Finding what’s new is old habit for Sal Zulla.
And sometimes what he finds comes in the shape of green army men, mini gummy bears and triple-dipped chocolate malt balls.
Chances are, you’ve probably seen the Gummieland.com products at local 7-11s, Franklin Corner Deli and even in a full display at Pennington Market. Zulla, of Lawrence, first started the company because of a demand for Swedish Fish, and now distributes an entire range of products to stores throughout the state.
Zulla, 63, hadn’t always planned on working in the candy business. In fact, Gummieland.com is one of his most recent business ventures, which he founded in 2007.
The candies are one of many products Zulla distributes to stores throughout the state in his work as a wholesale direct distributor. He started Gummieland.com after traveling out to the Chicago Candy Show and since then has continued to seek out new candies and try to fill a niche other companies haven’t.
What sets most Gummieland.com products apart, Zulla said, is that each bag is filled with just one flavor.
The biggest selection continues to be the bears, with almost 20 different flavors. But every year Zulla goes to candy shows and trade shows — his favorite part of the job — in search of new products.
“The main thing is it’s a fun business, besides, everybody loves candy and it always makes you smile,” Zulla said.
He’s even found that sometimes, what’s new is a product that’s already been around for years. Many of his best sellers are what he calls nostalgic products, like candy buttons and Nik-L-Nip bottles.
He started the Gummieland.com website in an effort to market the candies to schools and as fundraisers. Schools like Villanova, The College of New Jersey and Rowan University all feature Zulla’s gummies in customized school colors in the bookstores and convenience stores on campus.
He originally marketed just to university bookstores, but discovered from his travels other options like convenience stores and concession stands.
“As you’re on the road, as you’re going to different areas, you start to ask questions,” Zulla said. “And it’s not just by luck, it’s just hard work where things happen.”
Zulla has run the Gummieland.com business out of his home since its inception with the help of his wife, Janice, and son, Michael. Michael, 36, designs the labels and packaging, and is Zulla’s self-described technical advisor.
Zulla has also always focused on keeping Gummieland.com products local. The products are made in the U.S., but are packaged especially close to home.
When Zulla first began to put the wheels in motion for his line of Gummieland.com candies, he knew exactly where he was going to turn for the next step. He bought the candy in bulk from all different companies, but needed a method of packaging the product in retail size.
So Zulla contacted the ARC Mercer and proposed a plan. He would supply the scale, labels, bags, sealer and everything else needed, and the individuals at the Arc would package the candies.
For the past year and a half, two women at the ARC — Natasha Morris and Colina Stanford — have been the primary individuals involved in the packaging of Gummieland.com products. A few days a week, they spend a couple hours placing the bag labels, weighing the candy, filling the bags and sealing them. The pair works in the ARC’s Ewing facility on Ewingville Road, and has developed a working routine and understanding of the process.
Gummieland.com packaging is only a small part of the ARC’s Touch of Taste program.The program employs individuals, who are Arc consumers and/or clients with developmental disabilities, and trains them in different food service capacities. Individuals involved in the Touch of Taste program have the opportunity to earn their own income and also develop job skills.
“The whole idea of the vocational training program here at ARC is to be able to give them skill levels that may move them into the community and work independently of here,” said Mike Levandowski, the food service program manager at the ARC. “Some people choose never to do that. They enjoy being here and we’ll keep them here. A lot of them have been here for many years.”
Other jobs through the Touch of Taste programs include preparing hot lunch and cold bags for delivery, hot lunches hosted at the ARC, and making specialty baskets.
Zulla’s relationship with the ARC is the reason Zulla refers to Gummieland.com products as “candy with a cause.”
“The nice thing is that it’s a good feeling because you’re helping individuals with job skills, and it’s a very good feeling of self worth I get from doing it,” Zulla said. “I don’t have to go to a contract packager…it’s sustainability, we keep it local, it helps everybody. There’s a profit for the Arc, there’s a profit for my company, and when we go into the retailer, they make a profit.”
For more information about Gummieland.com products, go online to Gummieland.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (609) 882-0210 or (800) 343-3816. For more information about the ARC Mercer, call (609) 406-0181. On the Web: arcmercer.org.