A Q&A with the owner of Tastely Box, a Peterborough sweets shop with a cult following on TikTok

“We sold $17,000 worth of candy in one day”: A Q&A with the owner of Tastely Box, a Peterborough sweets shop with a cult following on TikTok

Photo courtesy of Polly Laneville

What’s better than your favorite candy? Your favorite candy fresh out of the freeze dryer, of course! “It’s a texture thing,” says Polly Laneville, whose Peterborough candy store, Tastely Boxwent from sweet side hustle to sugar-coated empire after she started posting freeze-dried candy experiments to TikTok. With views in the tens of millions, the short videos have become a brilliant marketing tactic, driving demand and turning Laneville into a social media celeb—even if she’s still not sure what makes her videos of her go viral.

First off: What is a Tastefully Box?
A lot of people ask me about the name. Tastely is a mix of the word taste and my first name. The “box” part came from the inspiration behind the business. Years ago, my husband and I started this tradition of giving each other boxes of unique candy. We would then snack on them when we had date nights. We had our two kids back-to-back, so we didn’t have a lot of energy, and this was a fun and easy way to spend time together. It became sort of a challenge to come up with themes and see who could find the most unique treats. We had friends bring us back some really interesting chocolate bars from the Philippines, so I became curious what candy other countries had to offer. I started sourcing things online—from the UK, from Japan.

How did the business come to be?
During the pandemic, my husband was let go from his job at the Blue Mountain mine. For years, we had said that one day we would start our own business, and it was James who said that maybe these candy boxes could be our thing. Our concept at first was an online business that sold international candy mixes. We had $2,000 in savings, and we spent it all on boxes and candy. At this point, we were sourcing everything from Canadian wholesalers who brought in merchandise from different countries. We weren’t big enough to cut out the middleman. We operated out of a single room in our house.

Was TikTok superstardom always part of the plan?
I knew that TikTok could be a very useful tool for small business owners. Before Tastely Box, I worked as a digital artist, and I built up a following of 40,000, which felt like a lot at the time. When we started our candy business, we got on TikTok right away, and business was okay—steady, but more of a side hustle. Then, about two months in, I posted a reel that was a game-changer. I’m still not sure why it exploded. it was just a short clip where I introduced the store and gave a shout-out to our Canadian followers—I wanted people to know that we were a Canadian business. Right away, we had something like 1,000 likes. When we woke up the next day, it was up to 800,000. At that point, we had our phones set to notify us every time we made a sale, and it was like ping, ping, ping, ping! We sold out our entire inventory—$17,000 worth of candy—in one day. And then, when we restored, we sold out again in 10 minutes. That’s when we decided to open up a storefront and hire some staff.

Where did the idea to freeze-dry your candy come from?
We had been ordering freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches from a supplier out in BC. They really were yummy: not too sweet and with some crunch—the crunch is key. Our customers really enjoyed them in the summer. And I just started thinking, What else can we freeze-dry? By no means did we invent the concept. Freeze-drying Skittles was already a big thing on TikTok. What’s different about us is that we already had all of this unusual candy from all over the world to experiment with.

@tastelybox

Make sure you watch until the end to see a little sneak peak of inside the freeze dryer! #tastelybox #candy #candyshop #candystore #freezedriedcandy #freezedrietyventures #foodexperiment #Canada #ptbocanada #ontariocanada

♬ Witch Familiar (Classical) [Classic](143628) – says

This may be a stupid question, but isn’t candy already delicious? Why freeze-dry it?
A big part of it is texture. When you freeze-dry something, you suck all of the air out, and that totally changes the consistency. We stock a lot of funky marshmallows at the store. I’m actually not a fan of them in their original form, but when you put them in the freeze dryer, they come out like larger versions of the marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal. Gummy candies go from being chewy to something that you can almost crush with your tongue—it’s a melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing. Not everything works so well, though, and that’s why I started the experiments in the first place. I hadn’t even planned to post them at first, but then one of my employees thought it could be fun.

For the uninitiated, could you describe how your freeze-dried experiments work?
I select a bunch of new candies to try—sometimes new inventory or sometimes our community will suggest something. For each reel, I introduce each item, place it on a tray and then stick it into the freeze dryer. It generally takes a few hours, so the next day I’ll post a second video to let viewers see how things turn out. It’s pretty simple, but people really seem to like it. The first experiment video I posted got 16 million views. Our record is 35 million views for an experiment that included pickles and a giant jalapeno gummy.

So weird items equal more views?
Honestly, I don’t know. People do seem to love pickles, though. We sold pickle-flavoured cotton candy over the summer, and customers would drive in from out of town to get it. Really, though, I have no idea why some videos explode. My friend the other day was like, “For someone who is always going viral, you really don’t know a lot about social media.” I think, in general, people online love the before-and-after process. And there’s the suspense factor. There are lots of things that don’t work well in the freeze dryer, and if something doesn’t work or tastes gross, I’m always honest. Chocolate doesn’t work. Neither does licorice or Pop Rocks. But Nerds work really well, and so do Warheads.

I’m assuming you have big Halloween plans?
Halloween is over for us, business-wise, but yes, we did a lot of really cool themed bags. We freeze-dried these big gummy dentures that blew up to three times their size, and then we drizzled them in chamoy sauce to look like blood, then added a gummy eyeball. Those really were popular. I actually saw that stores in the UK stole our idea.

@tastelybox

They came out amazing!!! 🎃👻😍 100% one if my fav freeze dried items now! #tastelybox #candy #candyshop #candystore #freezedried #freezedriedcandy #candytastetest #freezedrietyventures #Halloween #thisishalloween

♬ Halloween ・ cute horror song – PeriTune

Does that kind of candy plagiarism happen a lot?
It’s not something I’m looking out for. It’s usually our social media followers who will alert us to other businesses doing the same thing. A number of candy stores have started posting their own freeze-dried experiment videos, which, as far as I know, is something we did first. It can be frustrating, but I guess it keeps me moving forward and focused on what’s next. We just released freeze-dried Advent calendars last week. They sold out really quickly, so we’re working on making more. That’s our biggest challenge right now: trying to increase production. We’re currently able to produce about 150 bags of candy a day, and we’d like to up that number to 500. We’re also looking to replace our three small freeze dryers with an industrial version. And then we’re looking at introducing vending machines full of our freeze-dried candy.

I don’t want to harsh your sugar buzz, but what if freeze-drying is just a phase?
That’s definitely something we think about. My feeling is that freeze-dried candy will be like tattoos. Like, you get to a point where they stop being the big trendy thing and they’re just normal. We’re always keeping our eyes out for the next big thing, but I don’t think freeze-drying is going anywhere.

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