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Sweetie Confectionery enters candy market

Published:Friday | April 10, 2015 | 4:52 PMTameka 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.

Sweetie Confectionery has entered the local candy market and is hoping to use the allure of local authentic Jamaican fruit flavours to break into the domestic and regional markets.

The six-month-old company is owned by Patria-Kaye Aarons who manufactures her five fruit-flavoured hard candy products under contract with Miel Sweets, the only other local candy producer, based in Kingston.

Sweetie Confectionery makes jackfruit, mango, guava,

pomegranate and june plum-flavoured hard candies with oils extracted from the fruits. It plans to add 'jujus' to the product line - a soft, gel-like candy treat - as well as lollipops and other confectionery formats.

Aarons used the labs at the Scientific Research Council to develop the formulations, saying she has always wanted to produce a local candy that uses flavours familiar to Caribbean children.

"It was in search of a business opportunity, so the company started out looking at the absence of flavours that we know and can identify with in candy. All of us were eating sour watermelon and blue raspberry, but we weren't eating mango, guava, june plum and jackfruit," Aarons said.

She estimates the local sugar hard candy market at US$7.5 million, based on import

data. She aims to capture at least 10 per cent of that within five years.

Sweetie Confectionery has signed Kingston-based Frozen Delights as its official distributor for Jamaica, which will channel Sweetie's products into supermarkets, shops and pharmacies throughout the parishes.

"They have tripled my volumes, and the growth happens every single month," Aarons said, adding that Frozen Delights has managed to place her products on grocery shelves at MegaMart, the Progressive Group, and Hi-Lo, as well as Fontana Pharmacy.

Aarons says she does not intend to acquire a factory before the next five years, and that the current contract packing arrangement with Miel allows her time to grow her brand without the plant overheads.

"It throws what I learnt in business school management out the window, because I am taught that my competitor is my enemy," she said of the business partnership with Miel.

"But that's not what I've found in developing my own business, because what it would cost to build my own factory, there is no way I would have been able to do that," she said.

As with many other start-ups, finding the capital to launch the business was a challenge for Aarons, who diverted funds from an insurance policy and used up her pension savings from her former jobs in corporate Jamaica as seed capital.

"It is an expensive venture," she said, while declining to state the amount of the investment. "We talk about how critical entrepreneurship is, but I don't think we are doing enough to make it happen."

essential oils

Another challenge, she said, was in getting the supply of oils needed for the candy flavourings.

"I still can't get all my oils out of Jamaica because we just don't have the capacity to produce it. There are a few companies that are producing essential oils, but the process of making candy requires that the oil gets heated to 300 degrees and all the oils that we are producing in Jamaica, by the time they get to 120 degrees, they completely disintegrate - the flavour gets lost," the businesswoman said.

Sweetie Confectionery is also poised for export, with plans to send the first shipment off by summer of this year.

"I am in discussions with some interested distributors. I am hoping to tie up those negotiations by June; so by summer, I should be exporting to the Caribbean region," said Aarons, adding that Guyana and Antigua will be the first stops.

"Guyana is eating the third-largest amount of candy in the region, and Antigua has a very strong Jamaica population," she said.

Asked how she would handle the niche of health-conscious individuals now looking for alternative to sweets, Aarons said low and no-sugar candies are also in the pipeline.

"It's not a difficult thing for me to produce a low or no-sugar variant of the product, and we are already looking at those options to come out within the next three to five years. We are also looking at other product formats which will be in the confectionery line, but won't necessarily be sugar candy," she said.

The product packaging also allows for portion control, she said of the resealable 35-piece candy pack.