Let's Eat

Keeping things sweet

Gourmet candy is the business that's making two sweet-toothed entrepreneurs smile


There’s no lack of choice in the shops when it comes to confectionery. Supermarket shelves heave with ever more sweets and treats. But friends and business partners, Joe Woolf and Nick Sunshine, weren’t put off by a little competition.

The sweet-toothed, thirty-something entrepreneurs felt there was room in the gourmet sweet sector for their jelly baby-style confection — Tasty Mates. “Gourmet sweets are a relatively new emerging market that didn’t exist until Candy Kittens launched about eight years ago. Before that you could only really buy own-brand versions from Selfridges or Harrods. There are only two or three other players.”

The pair decided to develop their brand in the summer of 2019, and spent the next 18 months working with developers to perfect their gelatine-free recipe, while also working on their branding.

The cute sweets — which resemble steam-roller-flattened jelly babies — currently come in a range of four flavours — pear crumble, salted caramel, very berry and peaches and cream. Each is branded to represent a different personality trait that the founders thought you may find in a crowd of friends, especially in the Generation Z age group.

When creating the gummy treats, top of their list of must-haves was the right texture and chew. “We didn’t like the other sweets we tried and thought we could do better in terms of taste and texture. We hated the feeling of the sweets getting caught in our teeth. Of [your teeth] being dirty after eating them” says Woolf.

Neither comes from a foodie background. Woolf, a former JFS deputy head boy studied geography and archaeology at Nottingham University before being elected Mazkir (national director) of FZY. He became known in that role as a do-er and growing his membership by 150 percent during his two year stint in office. He followed that with a job in public relations before deciding in January 2020, to dedicate more time to the fledgling business. Sunshine had his own marketing agency, so Woolf worked with him at the same time, giving the pair some income to allow them to continue working on Tasty Mates.

Getting the sweets right took time. “We worked with the developers for the best part of a year and learned a lot from them.”

The pair spent evenings and weekends writing business plans, surrounded by vats of boiling sugar. “We were working on the marketing while practising making sweets in our kitchens for the best part of a year. It’s not easy — the sugar fizzes up at the end. I have scars all over my arms” admits Woolf.

The actual process requires several stages — and some patience. After boiling up the water and adding sugar, glucose syrup and pectin (used instead of gelatine) the flavour, colour and citric acid is added. This is poured into moulds, left to cool then the little sugary people are popped out, drenched in snow sugar (a non--melting icing sugar) to form their shell, then left to chill in in a temperature-controlled environment for ten days which gives them the right texture and finish.

“There’s a science to it. You have to get the measurements exactly right — the pectin needs to be bang on or the bite will be wrong. We’ve learned as we went along by a process of trial and error — with our developer’s help.”

After investing as much money as they could, Woolf and Sunshine realised they would need more resources, so did a Dragon’s Den style pitch to their parents whose investment enabled them to send samples to potential investors.

The pandemic had actually played to Woolf and Sunshine’s favour. “It gave us extra time without being under pressure to launch. We had time to find contracts with retailers and locate premises and had the most spare time ever as we couldn’t socialise or go out! We also couldn’t spend much, so we could survive for a year on less while we worked on the brand.”

To find customers, they ploughed through the social media platform, Linked In, for potential contacts. In early 2020, they sent samples of their sweets to WH Smith and Sainsbury’s. “We only had enough sweets left at that point to send each of them a couple of packs of each flavour, as we’d sent all the rest to investors. WH Smith loved them and wanted to take an order. Sainsbury’s were also keen but wanted them too soon for us to produce them in sufficient quantities.”

So, by late December they found themselves with an order for 200,000 sweets to fulfil by February 2021. Having only gained access to their 2,000 square foot kitchen warehouse unit in Hertfordshire on Christmas eve, it was all hands on deck.

“We had calculated we could make around 1500 sweets per hour. To make 200,000 in a month we would have to work twenty four seven. Family and friends all mucked in — we taught them how to do it and sat down with each volunteer to take them through the health and safety rules. They all came to help in the kitchen — it was lucky in some ways that we had some friends who could not work because of lockdown so they were free to help us.”

They are now able to make 5,000 138g packs every month and are selling the sweets online and via stores like Daylesford Organic and Holland and Barrett. With big ambitions to embody more mates in fruity form and to collaborate with companies to make customised flavours, the pair are crowd-funding to grow.

It looks like there was just enough space on those supermarket shelves for a couple of friends.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive