Mon | May 29, 2017

Sweetie Confectionery adds London market

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2015 | 7:00 AMTameka Gordon
CEO of Sweetie Confectionery, Patria-Kaye Aarons (left), and general manager of Frozen Delights Distributors, Winsome Rowe, standing by a display of Sweetie candies.

Local candy company Sweetie Confectionery has begun exporting after just eight months in operation and has already sent more than 40 cases to England, with distribution to St Croix also in the pipeline.

Sweetie Confectionery, the brainchild of Patria-Kaye Aarons, has signed distribution deals with United Kingdom-based Ashanti Imports and JLB Shipping to have its fruit-flavoured treats sold in Caribbean stores.

The company manufactures five fruit-flavoured hard candy products under contract with Miel Sweets, the only other local candy producer, based in Kingston.

Aarons said she inked the distribution deals during the recent diaspora conference through the business-to-business matchmaking session facilitated by Jamaica Promotions Corporation and shipped 40 cases to London, through Ashanti, the same week.

"We signed on the Wednesday. I delivered the shipment the Thursday and it left on the Sunday, and by Friday after that I got a contact on Facebook from somebody in London to say, 'I'm so excited I just bought your product'," Aarons told Wednesday Business.

Ashanti has since ordered another 50 cases for shipping next week, she said.

JLB Shipping moves goods by sea while Ashanti moves by air, and that will be quicker, Aarons said of the expected impact on sales.

The distribution quotas and frequency have, however, not yet been finalised, she said.

While JLB Shipping has not yet placed an order, Aarons estimates that the addition of the London market will increase her projected sales for 2015 by at least 25 per cent.

"Truth is, I hadn't expected to be exporting this quickly. I knew it was important to secure markets outside of Jamaica if the business was going to not only be sustainable but profitable. However, that objective I really didn't think possible until year two of operation," she said.

Sweetie is aiming to have 60 per cent of its sales generated from exports by 2020 as a safeguard from foreign exchange fluctuations, she said.

"The intention is to share a little piece of paradise with Jamaicans, wherever they may be. We know full well that there are many Jamaicans that, for whatever reason, are unable to come back home and have a piece of Jackfruit. My intention is to remind them of that taste without the plane ride," she said, noting that about four per cent of persons living in England are of Jamaican heritage.

Locally, Sweetie distributes through Frozen Delights, which has increased the company's footprint to 100 locations, up from the 40 held up to April.

"When I gave it to them, we were at 20 (locations). Now only St Thomas and Portland are not yet added," she said.

Sweetie is also set to begin exporting to St Croix by the end of July. The distributor there contacted the company based on the first article done by Sunday Business, she said.

"The distributor from St Croix reached out to me and he is already talking numbers," Aarons said.

"Because of their tourism product and how many people pass through their shores, the distributor is actually pitching it as a tourism product because St Croix isn't generating a product that is the taste of the island. He is hoping to position the product as one of those tastes that visitors can leave St Croix with," she said.

Aarons has taken on new staff to boost packaging for the export thrust.

"I can officially say I'm an employer now and it feels good," she said, adding that she has employed three workers on contract.

Sweetie's manufacture and packing was previously handled by staff of Miel Sweets, but "I do have to bring in additional staff to do my packing to reinforce that number to meet my production," she said.

The company is, however, faced with the hurdle of financing to meet the export push, Aarons said, lamenting the state of access to financing that fledgling companies must navigate.

"The way production works, I'm going to have to find the money up front to be able to source the raw material and actually to do the production, because the payment terms are a little bit different when you work through a distributor. You have to give them credit," she said.

"Being a start-up, no one would have looked at me. Which is why I had to take my insurance cheque from my car accident to finance the business. Now, people are paying attention. I have actually had offers of financing (but) the terms have not been very favourable, which is why I have not taken up some of those offers," she said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com