Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Candy maker Sweetie migrates - New factory, new line grows capacity sixfold

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
Patria-Kaye Aarons, CEO of Sweetie Confectionery Limited.
Candy made by Sweetie Confectionery.
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With the backing of state agencies and angel investors, Patria-Kaye Aarons has taken her Sweetie Confectionery business out of Kingston and is now operating from the Clarendon capital of May Pen.

She now has a larger factory, spanning 4,000 square feet, which was developed with backing from entities like First Angels Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the Development Bank of Jamaica.

"It's 10 times the space," said Aarons, the chief executive officer of Sweetie Confectionery Limited. She previously operated from rented space at the Trade Centre on Red Hills Road in Kingston.

Aarons told Gleaner Business in an interview on Thursday that her candy-manufacturing operation, which features natural fruit oils, is already running 24-hour operations to catch up with demand. Production started from the new space in August.

Sweetie Confectionery is the only candy maker in the island, after Miel shuttered its business. There are other confectionery businesses, but they largely focus on chocolates.

The candy company, aided by its new capacity, will be ramping up exports by year end.

"We have orders from 180 locations in Jamaica waiting to be filled," Aarons said. "While setting up the factory, we had a brief hiatus in production. The priority over the next three months is to restock Jamaican shelves. By Christmas, we'll be servicing up to four export markets, two of whom already have put in firm orders," she said.

Aarons gave up office work and became an entrepreneur two years ago. The former communications manager, who did advanced management studies at University of Edinburgh, started the confectionery company in 2015, having reached out to the Scientific Research Council to create flavour profiles for her products.

Her candy lines include traditional favourites such as peanut brittle, paradise plum and a range of fruit-flavoured sweets made with real oil extract including guava, June plum and jackfruit.

Sweetie's new May Pen factory was leased from Factories Corporation of Jamaica and now houses both production and office spaces. It also includes warehousing and packaging centres. Sweetie distributes its products through a company called Frozen Delights Distributors.

"Not only are we able to do the products people have grown accustomed to getting from Sweetie - like hard candies and paradise plums - but we are now able to do mints and lollipops, which are new additions to our offering," Aarons told Gleaner Business. "We started production of our full line of products last month from the new facility."

With the larger space and the installation of a new production line, Aarons said Sweetie's output capacity has increased sixfold, as have its staff complement, which has moved from two to 12.

"We are also going through another round of interviews to employ another six before September ends," the Sweetie CEO said.

 

REAL JOB CREATION

 

"More than 50 per cent of our team comes from Clarendon and most of our factory staff are HEART trainees. I'm particularly proud of the employment growth numbers of the company. With the exception of myself and one other, all the positions have been filled by persons who weren't working at the time," she said "This, for me, is real job creation - new numbers to add to the tally."

As to how she will manage the debt taken on to fund the expansion, Aarons said the company's capital mix is now 50:50 debt to equity. The First Angels investor has taken some equity in exchange for funding, but the stake involved was not disclosed.

Otherwise, Aarons did not specify the amount of new loans taken this year, but said she was comfortable with her finances.

"My margins are pretty healthy and I'm very bullish on making the company a financial success. There are far too many start-up failures," she said. "Going into my third year of business, capital has been the biggest thing that has stagnated the growth of the company. Sweetie was growing faster than my pocket could keep up with."

Aarons also said she has big ambitions for her candy operation and does not intend to remain a small business forever.

"For it to grow, I needed money, and I'm happy that today, there are more opportunities to access that money. I've signed an investment deal with First Angels Jamaica; that, along with the TEF loan, gave me the capital to completely build out what is currently Jamaica's only commercial candy company," she said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com