The Candy Store now also in Smichov, Prague 5

and it’s selling a lot more than candy ...

When living abroad, what could be a better pick-me-up than treating yourself to a favorite junk food item from home? For the most part, junk food is based on personal craving. For some, it’s nostalgia for a tasty treat from childhood like Twinkies, for others it’s curiosity about a new snack food trend like the current hot-selling BeanBoozled Jelly Beans, which bring yucky flavors like “stinky socks, rotten eggs, skunk spray and moldy cheese” into the flavor mix just for fun.

For Marek Čermák, the ambitious young founder of The Candy Store shops in Prague, junk food means a Reese’s peanut butter cup or box of Mac & Cheese. “It’s addictive,” he says with a laugh. When Marek returned to Prague after growing up in Holland, he realized that finding his favorite snack foods was going to be a challenge. Although a few shops offered specialty products imported from the US or the UK, the products were either outrageously priced, poorly stocked or not well marketed for potential consumers. “You were never sure if you made the trip across town to satisfy a craving whether the food you wanted would actually be there,” he says.

Marek knew from his experience in Holland that the concept of specialty snack food stores could work. After doing an informal Facebook poll among friends, he decided to make his idea a reality. In September 2011, he opened his first shop, called The Candy Store in a small space off I.P. Pavlova. He sold imported candies and soft drinks from the US as well as locally made cupcakes. Word spread among Prague’s expats, and the shop was a success. Although they aimed their marketing at expats by advertising in Prague’s international schools, the company’s client base is now an even mix of 50% Czechs and 50% expats.

Originally, Marek’s intention was just to sell American candy. However, today the shelves in his three Prague locations as well as in three franchises in the Czech Republic tell a richer (and healthier) story.

After the success of the first The Candy Store, only two years later Marek acquired the dry goods portion of Robertson’s, a popular British butcher’s shop and delicatessen with multiple Prague locations. This acquisition gave The Candy Store access to an expanded range of UK junk foods as well as a wide assortment of UK baking products, cereals, health food bars and baby food.

Eventually, The Candy Store closed its Na Rybnicku and Vinohradska locations to open a larger new space on Londynska Street which shelves both US and UK products. Marek admits that the transition wasn’t easy. “It was so hectic and we grew so fast. We lost some customers initially in that first year because we weren’t ready for the acquisition. But, over the past year, many of them have come back as we’ve proven we have a better organizational structure and are now ready to meet their demands,” he says. The Candy Store uses Facebook as their main marketing channel, and they operate an eshop with shipping throughout the Czech Republic. 

Today, both the US and the UK flags fly at The Candy Store entrances in their Prague 2, Prague 6 and Prague 5 shops. The company tries to balance its product offerings 50 – 50 (US – UK) as much as possible. With more than 30,000 Likes on their Facebook page and a range of 1200 products in their offering, The Candy Store has without a question made its mark in the Czech Republic.

“Over time people have gotten bored with Czech snack foods, and the food market in the Czech Republic is changing a lot. Now there are a variety of specialty shops in Prague. There’s a Greek shop, a Spanish shop, several Italian shops,” Marek says. Czech snack food producers are turning to innovation too by using ingredients such as peanut butter, exotic spices or unusual flavors in Czech snacks, such as salt and vinegar or grilled bacon chips. As prices for normal food have gone up in recent years, it means that The Candy’s Store’s imported goodies aren’t as expensive relative to their counterparts on the Czech market. In four years of doing business with US and UK suppliers, the store has also forged business relationships which have helped bring lower prices to customers.

Since Marek has his hands full managing the growing Prague market, it only made sense for the company to use franchising to expand beyond Prague. They currently have franchises in the cities of Brno, Plzen and Pardubice with eyes on expanding into Slovakia and to other mid-size Czech towns like Liberec or Ostrava where the demand for their products already exists (due to their successful eshop). Two weeks ago, the Pardubice franchise opened and already the franchisee has contacted Marek for additional stock. In Brno, the franchise caught on quickly and has since expanded its shop space in order to accommodate a wider range of dry products.

“A year or two years ago, I would have never thought that The Candy Store would work in smaller Czech towns, but it’s even more popular in the smaller cities. While there’s some range of choice in Prague to try something different – you’ve got Tesco or Marks & Spencer – in the smaller franchises, the consumer isn’t yet spoiled.”

While it may be the Wonka candies or Jelly Bellies that draw customers to The Candy Store for their first visit, Marek says that most often it’s the dry goods selection, cereals and health foods that bring them back for return trips. For most customers, a visit to The Candy Store is a treat, not an everyday occasion. For some non-Czech natives it’s the only place to find baking staples like Betty Crocker cake mixes, Tate & Lyle icing sugar, Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix or Nabisco’s Graham crackers. “It’s not only kids who shop here, there are adults, even grannies among our regulars,” Marek says.

I asked Marek how he feels about his brand name The Candy Store, now that he’s expanded into new markets like bio and gluten-free products. “I’ve thought of rebranding it, but people know the brand, and it seems like it would be a shame to give up what’s been working for us the past five years,” he says. He can’t remember how he came up with the name; however, the choice was a good one.

The other day during a visit to Anděl’s Novy Smichov shopping center, I stopped by The Candy Store’s new location just to see for myself. Located midway between Anděl and Malá Strana, the Candy Store is a few meters from the Arbesovo Náměstí tram stop. Upon entering the shop, I noticed a row of refrigerated beverages with everything from high-end bottled waters, Arizona iced tea and Dr. Pepper soft drinks. I also found a vast assortment of cereals, porridges and mueslis as well as Betty Crocker baking mixes at the back of the store.

While I was looking around, two different customers came in to ask in Czech if the shop had the “hnusny” (disgusting) jelly beans in stock. A large Jelly Belly dispenser lines the right side of the shop’s back room, and both the traditional and the disgusting versions are popular items. Although I hadn’t intended to buy anything for myself, when I saw a jar of marshmallow fluff from the US, an ingredient for my Christmas fudge that is particularly difficult to find in Prague, I scooped it up. At the register, I also couldn’t resist buying candy canes for my children’s stockings.

With Christmas coming in a few weeks, The Candy Store’s got a range of holiday surprises from the UK such as Christmas Crackers, an assortment of Cadbury brand holiday chocolates, Walker’s Christmas pudding and Milky Way’s magic stars as well as Wonka’s Fantastical Nerds for a holiday surprise from the US. For those who don’t like making decisions about someone else’s sweet cravings, you can purchase a Candy Store voucher available in the amount of 250 CZK, 500 CZK or 1000 CZK.

As far as Marek is concerned, he’s looking forward to closing time on the evening of the 23rd. After working hard so that his customers will have the sweets they need to make their Christmas season special, he’ll finally have a chance to sit on the couch, put his feet up and relax.

He might even have a Reese’s or two.

The Candy Store Prague 6
The Candy Store Prague 5
The Candy Store Prague 2

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