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16-year-old is unjunking the world one candy bar at a time

Power Pitch

Like most kids, Nicky Bronner loves candy. Like most parents, his dad didn’t love all the junk associated with it.

"After Halloween, when my dad kept taking away my candy and saying it was bad for me, I figured maybe it doesn't have to be this way,” Bronner said. “Maybe my candy doesn't have to be so bad for me."

Three years later, his chocolate dreams turned into a solid business. Nicky Bronner teamed up with chef Adam Melonas, who worked at 3-star Michelin restaurant El Bulli. Together they pitched their candy company, Unreal in just 60 seconds. See if they can convince our Power Pitch panel they have what it takes to become a sweet success.

Sweet dreams are made of these

At just 13, Bronner was determined to play Willy Wonka—with a twist. Instead of formulating Everlasting Gobstoppers, his mission was simpler and less secretive: Take America's favorite candy products, and replace the junk (hydrogenated oils, food dyes and other chemical additives) with real ingredients that taste just as good.

“People have come to accept that in order to have great-tasting candy it needs to be filled with junk,” Melonas told CNBC. “That's simply not true.”

Sixty-eight percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and empty calories from added sugars and solid fats account for up to 40 percent of calories consumed by children.

“This is the first generation that may not live as long as their parents,” panelist and NEA Partner Patrick Chung told CNBC.

But Unreal intends to do what it can to prevent that.

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Unreal offers five products that aim to be more healthful versions of plain M&M’s, Peanut M&M’s, Snickers, Milky Way bars and peanut butter cups. The Power Pitch team taste-tested the candies, and while they were slightly less sweet and not as colorful as the originals, they were delicious.

Celebrity chef and panelist Curtis Stone raised an eyebrow about the company’s name.

“You're calling it Unreal candy unjunked, and I want to know what sort of quantity of research you've done on your target customer, because to me that sounds a little cryptic.”

Melonas said Unreal coined the term “unjunked” to further solidify its mission.

“Nothing’s in there that you don't necessarily understand, and everything in there is ingredients that you recognize,” he said.

Unreal’s product components include milk chocolate, organic and sustainable palm kernel oil, organic blue agave inulin, cane sugar, and coloring from vegetables such as purple cabbage and beets.

The candy competition

Although Unreal faces some bitter competition from the likes of Hershey (HSY) and Mars, the founders believe its real ingredients set it apart.

Melonas told CNBC that Unreal is never going to outspend others in the $30 billion industry and that the company focuses on the human element of this David versus Goliath story.

“We are very squarely David,” he said.

Unreal products are available at 15,000 retail outlets nationwide, including Target (TGT) Wegmans and Amazon.com (AMZN). Suggested retail prices for the candy range from $1.19 to $1.49 for individual bars, and $3.99 and up for family-sized bags.

CNBC Host Mandy Drury questioned whether Unreal, despite its natural ingredient list, has fewer calories than other candy on the shelves.

“Fat has more calories than sugar,” Melonas said. “And we said that the good fats and protein are worth making that calorie sacrifice.”

Unreal uses 40 percent less sugar on average across its range of products, he added.

Chung was concerned that Unreal is sourcing high-quality ingredients at small scale and questioned its profit margins.

“We may incur a few larger prices in year one and potentially in year two,” he said. “But beyond then that's when they [Unreal’s investors] are really making their investment back.”

Unreal would not disclose information about funding totals or revenue.

The company’s investors include Khosla Ventures and Raptor Consumer Partners, and Bill Gates. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jillian Michaels also support Unreal’s mission and starred in its initial campaign and Easter 2013 campaign.

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See co-founders Nicky Bronner and Adam Melonas @AdamChef of @GetUnreal in a not-so sugarcoated 60-second “Power Pitch” that aims to give Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone @Curtis_Stone , NEA Partner Patrick Chung @PatrickChung and host Mandy Drury @MandyCNBC candies they won’t regret craving.

—Additional reporting by Joanna Weinstein

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