May 23, 2011: Marshmallows

Several years ago my friend Jennifer told me about a company that sold gourmet marshmallows. Pete Croyle wanted to duplicate the joyous memories he had of being in the kitchen with his grandmother while she baked homemade marshmallows for his kids. So he headed to his kitchen and after hundreds of attempts finally recreated his grandmother’s recipe–and Pete’s Original Mallows were born.

Croyle didn’t stop there; he added flavored mallows, and eventually other treats, evolving into his childhood memory into Pete’s Gourmet Confections. At the time I thought it was a great, but very niched, idea. Apparently the idea has caught on–American Way, the magazine of American Airlines, recently featured several gourmet and artisanal marshmallow retailers.

Pete’s story is part of a larger trend of turning foods most of us fell in love with as kids into gourmet treats targeted to adults. Ice cream, donuts and even macaroni and cheese have all gone upscale.  Nina Rodecker’s company, Tasty Clouds Cotton Candy Company, won Startup Nation’s “Leading Moms in Business” competition last year. Rodecker was inspired to start her gourmet cotton candy company after craving “freshly made” cotton candy while she was pregnant-and gave herself three weeks to get her company off the ground. Incredibly she did it, and today has a thriving business selling a variety of flavors of cotton candy tubs, and catering weddings and other special events.

Whether the success of these treats is due to Americans seeking the comfort foods of our childhoods, or the fact that they are new takes on old classics, there’s no question these fun food treats are thriving. And given that cupcakes are still experiencing strong sales, these artisanal versions of comfort food will likely have a long lifespan. There’s plenty of time (and space in the market) to get in on the fun.