Who: Hanson Watkins
What: Indie Candy, allergen-free confectioner
Where: Birmingham, Alabama
At Indie Candy, the brainchild of Birmingham’s Hanson Watkins, "nothing is simple," due to the many restrictions placed on her Big Eight allergen-free candy line. These allergens include milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans and shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy — with sesame thrown in for good measure.
Everything that comes into the facility – whether chocolate that will be enrobed over handmade marshmallows or sugar for gummy candies or flavors for truffles – is obsessively sourced to ensure that it is allergen-free.
"We control for our most sensitive customer," says Watkins, that person who cannot have a shred of peanut or whisper of gluten without risking illness. As a celiac patient, Watkins knows of what she speaks. So the quest for non-allergen-contaminated ingredients is never-ending. "We cannot get our chocolate from a large vendor who makes it in the same facility that peanuts are processed in, for example, or we risk cross-contamination. So we have to get it from a smaller supplier who can confirm they are nut-free."
And the quest goes beyond the major ingredients. "We use only natural flavors and colors, like pureed spinach or beets, and we work with the color of our ingredients – if something wants to be a lovely blush pink, we let it be blush pink. We don’t force it to be magenta."
A recent foray into truffles with transfer designs – popular at weddings – led to Watkins designing her own transfer sheets, since she couldn’t risk using commercially available inks or gelatin sheets. All the cocoa butter at Indie Candy is certified dairy-free, and even the packaging, designed by Atlanta's Simple Design Works, comes from a certified facility.
Watkins even lets her customers influence the process – when discussing the addition of a candy featuring coconut on the Indie Candy Facebook page recently, she received an outcry of clients pointing out that hers is one of a very few coconut-free confectioners available, and she subsequently chose not to make any coconut-influenced treats. She wants anyone who visits one of her kiosks or a store that carries her goods to know they can make their choices safely. And she continues to expand her lines to accommodate more clients, by adding sesame to her list of forbidden allergens and beginning to experiment with corn-free candies like marshmallows and gummies.