divinity [fudge], pecan logs and fresh chocolate nonpareils.

“Some we make and some we buy from other businesses, but they have to be small businesses,” Rich said.

Carolina Candy Co. maintains a healthy local retail business, but its e-commerce is strong as well.

“We’ve always had a website, and our website business is a large part of what we do,” Rich said. “Toffee ships wonderfully.”

A major slice of the company’s revenue comes from gift packages, especially corporate gifts. A variety of gift options are available online; customers can also customize their gift packages in the store.
“What you see online are the most popular options,” Rich said. “People can order them and have them shipped anywhere. In the store, we have a selection of ready-to-go baskets, or you can come in and pick and choose to customize your basket.”

Basket goodies aren’t limited to Carolina Candy’s own products: The store stocks an array of specialty foods such as cookies from Charleston, South Carolina; bloody mary mix from Texas; Cape Fear Rum Cakes; and North Carolina barbecue sauces. But now, with the company’s larger production capacity, there will be more candies to nestle into those baskets as well.

When Smith and Rich take their candy store to trade shows, they need a bit of extra support. 

“Dad will take vacation days when we do trade shows,” Rich said, adding that their business is sometimes an “all-hands-on-deck” enterprise. Her sister Brooke Harrell helps out during busy times.

“We manufacture and distribute for wholesale, we have a retail store, we do trade shows,” Rich said. “My sister and I are married, and our husbands help out as needed. We really are a family business.”

Carolina Candy Co. Gourmet & Gifts

894 S. Kerr Ave., Suite 1A, Wilmington

No. of employees: 2 full-time, 3 seasonal/part-time 
Year founded: 2007 
Top local officials: Kimberly Smith, CEO; Lauren Rich, COO 
Company description: Carolina Candy Co. has been making gourmet chocolates and confections for over 16 years. The store is family owned and operated by Wilmington natives Kimberly Smith and her daughters Lauren Rich and Brooke Harrell. Harrell, who holds a full-time position elsewhere, also works there part-time.
Products made locally: Rich: “We make our products fresh in our store daily. We offer a variety of gourmet confections like our gourmet toffee, chocolate pecan turtles, old-fashioned peanut butter balls, salted caramels, brittles, cotton candy and more.” 
What is your target market? Rich: “We are very well-known for creating beautiful gifts for all occasions or satisfying the palate of every Wilmington foodie. We specialize in custom corporate gifts as well.”
Product distribution: Rich: “You can shop in store at our retail location or online on our website for direct shipping. You can also find products at select retailers throughout the country.”
What made company officials decide to locate here and make products here? Rich: “All of us are born and raised in Wilmington, so this was the obvious choice. We have recently expanded and moved our operations to Crossroads Shopping Center on South Kerr Avenue, where we are able to offer more products and options with ample parking.”
What’s next for your company? Rich: “We are planning a grand reopening [in] early September.”
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