The founder of startup Spark Pop saw an unlikely solution to the snacking dilemma plaguing those in corporate work spaces: lollipops. By taking a conventionally satisfying, portable, and familiar candy and elevating it with healthier ingredients, Spark Pop is aiming to revolutionize the way people snack at their desks--all while also cutting the sugar content to less than 5 grams.
Delia Hughes, founder of Spark Pop, always knew that she wanted to work in the food industry, but she’s especially passionate about the intersecting cohesion of business and food products. Through this angle, she’s done everything from work firsthand on product formulation to preparing and analyzing marketing strategies. Originally from Eastchester, New York, Delia attended Cornell for her undergraduate degree and studied food science. She discovered her passion for food science, but also felt as though she didn’t want to spend all of her time in a lab, so she sought out opportunities that combined business and entrepreneurship with her love for food and food production. She participated in product development teams each year at Cornell, an experience she thoroughly enjoyed, and followed those experiences with an array of external job opportunities.
In her junior year, Delia interned for Sam’s Club Corp. in Bentonville, Arkansas where she ended up working full-time after graduation. She became a cheese buyer for the company, traveling for Sam’s Club identifying gourmet cheeses to buy. Recently, she cites traveling internationally and domestically for companies, working on product assortment and curation, as sources of inspiration that guide her marketing strategies for Spark Pop. She even studied abroad in Parma, Italy to intern with cheese manufacturers and distributors, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of food production.
Delia has also continued to learn about food marketing through attending various food shows, but what really crystallized Delia’s passion for marketing and entrepreneurship with food was in business development sales--working for Atalanta Corp, owned by a Cornell alum family. Here, she learned, on an intensive level, about sales, developing new products, and taking a European product and making it relevant for the US market. Hughes is especially excited about delving deeper into her interests of specialized food markets, where unique food products are innovated to cater to a specific audience, deviating from what is traditional or typical.
Spark Pop embodies the entrepreneurial side of specialty foods, both as a business model and as a consumer-oriented product. It combines the childlike fun of a lollipop with the standards and desires many consumers have for a healthier, more natural snack. The conceptual beginnings of Spark Pop started early. The founders wanted an accessible and convenient snack that catered to the innate cravings that people find themselves plagued by in corporate work environments, but they did not yet know what snack they would develop. After speaking with over a hundred consumers and analyzing what, exactly, the market wants, one thing was clear: people love sugar. Spark Pop capitalized on that desire, but they also knew that, in targeting a population of millennials, moms, and busy workers, health was also a factor too. That’s why the Spark Pop team formulated the hard candy to have less sugar and be made with minimal, real fruit ingredients.
Hughes calls the eLab accelerator program “a blessing” for startups and finds the professors and the environment of the eLab community to be especially helpful resources. She cites the diversity of the professors’ strengths and their accessibility and assistance as significant competitive advantages for their project. The environment, similarly, brings a host of other benefits, with the array of different startups all sharing their progress, tips, and ideas. Hughes. Delia, now a Johnson MBA student, lauds the eLab classes, which meet on Tuesdays weekly, and the Saturday sessions that prompt cohort updates as ample and engaging resources as well.
Spark Pop is still in the beginning stages of its production and involvement. Currently, the founders are working on securing a manufacturer while also finalizing the ingredients of the lollipop with a newly-simplified recipe that is more efficient to produce in large quantities. Their next steps include plans to test Spark Pops in corporate locations and in university libraries, along with expanding into tabling and pop-up events to allow for customer sampling and promote awareness.
The vision of Spark Pop has always been to take something that’s “been around for centuries” and innovate it into the best possible product. With the help of eLab, the inspiration of the eLab cohort, and the unique experiences of the Spark Pop team, this startup has a sweet future to look forward to.