When you order a box of candy from Sugarpova, tennis star Maria Sharapova's candy brand, you open the box to this message: "Thank you for treating yourself!"
Maria means that. Since she was little, the five-time Grand Slam-winning athlete has looked forward to indulging herself after a long day, whether it was savoring the lollipop her dad gave her post-practice or, as she got older, the dinner out she enjoyed on a day off.
Indulgence—in moderation—has long been important for Maria (and her sweet tooth). But as an athlete, she was ever cognizant that her favorite treats were ridden with artificial flavors and colors. So in 2012, Maria started Sugarpova, a candy company that makes sweets from natural ingredients. Her message: Treat yourself every now and then, but make it quality, better-for-you ingredients.
The company just launched new gummy candies colored and flavored with only natural ingredients but that still look and taste like a treat, not some healthy version of it. To celebrate, Maria shares the story behind the company and her favorite ways to indulge.
Rachael Ray Every Day: When did the idea of Sugarpova come to you?
Maria Sharapova: At 21, I had a shoulder injury that went on to being a shoulder surgery. I’d been playing tennis since I was 4 years old. I’d won three Grand Slams. And that was the first time when I really recognized that this isn’t going to be my whole life.
As an athlete, I've worked with a lot of very different brands in a lot of different fields, so I got curious about business and how it works and how product is made. And ever since I was a little girl, I got a treat at the end of a really good practice, a reward. And then I felt like, "Okay, the next week I can go out, and if I train well, I can look forward to those little rewards and that little indulgence."
Why do you feel so strongly about sharing the message that indulgence is okay?
If you’re consistently saying no to the things you want to try in life—anything in life that maybe you know is not the best thing for you—you’re using so much energy to say no that the energy you put into saying yes is actually less. I really believe in allowing yourself those breaks. And those breaks happen in different forms, whether it’s giving yourself a couple days off, taking care of your body, spending a little extra money on your body, or treating yourself. At the end of the day, come 5 p.m., I want a little something sweet. I want to indulge in that. I want to celebrate life’s greatest moments. I don’t want to consistently say no to them.
Why do all the bags of treats say "Moderation in Moderation"?
When you’re opening the top part of the bag, it’s like, you know, be aware: This is a sweet. It has sugar. It’s made with the best ingredients it could possibly be made with, but it is a treat.
Making good-tasting, attractive-looking candy without artificial ingredients isn't easy.
When we started the company in 2012, there was no R&D in terms of a healthier-for-you gummy. And the limited options that were there, the taste was not something that you’d indulge in.
It took us almost two years to make our new gummies. When we’re working with better ingredients and without any artificial colors, the colors become blander, more pastel-like, not as bright, not as visible. So it took a really long time to create the right colors, the right textures, the right formulas and the taste. We wanted this to taste like candy. You always want to be first in things, first to market. But we really took our time and used resources and found the right factory to produce product we were proud of and that actually tasted delicious.
Why are lips the hallmark design of Sugarpova?
It's fun. It's playful. It aligns with candy—they both speak to playfulness.
You started this company largely because of your own sweet tooth. What's your favorite dessert?
I love my grandmother’s cooking when I can or when I see her back home. So I would probably say cherry jam-filled dumplings that she makes at home. That’s usually my favorite dessert.
Are you a dessert every day person?
I wouldn’t say I have it every day .... But, like, who’s counting?
What's the last candy you found trouble exercising your "moderation in moderation" ethos with?
We created these little chocolate bars before we launched the gummies. They just came out of production a month or two ago, and they brought it to me during the U.S. Open just to see the look and feel of it, and I could NOT stop eating it. I was like, "You need to take this out of my hotel room." And actually my boyfriend loved it so much I made him put a dollar in every time. I was like, "We have a box of 20 products here; this stuff isn't cheap!" So it became a funny thing—I was like, let's see if he eats less if I make him pay a dollar. I think I got like $6 out of it.
No perks for knowing the CEO.
Usually there are! But for this product, there's not. This is one of our best.
What are you favorite ways to indulge?
On my days off, I leave the day to completely unwind. I love a day when I can go out and have a nice meal with my friends and explore a new restaurant. I'm in Italy training right now, so maybe taking a day trip, driving an hour and being in the countryside, eating some local food.
I love having a me-day and doing things that make me happy, whether it's staying in bed for a few more hours, having an extra cup of coffee and just having the liberty and time to do it. Simple things. Maybe I'll do meditation. I'm not consistent with it, but when I do have a day off, I give myself that extra time and really focus on it.
As someone who's balancing a professional athletic career and a growing business, what's your advice for finding balance?
Don't think of balance as 50/50. If I have multiple things going on, I tend to put focus on one thing and recognize that that thing is, at this time—whether it's for a day, a week, a month, a year—going to be my priority, and balance might become 75/25. I don't know if 50 percent is good enough, and I don't want to be just maybe good enough. I want to work at excelling at what I'm doing.