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2019 JEDCO Challenge Winner Poof is the first company to reimagine cotton candy
Jeanne O’Leary, owner of JEDCO’s 2019 Start Up Challenge winner, Poof Cotton Candy, has made a career out of spinning fun flavors such as King Cake and Toasted Coconut. The treat is finding success with weddings, corporate events, custom gifts and catered experiences.
Jeanne O’Leary has always had two things: a massive sweet tooth and a head for business. The businesswoman and former bartender decided to combine her two passions and launch Poof Cotton Candy in 2016.
“My culinary background is extensive, from attending culinary school in southern Texas to working the line in fine-dining concepts,” said O’Leary. “I’ve worked every inch of a restaurant, from washing dishes and tending bar to schedule building. I dreamed up Poof in 2016 out of the sheer desire to be an entrepreneur.”
Headquartered and manufactured in Jefferson Parish, Poof offers a sweet line of cotton candy that features creative flavors dreamed up by O’Leary and embellishments that set the final product apart from county fair varieties. Unique creations include king cake, unicorn, birthday cake, grapefruit soda and cookies n’ cream.
“Poof is the first company in history to alter cotton candy beyond machinery improvements and mass production,” O’Leary said. “Our sophisticated flavors come ‘fully dressed’ with sprinkles, spices, and other delicious morsels.”
Spun from pure Domino cane sugar, Poof is made from local ingredients whenever possible.
Along with a team of three employees, O’Leary offers her spun-sugar creations through catering opportunities for parties, receptions and events, as well as business-to-business collaborations, party favors and more.
Party favors come as 25 prepackaged “poofs” in one of six flavors for $69.95. For those that just can’t decide, a sampler pack includes five tubs in a variety of flavors. Traditional cotton-candy-on-a-stick packages run 25 for $79.95 and are promoted as, “Perfect for bridal showers and gender reveals.”
The creative take on an age-old treat represents a new option for events looking for some unique photo ops.
“Half of the magic is watching the cotton candy appear out of thin air,” she said. “The other half is a combination of the dynamite flavors you can’t get anywhere else and the ultra-cute and flirty photo opportunities. Guests can eat as much cotton candy as they want because our catering packages include unlimited servings.”
O’Leary has also dreamed up a variety of cocktail ideas. A champagne and cotton candy pairing, called the “Champagne Campaign” is available for purchase online.
“As a former bartender, I’m constantly on the lookout on how to jazz up cocktails,” she said. “When I first started Poof, I did tons of guest bartending with my cotton candy — from mint juleps to French 75s. My goal was to show people that cotton candy is not only cute, but also functional. It’s just sugar. No more and no less than a splash of simple syrup. Over time I learned that the cotton candy and champagne pairing was the most popular, thus driving the Champagne Campaign.”
Recent collaborations have included spinning adult liquor.
“We spun up Chartreuse cotton candy for Victory for Tales of the Cocktail,” she said “When serving our signatures, or in the case of the commissioned Chartreuse, [adults are] first in disbelief that we can achieve such flavors with cotton candy. Once they’ve put sugar to tongue, they instantly revert back to childhood. They’re swept away by nostalgia.”
While the treats are not available currently in stores due to the fragile nature of the product, Poof Cotton Candy can still be purchased directly through the company’s website.
“The heat and humidity are simply too high in the summer to keep shelves stocked with our delicate spun sugar,” O’Leary said. “I’ve learned (the hard way) that cotton candy is a seasonal product. When heat and humidity drop, stores will be restocked.”
While the intense heat of New Orleans creates a dilemma in the packaging and sales of the product in stores, sales are also at peak when the weather is cooler, according to O’Leary.
“From September through April, sales are kicking,” she said. “That’s considered our season. Like most seasonal businesses, we see a drop in sales over the summer.”
O’Leary’s success was recently recognized by her fellow entrepreneurs when Poof Cotton Candy won the 2019 JEDCO Challenge. Sponsored by the Greater Lakeside Corporation, the competition garnered the company $20,000 in prize money plus additional services designed to help boost the company.
“Applying for the competition, practicing time and time again, and taking home that grand prize set me on fire,” said O’Leary. “I proved to myself, once again, that when I fully apply myself I am a juggernaut. Winning the JEDCO Challenge gave Poof working capital — something Poof and I have never known.”
With Poof’s success, O’Leary is finally reaching her sweet spot, cashing in on her love of all things sweet.
“[Do I have a sweet tooth?] Most definitely,” she said. “The truth — I’d take a funnel cake over pink or blue cotton candy at the fair any day. However, if said fair offered Poof, I’d absolutely pick Poof. Biased, yes, but, my god if Poof isn’t outrageously palatable and delicious.”
How is it made?
Cotton candy is a spun sugar confection made by heating sugar and spinning it into fluffy strands using a floss machine. Poof Cotton Candy has created a unique menu of flavors and embellishments, such as edible glitter, cookie crumbles and sprinkles.
2019 JEDCO Finalists
In addition to JEDCO Challenge winner Poof Cotton Candy, a select group of startup finalists were named; a class of entrepreneurs to keep an eye out for:
Don’t Get Mad Get Paid, from Simone Spence, with new technology to help parents collect unpaid child support. DontGetMadGet-Paid.com
nDorse, from Rohan Walvekar, that provides a feedback platform for employees to build company positivity and cohesion. nDorse.net
Rent Check, from Lydia Winkler and Marco Nelson, is an app that standardizes and simplifies the rental process for renters and landlords. GetRentCheck.com
RePurpose Food Co., from Shani Christopher, produces high-quality baby foods made from supermarket “ugly” produce that might be overlooked on the shelves.