Arts and Entertainment

Bon Voyage to a Swedish Adventure at BonBon

With whimsical sweets like salt-coated licorice, pacifier candies, and passionfruit banana gummies, BonBon has amassed social media stardom while staying loyal to its Swedish roots and clientele.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By The Art Department

BonBon’s bubblegum pink shopping bags have become inescapable in recent months, as thousands of New Yorkers have flocked to their stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Shoppers now routinely line up outside of the candy shop, attracted to its whimsical decor and equally fantastical candy, both of which have become TikTok fixations. Swedes are the biggest consumers of candy in the world, with a wide selection of sweets that are often foreign to American taste buds. 

BonBon was founded in 2018 by recent Swedish immigrants Robert Persson, Selim Adira, and Leo Schaltz with the goal of introducing New York to Swedish sweets. In addition to the candies themselves, which are made in unfamiliar flavors and lack many of the artificial sweeteners, flavors, and dyes used in America, Swedes have a unique cultural attitude toward confectionery. Unlike Americans who celebrate candy once a year on Halloween, Swedes treat themselves every Saturday, eating their Lördagsgodis, literally translated as “Saturday Candy.” This tradition has made candy an important part of Swedish culture and helped BonBon find a strong but small customer base in New York’s Scandinavian community. Despite the owner’s grand plans, however, BonBon stayed relatively unknown outside of the Scandinavian-American community, usually shipping just 10 online orders a day. 

This changed almost overnight with the influx of Swedish candy reviews and videos of creators visiting the candy shop on social media. These videos are so appealing because a large part of BonBon’s charm is the experience of visiting the store. Instead of purchasing prepackaged candy or sealed candy mixes, shoppers at BonBon are armed with plastic scoops and given a wall of plastic receptacles full of colorful sweets to choose from. The variety of candy available made social media users eager to visit; soon, the lines became so long that the shop had to hire its own “Candy Bouncer.”

BonBon’s link to Sweden is a core part of its branding and marketing. It presents itself not as a candy shop but as a Swedish candy shop, adding “A Swedish Candy Co.” to all its bags and awnings. This is a familiar formula: a foreign food blows up on social media because of its novelty, and then buying the product becomes a shareable moment on social media, which attracts a massive yet short-lived crowd of customers. But despite its recent social media-driven hype, BonBon is different. Instead of compromising the authenticity and quality of its products to make them more appealing and profitable, BonBon maintains the quality that made them beloved in the first place. BonBon’s role as a provider of Swedish candies and specialty products to New York’s Scandinavian population extends beyond just what it sells; the store is a community hub for many, and it’s common to hear Swedish being spoken between staff and loyal customers. 

In addition to the authenticity of its products, BonBon is uncompromising in the breadth of its offerings. Many of these candies are challenging or even intolerable to the American palate. Its salt-coated licorice, for example, fills boxes on the shelves even though its tongue-burning, salty exterior can make the uninitiated gag. Allowing these items to take up so much shelf space, even while they make up only a tiny fraction of the shop's sales, acts as a reminder of the store’s roots and identity. While BonBon could easily replace these traditional treats with more American-friendly candies, BonBon prioritizes its small but loyal Scandinavian audience, reminding all who enter that BonBon is a Swedish candy shop first and foremost. Despite this, BonBon still accommodates its non-Swedish customers: the staff is exceedingly friendly, offering guidance on what to try and what to avoid, ensuring that unsuspecting shoppers are not caught off guard by the unfamiliar treats.

The candy BonBon sells truly lives up to the expectations set by its social media acclaim. The candy is heightened by the Willy Wonka-esque decor of its stores. The walls are stocked with rows of plastic boxes, each containing different sweets. Many of the candies are variants of classic gummy fruit, assuming all shapes and forms—from the classic peach and raspberry to skulls and pacifiers. The gummies stray far beyond the traditional flavor boundaries set by American candy companies, with options like tropical bubblegum, passionfruit banana, and Coca-Cola. Furthermore, the variety in texture, like the chewy gummies that make teeth recoil from biting into them and other candies that fizz and bubble in the mouth, makes indulging in a bag of BonBon candies an adventure—and for those less inclined towards sourness, a lip-puckering minefield. 

While New Yorkers discovering the delights of Swedish candy has been a boon for the shop’s owners, this popularity has resulted in mixed feelings from BonBon staff members. In an interview with The Spectator, conducted right in front of BonBon’s Red Hook location, one anonymous employee explained that he has mixed feelings about BonBon’s recent popularity. He worries that “the Americans trying it, they’re not doing it for the culture, they’re doing it for the trend. If it would keep going like this, more and more of the Swedish culture would fade out.” Despite BonBon’s diverse offerings, the employee worries that “most people only come for the trendy ones.” With these concerns in mind, however, he maintained hope that the trending candies offer a promising introduction to Swedish sweets, making sure to emphasize that BonBon is “very authentic.”

Whether or not the American masses decide to capitalize on the authenticity and culture that BonBon offers, the shop serves as a reminder that a business can make the best of social media fame without compromising what made it special in the first place. BonBon’s owners have been able to expand and profit tremendously from their recent success without alienating their earliest supporters. When the attention they’ve enjoyed from the algorithm up until now eventually dissipates, those first customers will still be there, ready to suck on a salty piece of licorice.