Sergio Bicas’ a real-life Willy Wonka, minus the oompa loompas, and it likely doesn’t take much coaxing to get his three kids to come keep Daddy company at his office in Sherman Oaks. Snacking on pomegranate pucker suckers and a freshly opened 5-pound bag of gummy bears, the co-founder of YummyEarth gladly shared his excitement and some of his company’s kosher organic candy.
Bicas’ “headquarters,” in a building near Ventura Boulevard, is stacked with boxes of lollipops, vitamin C gummies, gummy worms and bears, and fruit juice candy drops, with almost enough room for a second chair. His partner, Rob Wunder, sits in an equally tiny office in Ridgewood, N.J., where he lives with his family, though he calls Bicas four times during our hour-long interview. All of the goodies are produced in Tecate, Mexico.
YummyEarth was conceived in 2005 over rice pudding.
When Bicas offered to give Wunder’s 8-month-old son, Jonah, a bit of pudding one day, Wunder wanted to know the ingredients. Both dads were committed to feeding their children only healthy, hormone-free organic foods, and each struggled to find snacks and desserts that qualified without tasting like cardboard.
Originally from Mexico City, Bicas was living in Los Angeles with his wife, Tamar, and 6-month-old daughter, Rosie, working as a chemical engineer with a specialty food company. Wunder and his wife, Larisa, were raising Jonah in New Jersey after selling two start-up telecom companies. The wives had been roommates in college.
To get started, Wunder and Bicas donned aprons and took to Bicas’ home kitchen, experimenting with fruit flavors and healthy sweetness to satisfy Wunder’s lollipop addiction. In 2006, they traveled to ExpoWest, a natural food products show in Anaheim, with 100 pounds of lollipops made in a borrowed industrial factory. There were five flavors: Cheeky Lemon, Googly Grape, Very Very Cherry, Strawberry Smash and Orange Squeeze, all kosher parve, certified organic, without artificial dyes or flavors. They are sweetened with organic cane juice and/or rice syrup rather than high-fructose corn syrup, and are peanut-, soy-, gluten- and egg-free.
Selling the lollipops for $2.50 for 15, today the company produces more than 20 flavors of lollipops, drops, gummy bears and worms, and vitamin C chewies, all made in the Tecate candy factory.
YummyEarth remains a family thing, with Tamar Dolgen in charge of promotion and Larisa Wunder doing the graphic design. YummyEarth products are now sold across the United States as well as in parts of Europe and Asia. All of the hard candies are glatt kosher, but not yet the gummies. Bicas is still working on how to keep the soft chewiness without using gelatin, which is necessary for the product to be certified kosher.
“YummyEarth is a kid- and planet-friendly company, [and we are] just as proud of what we don’t put into our ingredients as what we do: no artifical dyes, MSG or high-fructose corn syrup,” Bicas said. “What we feed our families is a choice we make for their health and the health of our Earth.”