Maria Sharapova debuts 'Sugarpova'

NEW YORK -- Surrounded by gummy fish and tennis gumballs, Maria Sharapova isn't apologizing.

She likes candy, and that's the next category she'll add her name to.

It's actually more than putting her name and face on a product. While she has worked with the likes of Nike and Cole Haan to design shoes and clothes, she has never started from scratch like she has with this deal.

Sharapova said the development, from concept to launch, has taken 18 months.

"It's like I've been pregnant twice," Sharapova said jokingly.

Sharapova is ranked third heading into the U.S. Open, which starts next week.

On Monday, the tennis star stood in front of 12 varieties of Sugarpova candy at the new retail store of her partner It'Sugar, a candy company that has 40 locations around the world.

"I've seen enough of all these athletes endorsing the latest energy drink or organic health product," said CEO Jeff Rubin, who calls himself the Chief Gummy Officer of It'Sugar. "We all know that everyone, including athletes, love candy, so what's wrong with endorsing what we all eat?"

Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud, said this was just another step in diversifying her brand.

"We looked at a lot of things over the last 18 months that she can focus on in her life after tennis," said Eisenbud. "We met with Jeff and found that candy was different, fun and unexpected."

Like anything Eisenbud has done with Sharapova, market research was essential.

"We found out that the gummy category specifically had no real name recognition and that something like 400 million bags were sold in the U.K. alone," Eisenbud said.

Eisenbud hired Dentsu America, which worked with Sharapova on her Canon commercials. Dentsu took the idea away from tennis and more along the lines of Sharapova as a sex symbol and fashion icon. The logo includes a pair of lips, and there are gummies in the shape of dress shoes.

"Making it too much about tennis was predictable," Eisenbud said. "She's so much bigger than that."

Sharapova does have one thing going for her: Margins on candy are pretty spectacular.

"Candy might not be healthy, but the industry sure is," Rubin said.

Darren Rovell is ESPN's sports business insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.