Missing cotton candy? Lily’s got you covered

A 9-year-old enlists her family to create 85 flavors of the summer treat.
Lily and her family posing with cotton candy.
Lily, left, her mother Tiffany, little brother and other family members not pictured turned their love for cotton candy into a small business. (Photo courtesy of Lily's Magical Treats)

The cancellation of county and regional fairs across our bovine-loving state this summer has denied hot dogs and fried cheese curds to many Wisconsinites. But one fairway favorite is thankfully still available. Lily Todd, a spunky 9-year-old with a knack for all things sweet, is spinning up and delivering cotton candy in a variety of flavors.

While her first-grade peers were probably perfecting their routines on the monkey bars or chatting about their favorite cartoon, Lily decided she was going to become an entrepreneur.

“I wanted to make money to buy LOL Dolls and things at the Dollar Tree,” she says. “I told one of my teachers that I wanted to get a snow cone maker, and she told me about how she had a little cotton candy machine when she was a kid and that she sold it at her house.”

And thus, Lily’s Magical Treats was born. Sifting through the rabbit hole that is cotton candy production materials quickly made the family realize what an endeavor opening the business would be, according to Lily’s mom, Tiffany Messenger.

“By the end of the night, we were looking at professional grade machines. Then we started looking into the cotton candy sugar commonly for sale online and at fairs and we weren’t thrilled by the ingredients,” Messenger says. “We wanted something that wouldn’t leave us feeling icky, and after doing some research we realized we could make our own using organic cane sugar and natural flavors.”

So not only do all of Lily’s cotton candy flavors sound delicious and intriguing, they are — relatively speaking, of course — much healthier than a typical bag of the satisfyingly-sticky treat. At only 55 calories a serving, each container can include a mix of flavors and is safe for folks seeking a gluten free, vegan or kosher snack.

Nowadays Lily and the gang pump out a whopping 85 flavors, from best-sellers like bubblegum and birthday cake, to chai spice and habanero. They even sell cotton candy for Chardonnay connoisseurs and eggnog enthusiasts.

Little brother Duncan provides quality assurance, father Don is supportive and Tiffany makes it all happen for her ambitious daughter.

Lily selling candy at Greenway Station Farmers Market.

Lily sets up her cotton candy stand. (Photo courtesy of Lily’s Magical Treats)

“It’s been a lot of fun … and a lot of work! Watching Lily come up with so many of the ideas for the business in the beginning was amazing to see,” Messenger says. “She had so many great ideas for everything from flavoring to marketing. She picked the name, helped in the design of the logo and talked to every person she came in contact with about the business.”

Having a sweet family business is no easy job. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting cancellation of birthday parties and other catered events and the time required for at-home schooling. None of this has diminished Lily’s desire to create more flavor options.

“As for work life balance on my part, I do childcare in our home, so it gets a bit crazy at times. But there are always plenty of helpers in tasting new flavors,” Messenger laughs. “When Lily isn’t in school, she helps me at the market — unless something more fun comes up — and so that will continue if her school is fully virtual before the end of the season.”

So if you’re up for a syrupy delicacy, pop over to the Greenway Station Farmers Market or onto your laptop to order a container of Lily’s cotton candy, lollipops or handmade masks. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to meet the bubbly, ray of positivity yourself.

“I was super shy as a child, so it always awes me how she can just go up to adults and tell them about her business or sell cotton candy to them,” Messenger says.

Lily even rose above a catastrophic first farmers market appearance. An unexpected storm doused all the cotton candy, the cotton candy machine broke and wind wrapped their tent wrapped around the van, trapping the family inside.

“I was really upset and definitely ready to quit,” Tiffany says, “but Lily told me that it could only get better from there and that we could replace the broken things. She was right, and we were back the next week with a story to tell.”

It’s with that optimism that Lily and her crew expect the pandemic to pass, allowing them to once again book events and parties. Lily says she is determined to keep on “making kids happy” and “people a little sweeter.”

Sam Jones is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.