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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 18, 2016 4 years ago

Sweet success

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Lick My Spoon's sauces and confections have turned from hobby to viable and fast-growing business. Managing the expansion could get sticky.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

What do you get when you combine boredom with a love of baking?

For Kristine Insalaco-Gaioni, it's a line of sweet treats that's grown far beyond her expectations. So much so that Insalaco-Gaioni is now on the verge of turning those treats into a major business success story.

For three years, she'd been running Sarasota-based Sapore della Vita, an Italian import company she started with her husband in 2009. He lived in Italy at the time, and the couple began by importing and selling products made by a friend with a farm in Umbria. Today the company serves as a wholesale distributor for dozens of Italian specialty goods, including olive oils, balsamic vinegars and honey. Its products can be found in shops and restaurants from Tampa to Venice, and it's beginning to make a move into the Orlando and Miami markets.

Insalaco-Gaioni's husband, Fabio Gaioni, took over the business in 2012 when he moved to Sarasota full time. So with time on her hands, she found herself in the kitchen, whipping up concoctions like her caramel sauce. Using all-natural, organic ingredients, she launched her Lick My Spoon line in 2013. Its caramel and chocolate sauces, jams, and confections now join other Sapore della Vita products on the shelves at area specialty shops. The list includes Morton's Gourmet Market, Artisan Cheese Co. and the Butcher's Block in Sarasota and Locale Market and Mazarro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg.

But a blog post made things even sweeter for Lick My Spoon. It was the Good Food Awards, which honor foods that taste good and are responsibly made in 13 categories. Insalaco-Gaioni entered, she says, “just for fun.”

“I didn't expect anything,” she adds. “When we found out we were finalists, it was pretty exciting. And when I saw who I was standing on stage with — Alice Waters, Guittard Chocolate — it was almost overwhelming.”

Lick My Spoon's caramel sauce went on to win Good Food Awards in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and its chocolate fudge sauce and torrone (a mix of toasted hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds covered in a vanilla-citrus nougat) also picked up prizes in 2016. The exposure she's gotten through those recognitions has led to major growth for both the Lick My Spoon line and Sapore della Vita.

“We've grown 300% since the Good Food Awards, and that's all across the board,” says Insalaco-Gaioni. “The awards have put us in touch with some of the most prestigious buyers in the U.S. Once they taste some of our products, they're very interested and intrigued to know we have others.”

Those connections helped get Lick My Spoon's caramel sauce into the Sarasota Whole Foods store last fall. “We've had several reorders,” she says. “And our goal is to get into other Whole Foods regionally and one day possibly even nationally.”

Items from the Lick My Spoon line were also test launched at 47 Williams-Sonoma stores last summer, and four varieties of caramel sauce, the chocolate fudge sauce and a chocolate-raspberry jam are now on the shelves longer-term at the company's new Ponce City Market store in Atlanta. Success there could lead to additional Williams-Sonoma locations.

With all this interest come challenges, such as understanding the labeling requirements in different states. Insalaco-Gaioni makes all of the Lick My Spoon products herself in a commercial kitchen in Sarasota. She and her husband have a few employees who help with demos, and Community Haven, a Sarasota organization for adults and children with disabilities, assists with labeling for the Lick My Spoon line.

But additional hires will soon be needed. “We already have that in mind,” Insalaco-Gaioni says. “We've had to tell some of the buyers to wait, that we'll get the product out but we're in such big demand. That's a good thing, but we're so little that's our biggest struggle as we keep growing and growing.”

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