Why global sugar-free sensation “Dr. John’s” is not your typical candy store

Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 03/30/2021, 12:47 PM
Edited: 03/30/2021, 9:00 PM
(KENT COUNTY, Mich.) Every candy you can think of from hard candy, lollipops, taffy, dark chocolate, as well as mints and gum are made at Dr. John's Healthy Sweets in Comstock Park, Michigan. Mike McDonald and his wife Patty bought the company in November of 2017. "The key to the product when we bought the company was that the product tasted like a sugar product without any sugar in it," said McDonald. A Grand Rapids area dentist came up with the idea to create a sugar free product in the mid-1990's. In addition to making sure the candy is sugar, the McDonalds have spent the last few years also making sure the products are gluten free, all natural, kosher, made with 50% or more natural fiber, and are allergen free as well. "We would be the first confection company in the U.S. to have a trademark on the word healthy on a bag of candy and so we kinda thought that was a big deal," said McDonald. Owning the company has also been a big deal for McDonald's family because about a year after purchasing the company, there was a surprising diagnosis within their own family. "Our oldest of 11 grandchildren was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and so that's been a struggle but it's been kind of nice to be able to provide him with some treats that he can consume," said McDonald. Making the sugar free artisan treats requires a special cooking equipment. McDonald said most of the machines are original and are built to produce smaller, quality products instead of relying on a continuous cooking style, the way that most candy manufacturers do. "The no sugar aspect of our product when it starts to solidify it forms fast and hard," said McDonald. "Henceforth, you can't do a continuous cook on our product you have to do it in small batches." The company also takes customer feedback and experiments with new flavors, textures and flavor combinations. Dr. John's has a special kitchen at its manufacturing facility where Austin Garthe, the director of Food Safety, Quality Assurance, and Research and Development, spends a lot of hours testing out different flavor combinations. "I'll have an idea and go, have we had any spicy chocolate yet," said Garthe. "Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don't." Testing out new flavor combinations and adding more to the products to the lineup has paid off. In the last three years Dr. John's Healthy Sweets has grown by 250 percent. The company's impact is also felt globally. In 2019, Dr. John's Healthy Sweets was the exporter of the year for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. More than 55% of their products are sold outside of the United States. "It's given my wife and I an opportunity to travel to Asia and we spent a few weeks over there getting to know the people, understanding the market so it was a whole different aspect of selling and marketing," said McDonald. McDonald also said Dr. John's is the number one sugar free candy recommended by dentists. 60 percent of dental offices across the U.S. provide the candy to their patients including Robinson Dental in Coopersville, Michigan. Nicole Murray, a dental hygienist at Robinson Dental said the no sugar aspect is great for kids.
"Sugar creates plaque which builds up on the teeth," said Murray. "It can cause cavities and we just see a lot of issues with it causing cavities for kids and adults." The candy also contains xylitol which is another reason why dentists and hygienists like it. Claire Kittaka, a dentist a Robinson Dental said xylitol helps create saliva, which is great for people with dry mouth. "That can lead to getting more cavities when your mouth's really dry so we recommend patients suck on one of the suckers or the hard candies and that can help stimulate saliva and reduce their risk of cavities," said Kittaka. McDonald said the company's impact isn't just in the dental offices. The candy is sold to every major medical distributor in the world and it's in the offices of endocrinologists who treat patients with diabetes. It's also in 38 cancer centers across the United States. The sugar free aspect is something that Jessica Hester, a mother who lost her daughter Brooke to Neuroblastoma in 2015 appreciates. Hester remembers watching radioactive sugar travel to Brooke's cancer cells during a pet scan. She said she wishes she would have known about Dr. John's when Brooke was being treated at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids. "It's something that for a child with cancer that helps them literally deal with the chemotherapy going into their veins," said Hester. Hester also founded Brooke's Blossoming Hope, a non-profit for childhood cancer. She was thrilled when Dr. John's Healthy Sweets donated 30 pounds of candy last December for Christmas care packages sent out to kids across the U.S. "We can distribute something that we know for a fact is healthy for the children and that it's something that Brooke would love and would want to do so that brings me a lot of joy," said Hester. The joy is what makes it all worthwhile for the McDonalds. "Hearing from the consumer and what they like about our product and hearing the stories making their kids so happy that can't consume sugar is very meaningful," said McDonald. "It's important, adds a little bit more eternal aspect to doing business and making product than it otherwise would." If you want to learn more about Dr. John's Healthy Sweets you can visit their website: https://www.drjohns.com/. They can also be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drjohnshealthysweets They can also be found on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drjohnshealthysweets/ This has been a VNN Sponsored News Story. For more information, email rschuit@verifiednews.network


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