There were times in the fall during Maria Sharapova's much-ballyhooed launch of her own candy brand, Sugarpova, when even she seemed willing to roll her eyes at the seemingly ridiculous venture. She admitted the idea for the gummy candy took hold when her agent, Max Eisenbud, presented it to her.
"I thought it was so funny and so creative," she said in an interview with Hamptons magazine. "I thought why not put together something I could have as my own. To own something 100 percent is something that I really wanted to experience."
While Sharapova has partnered with Nike and Cole Haan to design her on-court and off-court fashions, she had yet to venture into her own business. So she gave Sugarpova the green light and a $500,000 investment, a drop in the bucket for the most marketable female athlete in the world, who, according to Forbes, pulls in an estimated $28 million a year in prize money and endorsements.
What started out as a pet project proved to be a success. Bloomberg reported Thursday that Sharapova is set to see a 120 percent return on her investment, and the brand continues to grow. Launched last August, Sugarpova was only available domestically, but the candy began shipping internationally in November and is set to launch in Australia this week. After an initial run of 250,000 bags, which sold in its first three months, Eisenbud is projecting sales of one million bags in the next year as its international launch continues. Eisenbud credited the success of the venture to Sharapova's mass-market appeal.
“Every week, everywhere she goes, people are talking to her about it,” the agent said. “It’s also the power of social media, the power of her almost 9 million fans on Facebook.”
At $6 a bag, the candy isn't cheap, and I can say from personal experience that it doesn't taste cheap, either. Sugarpova is fancy-people candy, as evidenced by its various deals with high-end spas and resorts, who plan to stock the candy in their rooms and bars. When's the last time you've seen a candy brand launched at Henri Bendel's on 5th Avenue?
As Bloomberg pointed out, the challenge facing the brand now is whether it can sustain the initial interest and not fall into the trap of being a mere curiosity.
“She’s got an interesting niche positioning for herself, because she has no competitors right now,” Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight at market researcher Mintel Food & Drink, said in an interview. “This is a part of the confectionery industry that doesn’t have a premium segment.” Still, Mogelonsky said, the product may struggle as consumers become more conservative with their spending and the original excitement of the brand wears off. Haribo, a closely held company founded in 1920, produces 100 million gummy bears a day.