Sweet Success

Healthy-candy inventor Alina Morse is our Young CEO of the Year.
Alina Morse holding Zollipops
Alina Morse says she might want to study business in college and is getting a head start by running her company while being a student and a kid.

There aren’t too many products that fit in at both the Sweets and Snacks Expo and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry show, which take place back-to-back in Chicago.

Walled Lake’s Zolli Candy, however, invented by a metro Detroit kidpreneur, was featured at both events. Alina Morse, 14, developed a line of lollipops that get rid of the acid left behind after eating. Her formula helps prevent enamel damage and eliminates cavity-causing bacteria.

When Morse was 7, a bank teller offered her a lollipop, and her dad, Tom Morse, said it was bad for her teeth. Based on that experience, she researched candy recipes and tooth-friendly ingredients. A few YouTube videos and kitchen experiments later, she had a literal hot mess.

“My parents weren’t too thrilled that I had basically ruined (our) stovetop,” says Morse, now CEO of Zolli Candy. “I definitely didn’t clean up.”

Her parents saw she was serious, however, and encouraged their daughter in her pursuit of creating a treat any dentist would approve of. During the R&D stage, Morse located different manufacturing operations in the Midwest that could work with her key ingredients — xylitol and erythritol — before choosing the best suppliers to meet her needs.

To fund the enterprise, her dad matched her life savings, giving her about $7,500 to pour into 18 plant trials over two years. She decided on six flavors, six colors, and packaging designs after reviews with her friends. “Kids don’t lie,” Tom Morse says. “As Alina says, they don’t sugar-coat it.”

Once her product was ready, Alina pitched Zollipops to Whole Foods, the first retailer to sell them. Zolli Candy is now available at Amazon, Kroger, Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and specialty stores. The products also are for sale in China, Korea, France, the Philippines, the U.K., and Morocco.

As part of her marketing reach, Morse has appeared on “The Morning Show” and CNN, in People and Entrepreneur magazines, and at the New York Stock Exchange (she was allowed in despite being under 16).

Zolli Candy also offers Zaffi Taffy and Zolli Drops and soon will sell Zolli Beanz, Zolli Caramelz, Zolli Gummeez, and Zolli Cookeez. Current products are vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free.

Despite her success, Morse isn’t a millionaire; everything she makes is invested back into the company and 2 Million Smiles, the company’s nonprofit organization. The latter brings Zolli Candy and the science behind it, oral health and hygiene information, and lessons in entrepreneurship to schools around the U.S. In addition, 10 percent of the company’s profits go to oral health programs in schools.

Morse also is an advocate for diversity in the candy industry, where she says older white men are the dominant voice “instead of the real people that should be making candy, which is kids.”

Outside of work, Morse goes to school, dances competitively, acts, and will start driver’s training soon. She says she enjoys her  “double life,” and her family and employees help her keep a balance. “Don’t let people tell you that just because you’re a kid you can’t do something,” she says.