It all started with a simple question: “Have you ever been to Sweden and seen their concept of pick ‘n mix candy?”
It was the fall of 2018 and Tyler Graybeal was standing before a vacant storefront in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His two best friends, who had both attended university in Lund, Sweden, argued that Lancaster could really use a good, Swedish-style candy store.
Tyler found the idea intriguing and a few months later he travelled to Sweden to see for himself. He spent his first day wandering around the streets of Malmö.
“I noticed that the Seven Eleven had pick ‘n mix, the first grocery store I walked into had two aisles of it, other small stores had it. It seemed to be everywhere, but not advertised or in your face, just a natural part of Swedish culture,” Tyler recalls.
He spent the afternoon in a park, observing locals as they snacked away at treats that he had never seen before.
“As simple as it is, Americans aren’t really used to the concept of pick ‘n mix,” says Tyler.
“There are so many more candies in Swedish culture that aren’t in the US culture. Not just salty licorice, but other flavors as well. Gummies aren’t really a huge thing here for example.”
Born and raised in Maryland, Tyler had no previous connection to Sweden, but he soon realized you don’t have to be Swedish to love Swedish culture. Tyler was hooked. He opened his candy store – Sweetish – and began scouring the entire Nordic region for its best sweets.
“I tried it all,” he says. “I started out hating licorice. Being raised American that’s kind of in your head.”
Then, one evening, Tyler was cajoled by a Finn to try crushing strong licorice candies called “Turkish peppers” into his vodka. Determined to acclimate his taste buds to what seemed to be the most popular Nordic candy flavor, he drank licorice-based liquors until he adapted. Now he craves licorice as much as any Swede.
Tyler brought all his best finds back to North America. Most brands were Swedish, but he also added Omnom chocolate from Iceland, Anton Berg from Denmark, Freia from Norway, and Fazer from Finland, to mention a few.
Two years later, his business Sweetish now offers more than 500 different kinds of pick n’ mix, as well as another 1,000 treats, including classic Swedish potato chip brands like OLW and Estrella.
While the pandemic caused big chains like IKEA to drop their pick ‘n mix section, Sweetish was able to keep growing, buying up the walls of plastic bins that IKEA would no longer be needing. They also launched online sales where the candy that used to be available at IKEA is now trending.
“Last year we added a 1,700 square foot fulfillment center in south Lancaster and boosted our online sales from there. Now we have a 6,000 square foot fulfillment center – Sweetish North – which will have another retail portion to it,” he says.
Besides visiting the store, customers can order online, as well as on a tablet in the new fulfillment center. Tyler also offers candy tastings, sharing the history of a variety of sweets along with pairings of local mead or coffee. Starting in the fall, the massive new fulfillment center will also be open for private tours on weekends. For just 20 dollars, visitors will be able to try as much candy as they can stomach from the nearly infinite collection.
The idea of allowing customers to eat until they drop came from a visit Tyler made to the Karl Fazer factory in Helsinki. Tyler ate until he was nearly sick and had the most amazing time, despite not understanding a word of what the tour guide was saying.
“Hearing that I spoke only English, the director was concerned I wouldn’t have a good experience with a tour guide who spoke only Finnish and Russian, but I said the guide could just point to things. After all, we both spoke the language of candy.”
By Kajsa Norman