By Darcel Rockett Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 12 year old Alina Morse invested her savings into "Zollipops" a few years ago, and now her sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, fruit-flavored lollipops are sold internationally and across the U.S.
Have you ever wondered what the prequel to "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" would look like? It may resemble the career trajectory of Alina Morse -- the 12-year-old founder/inventor of Zollipops (aka the "clean teeth lollipops").
Zollipops are natural lollipops that contain erythritol, xylitol and stevia (sugar alternatives), which neutralize acid in the mouth and reduce the risk of tooth decay and cavities.
The sixth-grader had the idea for healthier suckers when she was still in the single digits, according to her father and manager Tom Morse.
A simple visit to the bank and a teller offering her a lollipop with sugar led her to ask her father: "Why can't we have candy that's good for you?"
"She kept asking," he said. "After she asked about 100 times, I told her to do some research."
And research she did. A younger Alina questioned her dentist and dental hygienist about natural teeth-cleaning ingredients. She went to YouTube to find out how to make candy. She tried her hand at making lollipops at home, but her father, a business consultant, suggested using a nearby candy manufacturer. Alina's friends helped with the sampling and testing of the pops.
"The requirements she came up with for the product came from her and her friends. She had a friend who was allergic to peanuts and one who was allergic to gluten, so she basically said, 'Dad, it has to be this way because I want my friends to have it,' so it came out of a real need." (Alina is allergic to artificial dyes and colors, so that factored in as well.)
And when it came to the name of the lollipops, younger sister Lola helped.
"She offered her younger sister Lola a pop and asked, "Do you want to try a xylitol lollipop?" said her father. "Her sister had a little challenge saying the name, so she said Zollipop." The rest is herstory.
Alina Morse invested her savings into Zollipops a few years ago, and now her sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, dairy-free, natural colored, fruit-flavored lollipops are sold internationally and across the U.S. by retailers like Amazon, Toys R Us, Whole Foods, Kroger, Meijer and, as of last week, Dylan's Candy Bar.
Ten percent of all Zollipops profits go to support oral health education in schools, and her product has garnered attention from the likes of Michelle Obama and her Let's Move initiative.
Zollipops was on site at the 2015 and 2016 White House Easter Egg Rolls.
"Honestly, I just wanted to do something that kids would like," Morse said. "I just thought it would be a good market because there's not really healthy candies out there, and there's not a lot of things parents feel comfortable giving their kids that the kids actually want to eat. So I just figured that I would make something that would be a win-win for everyone."
Morse, a resident of Wolverine Lake, Mich., was at the annual Sweets and Snacks Expo last week at McCormick Place to show off ZolliPops and her latest natural candy addition, Zaffi Taffy.
"It's kind of amazing how much we've accomplished in such a short amount of time. I would have never dreamed that we would have gotten into Dylan's Candy Bar, like that's insanity.
It's literally owned by Ralph Lauren's daughter, and they're like trillionaires, and that's just crazy," Morse said in an interview at Dylan's Candy Bar on Michigan Avenue. "I want to keep doing this (business) for as long as possible and keep helping kids. I really think it's making an impact."
Morse started asking questions after she and her father read the book "Rich Dad Poor Dad," by Robert Kiyosaki. "Kids ask great questions, and it's easy as a parent to say OK ... but just listen to the questions they ask and help them reach their dreams, reach their potential," Tom Morse said.
After talking business, Alina chatted with the Tribune about her likes and dislikes. FYI, she's into the beach because she likes being outside (and she's excited at the prospect of one day getting her permit to drive a boat/Jet Ski in the near future).
Q: Was there a candy at the convention you liked?
A: I liked the Haribo cola gummies. Those are good, and they don't have dye in them, and they taste like Coke.
Q: Are you a celebrity in your hometown?
A: Not necessarily. I just like to be treated like a normal girl at school because I don't want over-attention. I think it's unnecessary. I think if Beyonce walks into our school, that's something everyone can scream about. I'm just trying to make a difference. I'm not trying to be a star or anything.
Q: Who's is your favorite singer?
A: Taylor Swift. I just think she's really innocent. She hasn't gone completely insane, like some other singers, and shaved her head.
Q: What's your favorite flavor?
A: I like orange. I'm kind of a sucker for citrus in general. I love oranges; I love orange juice.
Q: Are there any summer movies you're excited to see?
A: "Everything, Everything" -- I'm excited about that one. I was always into those types of things: "Me Before You," "The Fault in Our Stars," all that stuff.
Q: How do you make time for the fun things?
A: After school, I balance my time into thirds: I do one-third for homework, one third for business and one-third for dance, playing with my sister or sleeping.
Q: What's your personal dream?
A: I've always wanted to be a singer, but I already got a little thing going here, so ...
Q: Is world domination on your to-do list?
A: Our overall mission is for every kid in America to have a healthy smile and a Zollipop in their hands. That's kind of been our thing from the start, but world domination? I can see that happening.