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Unreal Brands

Digitas and Upromise founder Michael Bronner is backing his 15-year-old son’s venture into the $31 billion candy industry, reports Sarah E. Needleman in The Wall Street Journal (6/14/12). Nicky Bronner says he got the idea for all-natural knock-offs of his favorite candy bars after his mom and dad threw out half of his Halloween haul. His first reaction was to try to prove to them that the candy wasn’t bad for him. Unfortunately, his Google search turned up just the opposite. “For once, my dad was actually right,” says Nicky, newly educated on the perils of corn syrup and hydrogenated fat.

This got him thinking that maybe it would be possible to come up with a Milky Way bar, for instance, that still had chocolate and sugar in it, but not the other stuff. Nicky’s dad liked where his son was going with the idea, and became an angel investor in Unreal Brands “an alternative food company.” Michael Bronner also “set up meetings for his son with venture capitalists, retail executives and food scientists, and he has financed trips to South America to source ingredients and talent.” The start-up now has 19 employees, including “former executives of Procter & Gamble Co., Google Inc. and Godiva Chocolatier Inc.”

Unreal Brands is now set to make its debut in 7,300 CVS Caremark stores in July, and will soon find distribution at Target, Kroger and BJ’s Wholesale Club stores. CVS svp of merchandising Judy Sansone says “she can’t remember the last time a new or small candy business struck a deal with the retailer.” Allen Adamson of Landor Associates thinks Unreal Brands faces long odds. “The big, established brands are everywhere,” he says. “They’ve been around forever and they know how to tell their story.” The Bronners, meanwhile, have now attracted “an undisclosed amount of venture capital from Khosla Ventures,” among others, and are already planning expansion into other categories, such as soda.