Toronto Life Interview with Founder Jennifer Knox
Like most people in the throes of a pandemic, Jen Knox was craving comfort…and candy. But rather than pick up a bag of M&Ms at 7-Eleven, the 42-year-old publicist launched Konfekt a brand of Swedish goodies that she first discovered through her stepdad. “If you’ve only tried Maynard’s Swedish Berries, you have no idea what you’re missing,” says Knox, who launched her sweet-and-sour e-commerce side hustle in March.
—As told to Courtney Shea
“Other kids had Sweet Tarts and Gobstoppers, but in our house it was Swedish candy. My favourites were Bilar, which is like fruity marshmallow, and Viol, a chewy violet candy that tasted a bit like soap. My stepdad, Klas, came to Canada from Jönköping, Sweden, when he was in his early 20s—it’s the same town that ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog is from, and they actually went to high school together. He and my mom met at a New Year’s Eve party when I was eight, and they got married a few years later.
“Whenever he would go home for a visit, he would bring us back candy or godis, as they are known in Sweden. All of my new step-relatives would send us candy at Christmas, and at Easter they sent these oversized, decorative eggs that split in two and were filled with a mix of sweet and sour candies and chocolate. We thought it was definitely better than what the Easter Bunny brought, and it was a way for my stepdad to share a piece of his homeland with us.
“When he died suddenly in 2019, I was devastated. I was still grieving him when Covid-19 hit and suddenly there were all of these new reasons for despair. Like most people on the planet, in those early days I was stressed and seeking comfort. I guess that’s why I suddenly had this massive craving for Swedish candy. But where to find it?
“I’m a communications professional. I started my career a few years out of university as the HGTV publicist at Alliance Atlantis. Over the last 15 years I have done PR for Etsy, Universal Music Canada, TIFF and a cannabis brand. I was working at Universal when the pandemic hit, which meant days of Zoom meetings with colleagues and musicians. As the contract was wrapping up, I was thinking about other ways to challenge myself and learn a new skill during this unexpected life pause. For a long time, I had fantasized about running my own business; something small and hands-on. I love working in PR, but it’s a lot of emails and now Zoom meetings and jumping in and out of a million different projects—I wanted something I could have control over, I just didn’t know what it could be.
“During my time at Etsy, I was constantly inspired by so many of the makers, creating income through their art, but frankly, I’m terrible at crafts. You should see my attempts at “easy” macrame—they’re shameful. The alternative was finding a product that was in demand, and that’s when my desire for a side hustle and my love for Swedish candy collided.
“A few years ago, I was in New York and came across a store called Sokerbit that is entirely devoted to Swedish candy. Flash forward to me, desperately seeking a fix in the darkest days of lockdown and going on their website to see if they shipped to Toronto. I had everything all picked out, but then when I went to check out, the delivery fee was something like $50, so I canceled my order but not my mission. With the pandemic so beyond anyone’s control, getting my hands on this candy went from something I was interested in to a bit of an obsession. I was online checking out distributors in Sweden and suddenly there was this moment of—I know the term “a-ha moment” is a cliché, but it really was that. It was like, wait a second, I’m not the only person who loves this stuff.
“As a kid I just knew Swedish candy was delicious, but as an adult I appreciate that the candy makers use natural flavours and real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. The result is candy that’s less sweet but way better. If you’re eating a strawberry gummy, it’s like a strawberry is exploding in your mouth. The Maynard Swedish Berries that you get here just don’t compare—they’re actually a Canadian candy. I started Googling to get a sense of how difficult it would be to import a large amount of wholesale candy from Sweden into Canada.
“The manufacturer I landed on is called Candy People and it’s based in Malmo. They make about 30 different types of candy, so there was a lot to choose from. I settled on a mix of gluten-free and gelatine-free sweet and sour candies. I went with a lot of classics: sour lips, marshmallow skulls, berries, of course, plus a few new ones, like Social Candy, gummies in shapes that spell out LOL and YOLO. I spent $3,500 on the first shipment, then put together a business plan.
“So I had the product but I needed to work on branding, which I have a lot of experience with. I landed on the name pretty quickly: Konfekt is taken from the Swedish word konfektyr, which means confectionary. I liked it because it has those hard consonants and really sounds like a Swedish word, but it’s also clear what it means in English. And it contains some of the letters in my last name. I wanted the packaging to be clean and have that Scandinavian design feel. I hired a great designer who brought my vision to life—we had fun developing the logo and all the playful images of the candies that you see on the website and packaging. For now, I’m focused on e-commerce, selling through the website and social media.
“It’s a lean operation. My mom was kind enough to let me run this business out of her basement, so that’s where everything gets delivered. She definitely appreciates having an unlimited candy supply when her bridge group comes over. The candy arrives in bulk, around two kilos per container, so my partner, Magali, and I will devote time to filling bags and fulfilling orders every other weekend. We put on our gloves, tie our hair back, play music and spend a few hours transferring candy into individual packages. I have no rules about sampling—call it a workplace perk.
“The company launched to the public on the evening of March 11, 2022—the day my contract at Universal Music Canada wrapped—and it’s been gangbusters ever since. So far I have bought about $10,000 worth of candy and done about $9,000 in sales. The biggest challenge has been the supply chain—with the stock coming from overseas, everything is a bit unreliable right now. I’m hoping that I can find new Swedish suppliers to increase my inventory but I’ll need to source a shipping broker to get the candy into Canada.
“It’s funny how many people have come out of the woodwork to support Konfekt. I’ve gotten orders from old high school and camp friends, co-workers who I haven’t seen in a decade. If the delivery is in Toronto I’ll often go myself. It’s a lot of fun going to houses where there are kids and being called the Candy Lady. I get the cutest videos of kids eating the candy and providing their feedback on which ones are their favourites. I’m getting a lot of little junior job seekers, but I’m not sure expecting a kid to “work” in a candy store makes a lot of sense.
“Not that kids are the only ones loving this stuff. Since the launch, I have provided large shipments for birthday parties, return-to-office employee gifts and baby showers. A friend of mine has asked me to put together custom candy packages for her wedding favours. She has a bit of a pink/strawberry theme happening so all her guests will get to take home some Konfekt Sweet Strawberries in custom packaging. So far my pick-and-mix bags are the runaway favourite—people like to try a little of everything. And for me, it’s great because if a certain type of candy is out of stock I’m not stuck waiting on inventory to fill those orders.
“Up next I’m having my designer create a Summer mix and a Pride mix. My plan is to create seasonal collections throughout the year and then just see where it takes me. I may consider selling at stores depending on how things go—who knows? There has been a lot of enthusiasm, so I’m not saying never to anything.
“Living through the pandemic has been pretty horrible for everyone. I think people are eager to celebrate and enjoy the sweeter side of life—or sour, if that’s your thing. It’s not like I’m quitting my day job, at least not at this point. But it’s really fun to have this passion project that I can pour myself into and see the results. I think my stepdad would be proud. I can picture him toasting me with a loud “Skål!”—a shot of schnapps in one hand and a fistful of candies in the other.