Wolverine Lake resident Alina Morse, 14, founded Zolli Candy — a treat safe for kids’ teeth.
By Alana Blumenstein
Photography by Morgan Heinzmann
When 7-year-old Alina Morse went to the bank with her dad, the bank teller offered her a lollipop. Her father told her lollipops were bad for her teeth. In that moment, she decided to make lollipops that all kids could eat.
“Being the tenacious kid I am, I kept asking and I finally did my research and it blossomed into this company,” says Alina, now 14.
Alina has always looked at finding creative solutions, says father Tom Morse, a business consultant. As a child, she had a binder full of product ideas. He told her she had to pick one, and the choice was simple. “She loved candy,” he says. “She decided what she wanted to go after, and I just tried to help her and support her along the way.”
In the beginning, Alina turned to her dentist and dental hygienists for help finding healthy ingredients. Though they didn’t know of any candy products like hers, they offered a list of suitable ingredients based off tooth-friendly gums and mints.
Though initially fueled by a kid who wanted candy, the venture took a more serious turn when Alina learned the dangers of tooth decay. Tooth decay is the most prevalent disease among children and adults, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Since learning this, Morse has made it her mission to reduce childhood tooth decay and promote oral health care.
Inspired by her discovery, Alina attempted to make the candy herself. “That didn’t go too well,” she says, adding that her parents weren’t too thrilled with the mess in their kitchen. But Alina was determined. “Now that I found a mission, I had all the more reason to keep trying to create this product,” she says.
In 2014, at age 9, Alina began selling Zollipops. The lollipops come in cherry, strawberry and grape flavors, are sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan and made with colors from plant-based sources. She tracked down a Whole Foods buyer and secured a meeting. Her manager and father Tom Morse helped her find other potential buyers. “Initially, it was just kind of stalking down the right people,” Alina says. Later, the duo attended trade shows.
Today, Zolli Candy — which includes Zolli Drops and Zolli Taffi — can be found in Whole Foods, Walmart, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Meijer and Target. “We’ve been growing at a tremendous rate for a small company,” Alina says, adding that word-of-mouth has been the company’s strongest advertising. “There’s so many different mom groups and communities all looking for better options for their kids. It’s just a domino effect.”
Through their Million Smiles Initiative, 10 percent of profits are given to support oral health education in schools across America. The nonprofit also gives away free lollipops. “It’s just a great way to share the story of young entrepreneurship and also to teach (students) about the importance of oral health care,” Alina says.
Recently, the initiative has reached 2 million kids. But Alina is far from done. “There’s still a little over 22 million elementary school students,” she says. “We still have 20 million more to go.” Through her efforts, Alina hopes to one day demolish tooth decay completely.
Tom Morse says working with Alina is like working with any other colleague. “One of the biggest differences is because of her passion,” he says. “She doesn’t see limits.”
Along with her big ambitions, Alina is still just a normal teen looking forward to getting her license. “I have three years until I can drive,” she says. Besides being the CEO of a multimillion dollar company, she is also a student at Abbott Middle School and competitive dancer. Alina says balancing being a kid and running a business is all about practice. “I kind of have my schedule down pat by now,” she says. “At first it was a little bit hectic.”
But she doesn’t mind the work. Zolli Candy allows her to pursue business and help others, which have been her passions from a young age. “I’m just really grateful that I have the opportunity,” she says. “I’m also really lucky to have such a great team that I get to work with every day.”
As a successful kidpreneur, Alina emphasizes the importance of showing kids the face behind the brand. “It makes it more personable,” she says. “It shows them that it can be done and that they can do it too.”