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Monday, May 7, 2012

9-year-old ‘Marshmallow Kid’ turns curiosity
about fluffy treat into money-making venture

By Katie Perkowski
KyForward correspondent

Not many 9-year-olds can say they’ve been featured on TV’s “Suze Orman Show,” a popular personal finance show. Then again, not many 9-year-olds can say they have their own company.

But Canaan Smith of Lexington can check those accomplishments off his list. Canaan is CEO of The Marshmallows Co., which sells homemade, gluten-free, egg-free and nut-free marshmallows. The idea for the company came about after Canaan, wanting to try different kinds of marshmallows, tried making his own.

“And we made them at my grandparents’ house, and we made raspberry,” Canaan said. “ … actually I thought they were pretty good so I wanted to sell them.”

Mike Smith, his father, said the family tried four or five recipes with different ingredients and different outcomes while trying to create the perfect formula.

“We just kind of took a little bit from each of those until we ended up with something that he liked and that was fluffy,” Mike Smith said. “I think that was his main concern in the beginning.”

Canaan sold his first marshmallows at age 5 at a party his parents were hosting. His younger brother Ezra helped him, and they sold them for $1 a bag. The marshmallows sold out by the end of the night, and within a few months Coffee Times Coffee House in Lexington started selling them.

Now, the marshmallows are also sold at Root-A-Bakers Bakery in Morehead, and online at themarshmallowscompany.com. Canaan makes the flavored marshmallows, along with help from family, in his kitchen at home. They package them into 11-ounce bags.

Mike Smith said the number of bags sold varies according to season. Last year, he said, the family sold about 2,000 bags during the Christmas season, and in April 2011 after Canaan went on the “Suze Orman Show,” the family sold about 500 bags in a month and a half.

“Me and my dad usually make them, most of the time my mom cuts them because she’s really fast at that,” Canaan said. “My brother bags them, I weigh them.”

Canaan said his favorite part about making them is cutting them.

“Because he gets to use a big knife,” Mike Smith joked.

Canaan said being on the “Suze Orman Show” was exciting, and he said since then, a lot of people at school call him “the marshmallow kid.”

“Our next-door neighbors actually saw him on Suze Orman Show and they had no idea that he even sold marshmallows,” Mike Smith said.

Canaan isn’t the only one who benefits from his company’s success. The Marshmallows Co. donates 10 percent of the company’s sales to the Heifer Project International, a nonprofit that gives gifts of livestock and training to families to “improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways,” according to the group’s website.

Mike Smith said the family had given to the organization before and they are on its mailing list, “so I think he had seen it and asked what it was and said ‘That’s cool. I’ll donate to that.’”

“After ‘Suze Orman Show,’ he donated $500 to Heifer International to a cow,” Mike Smith said. “They go into third-world countries and they give live animals, you can give anything from ducks to chickens to goats … and then they teach the families how to take care of the animals. Part of the agreement is that when (the animals) give offspring, then they’ll give it to somebody else and teach them how to use it.”

Canaan said eventually, he hopes his company grows enough that he can build a marshmallow factory powered by windmills to help the environment, too.

Seeing his son’s idea grow into the company that it is today has been “pretty crazy,” Mike Smith said. And even though Canaan doesn’t get to play video games every time he wants to because he has to make marshmallows, his son has learned some good lessons.

“It’s been kind of cool just to see the whole process of it. You make something that’s good and that’s good quality and it’s very consistent, that you can sell and make money off of it,” he said. “And it is kind of fun to just work through, all the way through the beginning … we sat down as a family and were like ‘This is going to be hard work, but the reward is you get paid for your work and you’re your own boss.’ So it’s been a good lesson for him to learn.”



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