In addition to giving us IKEA, meatballs and the Abba supergroup, Sweden has made another contribution to our overall happiness: pick-and-mix sweets. It’s a tradition best friends and fellow Swedish immigrants Robert Persson, Selim Adira and Leo Schaltz had in mind when they opened BonBon, their Swedish confectionery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. With unlimited sampling of over 160 different Scandinavian candies clearly displayed in old-fashioned bulk bins, BonBon NYC lives up to its motto: Growing up is a trap.
“Sweden has a huge candy culture. It’s in our childhood DNA, and you don’t understand the magnitude of your sweet relationship until you walk away, like Italians and pasta, French and baguettes, or Americans and butter. peanut,” says Adira. “So we were obsessed with designing the BonBon store as a home away from home for Scandinavians in the United States, while introducing Swedish candies and all they stand for in a city as diverse as New York.”
According to Jordbruksverket, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, Swedes are the biggest consumers of sweets in the world (nearly 35 pounds per person per year), and the government’s attempt at moderation in the 1950s of setting aside one day a week to enjoy sweets, called lördagsgodis (“Saturday sweets”) is a family ritual that continues to shape their culture.
Pick-and-mix also has a practical element: Swedish parents use candy as a learning tool, teaching children how to budget their allowances. “We love watching the weigh-in game as the kids scan all the bins, fill their bags, and then come to the counter to weigh in,” says Adira. “It’s a great way for kids to learn independence and budgeting.”
The pick and mix ritual is one of the reasons BonBon’s partners continue to prioritize physical locations. (In addition to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, BonBon has opened stores in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and New York’s Upper East Side.) But another is that an e-commerce-only business wouldn’t allow customers to taste hard-to-find candies in the United States, such as Nordic salty black licorice. “Candy is romantic, it’s nostalgic, and there’s something about going to a candy store to treat yourself and others to your favorite candies,” Adira says.
When the pandemic forced partners to shift their operations to delivery apps, BonBon began offering a line of four-ounce single-serve candies that are easier for those more familiar with buying candy from the spoon. “We wanted to make it easier to add to cart with pre-portioned individual selections,” says Adira.
Selling through apps also provides valuable customer insights, such as order frequency or peak delivery periods. Adira says BonBon sees peaks after lunchtime, between 2 and 3 p.m., and then again after dinnertime, between 8 and 10 p.m. And not only delivery requests, but also store visits. “That’s why we stay open so late,” he says. “Candy until midnight, seven days a week is our tradition in New York.”
In the spring of 2023, BonBon launched its first prepackaged product, a line of classic Swedish fish candies in five flavors: Sweet Wild Strawberry, Sour Wild Strawberry, Sour Elderberry, Sour Blackberry and Sour Peach. Partners call the flavor “smart sour”, subtle and always pleasant. “We don’t want to burn our taste buds with the acidity you get from a wine that’s too sour,” says Aldira. “If we destroy our tongues, how will we continue to eat sweets?”
Swedish Fish is a bona fide cult candy – an old viral Reddit thread claimed that you get better service sending devices in for hardware repair if you include a packet of this candy, known as Theory of Fish. Swedish fish. “Although we are Swedish and our fish candies are produced for us in Sweden, we do not call or mention Swedish fish in our packaging. This OUR version—BonBon Fish,” says Adira.
Non-GMO candies contain no trans fats and are made with natural colors such as black carrots, herbs and fruits, real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup); it’s vegan and gluten-free. Wax-lined biodegradable packaging with quintessentially Scandinavian illustrations by Swedish painter Simon Dahlgren Strååt, inspired by the fantastically patterned textiles of designers SvensktTenn Estrid Ericson and Josef Franks (who also designed the furniture for BonBon stores), includes childhood stories partners, reflecting how personal sweets are to them and how vital Swedish cultural life is.
“When we started this business, it became clear to us that Americans link candy consumption to health. But for the Swedes, this link is cultural. We eat our sweets in moderation, even on lördagsgodis, and we do so with great joy,” says Adria. Despite its conspicuous consumption of sweets, Sweden consistently tops lists of the world’s healthiest countries, such as the Bloomberg Global Health Index.
Because pick-and-mix isn’t easy to sell in places other than their own stores, creating BonBon Fish is a way to get their brand known to the world through wider distribution channels. The partners work with more than 200 independent retailers, including Chicago-based Foxtrot, the digital platform adding nationwide physical locations with a mission to reinvent the corner convenience store by offering both everyday and craft. “We are sold at most Foxtrot stores, where we have one of our largest retail presences and we love the way this brand showcases candy,” says Adira. They also sell their BonBon fish at all MOMA stores and boutique hotels such as The Mercer, The Ludlow, The Wythe Hotel (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), Soho House and the Moxy hotel brand, which is part of the big family. Marriott.
Ultimately, Adira and her partners are trying to import the special joy that Swedes associate with their sweets. “Our winters can be so dark, a bit depressing,” says Adira, “and we look for lifts in the daytime. A little candy keeps us motivated and moving. At BonBon, it’s always Saturday.
Two-time James Beard Award winner Francine Maroukian is a food and travel writer who also works as an operations researcher for senior retail executives.