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Gummy bears in school colors a surprise success for business
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/2/2009 12:05 AM

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If I said "blue raspberry and lemon" or "tangerine and blue raspberry," would that make you think of two Naperville high schools?

Maybe not quite yet.

Those are the most popular flavor combinations of the new gummy bears that Naperville football and basketball fans can't get enough of this school year.

Still not connecting the sweets to this sweet idea? Perhaps we need to start at the beginning.

Last summer, Naper Nuts and Sweets' gummy bear manufacturer came out with new flavored, brightly colored gummy bears. The shop's former manager, Marge Doyle, took one look at the yummy gummies and immediately realized something pnaperhaps only a mom of former high school athletes would realize: these little guys could be the new stars at concession stands all over town.

"I thought, 'This is huge. How great to have these at the football games at the high schools,'" said empty-nester Doyle, whose daughter played basketball and sons played football at Naperville Central. "I figured, let's try it."

She called concession stand managers at Naperville's four high schools and told them about her custom-bagged school colors packages of gummy bears. When the bears debuted at a Naperville North football game - in packages of both blue and orange for North and the colors for the visiting team (what a brilliant touch!) - they took off.

The concessions chair from Neuqua Valley saw the bears at a game and called Doyle to tell her how much the Wildcat fans liked the candy. She placed her first order then, and reordered for every home football game and some basketball games since.

The bears have been sold at Naperville Central and Waubonsie Valley as well, but Doyle's biggest customers are North and Neuqua. She also sold some to Belgio's when the catering company ran the concessions at North Central for the North/Central crosstown game there. In all, Napervillians have eaten around 1,500 bags of school-colored gummies since September, Doyle said.

At a time when businesses are hurting and people aren't buying luxury items, these color-coordinated candies are the closest thing to a craze.

"We're always trying to grow the business and I'm doing my part," said Doyle. "In a bad economy, everyone still likes candy. Everyone can still afford to buy a piece of candy - though that is the only thing that still seems affordable, a piece of candy!"

The Naper Nuts and Sweets staff has taken orders for school colors gummies with notice as short as a day, bagging and making signs up to the last minute. Gummies last a long time, so the shop promises to take back what the school can't sell, and offers free delivery.

The concessions stands - moneymakers for high school booster clubs - sell a half-pound bag for around $3. Doyle provides stands to hang the bags and signs to alert visiting teams that they can get their colors, too.

"It's fun to see the fans buy the colors they want," she said. "When we do run out of the opposing team colors, people say, 'Oh, you're out.' They won't buy the home team colors!"

Never fear. Doyle has told concessions managers she'll run over reinforcements at halftime if need be, and she has. Remember, this woman has been trained in providing essential support for such emergencies as forgotten uniforms and broken shoelaces.

"They're for all age groups - adults and kids like them. They're taking off and we're having fun with them," Doyle said. "I was surprised it took off the way it did. For something new, 1,500 is a lot of orders."

Basketball crowds aren't nearly as big as football crowds, but Doyle already is planning for the spring soccer and track fans.

In the meantime, the sticky candies are available for personal appearances at any event fans can think of - the Neuqua cheerleaders ordered some for an event and the gummies are available for school-themed banquets or favors through Naper Nuts and Sweets. No stranger to coordinating school colors myself, we brainstormed the possibilities: college-colored bags to tuck in Valentine's Day care packages to the poor students whose high school careers didn't include gummies at their concession stands; terrific treats for graduation parties. Don't even get me started on ways to brighten middle school and elementary school events, and just imagine next year's NYFL sidelines at after-game treat time.

Though Naper Nuts and Sweets is known perhaps best for its efforts to send popcorn to our troops, I envision a gummy dynasty in its future.

For the record, Waubonsie fans get a blend of apple and lemon flavors, and Central fans taste cherry and pineapple. Doyle hopes to add flavor combinations like orange and licorice for Wheaton Warrenville South and another set of cherry and pineapple for Benet soon.

There is a certain sense of tasty order to this story, as Doyle observed.

"The high schoolers are always here in the candy shop," she said. "Now we're in their schools too."

• Joni Hirsch Blackman writes about Naperville. E-mail her at jonihb@aol.com.