In fall 2015 superstar quarterback Tom Brady posted a Facebook photo of himself and his supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen on Halloween, decked out in blue and pink skull masks for a night of trick-or-treating with their two children, Benjamin and Vivian.
Brady doesn’t do a whole lot of endorsements, but this time was different: he was endorsing a company he really believes in, rather than simply doing it for the money. Most of Brady’s 3.4 million Facebook fans probably didn’t notice the logo on their costumes that night, but Brady and his wife were actually promoting one of their favorite companies, one of that has the potential to change the way America eats candy.
So, what was Brady, who just spoke out against processed junk food like Frosted Flakes and sugary drinks, doing promoting a candy company? In this case it was a different kind of company, one on a mission to “un-junk” the industry by making favorite foods without all the hydrogenated oils, GMOs, artificial colors and other health menaces.
And it all started with a 15-year-old in a Boston suburb with a memorable Halloween story of his own to tell.
Starting From Scratch
There are few things in life more frustrating as a kid than getting your Halloween candy thrown out, but that’s exactly what happened to Nicky Bronner. At age 13 his father Michael took a good look at the “junk” he brought home and decided it would be better for his son to just skip the candy altogether.
As Bronner said on an episode of the Dr. Oz Show (in support of mandatory GMO labeling) this summer, it wasn’t an easy thing to accept.
“Five years ago I came back from trick-or-treating and had all my Halloween candy and my parents took it most away, so I wasn’t very happy,” he said. “I decided to do some research on why are these candies so bad for me, and what I learned led me to start this company Unreal.”
Now listed as the co-founder along with his father Michael, a millionaire investor, and his older brother Kris, Nicky said that the disappointment of not being able to eat his favorite candies set him out on his quest. He learned that “stuff like partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, GMOs, chemical preservatives and loads of sugar, aren’t there to make it taste better,” according to the company’s website. “They help make it cheaper to produce and last longer on shelves.”
Nicky began testing out recipes along with his brother and father, going on a hunch that he could make healthier versions of favorites like Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that were GMO-free, natural and better tasting with even less sugar. His goal was to get the big companies to “pay attention and change their ingredients.”
The brothers sought out help from the best of the best.
“We cold-called chefs and told them we wanted to change the world by reinventing America’s favorite junk foods, starting with candy,” Kris said in a 2013 TEDx talk (watch below).
At the end of the day candy is still candy, but without the GMOs, hydrogenated oils, and other unnecessary additives and processes it can be just as tasty without doing as much damage to your body, Kris said.
“We’ve removed up to 40 percent of the sugar, and increased the protein and fiber (with recipe changes),”
The candies are not non-GMO Project Verified currently but the company insists they’re in the process of getting certification and that all of their ingredients are documented as being non-GMO. Recipes are always being tweaked and the products now use more organic ingredients, are gluten-free, soy-free and corn-free, and include vegan options as well.
While there are plenty of options out there for healthier chocolate (making it from scratch with things like organic cacao, raw honey and coconut oil is probably best), Unreal is impressing a whole new generation of people who simply want their favorite candy without the junk – including big names like Brady, who’s been there from the beginning, his wife, and even Matt Damon and John Legend, who’ve done Youtube spots.
After Brady posted a video of a trip to Whole Foods leaving hidden autographs inside buckets of Unreal on social, the company said they were scrambling to fill store shelves again.
A disappointing 2012 launch allowed the owners to figure out a business strategy that works, and now the company is in over 2,000 stores nationwide and sells their products online. They’re hoping for another sales spike as people look for stocking stuffers that aren’t loaded with GMOs and unhealthy additives.
And with news of Hershey’s and other companies removing GMOs and other additives it appears as if he may have made a difference after all, even if mainly in spirit.
“Our mission is bigger than our product,” Kristopher Bronner said.
This article was first written in December 2015 and updated in April 2020.