Provisionally banned tennis star adds chocolate to sweets range
Sugarpova started in 2012 with $500k investment by Sharapova
Chocolate may be sold at Wimbledon Village pop-up store
Maria Sharapova may be provisionally banned from tennis but it is business as usual for her Sugarpova brand.
Sharapova’s candy business, which she founded in 2012, will launch its first chocolate range on both sides of the Atlantic this month.
The bars will go on sale at a number of European retailers on May 15. There are also plans for a pop-up Sugarpova store at Wimbledon Village, not far from the All England Club where the former top-ranked Russian won her first major title in 2004.
“She’s been an active participant in creating this product and has been intimately involved with the launch,” Christopher Mattina, managing director of Baron Chocolatier, based in Vernon Hills, Illinois, which produces the premium line, told CNN.
A U.S. launch is set to follow later in May, and according to Mattina, Sharapova may be attending both launches and possibly host a press conference at the Sweets and Snacks Fair in Chicago, held May 24-26, “pending the upcoming hearing.”
That upcoming hearing is when Sharapova, the winner of five grand slam tennis titles, will learn whether she will handed a possible lengthy suspension. Although a hearing date has not been released, a verdict may be delivered in June, the Associated Press reported last month, citing International Tennis Federation president David Haggerty.
The 29-year-old Sharapova has been provisionally banned since March 12 after she announced she’d failed a drugs test for the heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open.
The Russian-born star, who has been a U.S. resident since 1994, said she hadn’t realized the drug she said she’d been taking since 2006 for various health issues had been put on the banned list from January 1.
Chocolate line may court scrutiny
Sharapova has been rated the world’s most marketable female athlete for the past 11 years by Forbes, which estimated her on-and-off-court earnings to be $285 million.
Although long-term sponsors Nike and Porsche put their deals on hold pending the hearing while Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer decided not to renew its contract, racket manufacturer Head extended Sharapova’s contract and defended her strongly, saying she’d made an “honest mistake.”.
Mattina of Baron Chocolatier also stood by the Russian, calling her “someone of high integrity” who had made “a mistake.”
Nonetheless Sharapova’s foray into chocolate may come under some scrutiny amid growing concern over rising obesity levels in the western world.
Universally known sports stars shouldn’t be promoting food that can be bad for children if they eat too much of it, according to Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum in the U.K.
“Children are consuming three times more sugar than is recommended, and adults twice as much,” said Fry, who is also honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation.
To be sure, Sharapova isn’t the only tennis player promoting sugary food items.
Former top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki endorses Godiva while 17-time major winner Roger Federer has a deal with Lindt. Current world No. 1 Serena Williams has been promoting sports drink Gatorade for years and was named one of the faces of the Pepsi challenge a year ago.
Although Sharapova’s agent at IMG, Max Eisenbud, declined to comment, the tennis star has said in the past she wasn’t aiming her products at children and that they should be seen as a treat.
“I have nothing against a treat, but the problem is that treats are now becoming a daily occurrence,” said Fry.
Chocolate market’s worth
Baron Chocolatier, which was chosen by Sharapova as producer of her chocolate range after a 15-month long search Eisenbud told Forbes in January, will produce half a million Sugarpova bars in Milk, Dark, Milk with Strawberry and Dark with Toasted Coconut varieties.
The bars will be priced between $4.99 and $5.99 each, Mattina said.
The global market for chocolate was valued at $117 billion in 2014 with one-fifth being sold in North America, according to KPMG.
Women’s tour sales remain strong
The absence of Sharapova, one of the biggest draws in women’s tennis, does not seem to have had an immediate impact on television ratings or ticket sales, according to the women’s WTA tour.
Average television audiences rose 4% in the first three months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, WTA spokeswoman Heather Bowler said. Sharapova’s last match was on January 26 at the Australian Open.
Sales of tickets at events have also remained “strong” she said.
Last month’s Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany — won three times by Sharapova – had record sales thanks in large part to home players doing well this year.
The last four days of the event, which was won by Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber as she defeated local talent Laura Siegemund, were sold out.
“National heroes continue to be a key trigger for home audiences and ticket sales,” Bowler said.