Forbes: Maria Sharapova Banks On Chocolate To Triple Sugarpova Sales To $20 Million
By Danielle Rossingh
Maria Sharapova is banking on chocolate to triple sales of her Sugarpova candy brand to $20 million.
That’s not bad for a company that started in 2012 with a $500,000 investment by the five-time major winner from Russia and was run by her long-time agent at IMG, Max Eisenbud. Although neither had a background in consumer goods, the pair ended up creating a niche in the $28 billion gummy market with a premium brand.
“We’re building for when her career is over,” Eisenbud said in an interview at the Australian Open in Melbourne. “The plan is to turn Sugarpova into a lifestyle brand,” which may also sell home goods, sleep and loungewear, he added.
Sharapova, who will play Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic for a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals Sunday, spent 15 months looking for a chocolate maker to work with. Sugarpova’s chocolate line – complete with colorful lips on its bags and in different flavors – will start selling shortly before the French Open in May. Sharapova is a two-time champion on the clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris.
“It was fun taste testing everything,” Eisenbud said, adding the former top-ranked player eventually settled on a European brand. Its foray into chocolate may triple Sugarpova revenues to $20 million by 2018, Eisenbud estimated. At that stage, the company could seek outside funding to help it grow further.
Sharapova, who owns 100 percent of Sugarpova, has invested “seven figures” into the business. Although Eisenbud said it’s making a profit, everything is being put back into growing the company.
Known as one of the fiercest competitors on the women’s WTA Tour, Sharapova won her 600th career match at the Australian Open this week. The 28-year-old Russian became a global star virtually overnight when she won 2004 Wimbledon at the age of 17.
Guided by Eisenbud, Sharapova has been the world’s best-paid female athlete for the past decade. She makes $29.5 million in annual earnings from prize money and endorsements with the likes of Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, according to the latest Forbes calculations.
Capitalizing on Sharapova’s star power and social media presence (she’s the most popular tennis player on Facebook with 15 million followers), sales of Sugarpova surged to more than 5 million bags last year from 250,000 bags in its first three months in 2012.
The brightly colored gummies with flavors such as Cheeky, Flirty or Splashy sell for $4.99 per bag, which is about five times more than a bag of sweets produced by market leader Haribo.
With the company growing so rapidly, Sharapova and Eisenbud hired New York-based Marvin Traub Associates last year to take over the daily running of Sugarpova. Eisenbud remains what he calls Sugarpova’s “unpaid CEO”.
“We were getting too big,” he said. “We are now in 30 countries. It’s a proper business.”
And if she wasn’t busy enough already, 2008 Australian Open winner Sharapova may also buy “an existing company in the fashion world,” Eisenbud said. He didn’t want to name the business because talks are in the early stages.
Finding the right balance between her tennis career and business interests hasn’t always been easy, Sharapova said in a news conference after beating Lauren Davis of the U.S. in three sets in the third round.
“It’s something that you work on, that you develop with time,” she said. “After I won Wimbledon, I had many opportunities, many invitations. I was never very comfortable with it in the beginning. I had to learn what I was comfortable with and what I wanted to be part of or participate in, or the people I wanted to work with, and not.”