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Sweetie expanding market reach through Billodex, National

Published:Thursday | October 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Patria-Kaye Aarons, CEO of Sweetie Confectionery Company Limited.

Having set up a new factory in central Jamaica a year ago, Sweetie Confectionery Company is looking to go deeper into exports in multiple markets.

Key to its latest initiative is a partnership with fellow angel-financed company Billodex through which the candy company aims to bring a Caribbean flavour to this year's Halloween festivities in the United States, come the end of October. It will serve as a pilot-test for a longer term partnership between the companies.

Sweetie is hoping to cash in on a lucrative market in which Americans are projected to spend US$9 billion this year on candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween - more than one-sixth of which is projected to satisfy their craving for sweets. That's a record level, according to a release from the company.

The candy company founded and headed by CEO Patria-Kaye Aarons had previously exported into the US market, but that effort floundered, she said, due to logistical problems.

Sweetie pulled back temporarily from foreign sales, but decided to try again, after relocating from Kingston to a larger 4,000 square foot plant, outfitted with new machinery, in Palmers Cross, near May Pen in Clarendon. The company also reformulated its products.

It was time to try the export market again - but with different tactics. This time Aarons sought out Billodex as an ecommerce platform through which consumers could pay online for her products; and she addressed the issue of shipment by tapping into National Baking Company's network.




"When we moved into the new location, Jamaica primarily was our bread and butter. Since then, we've forged a relationship with National Baking Company and through their export division, we're now in the UK market," Aarons said.

"It's now our largest overseas market," she said of the United Kingdom.

The partnership with National is part of an initiative where Jamaica's largest baking company headed by Gary 'Butch' Hendrickson makes leftover space in their export containers available to small Jamaican exporters - easing the financial and logistical burden of finding shipping on their own.

"We do a few local companies. It's a relationship thing," Hendrickson told the Financial Gleaner. "What we try to do is to help others get into the market and 'move their meter' so to speak, because in a way it's easy to get into manufacturing but very hard to market," he said.

Aarons says she has been testing other markets now that her company has the capacity to sustain supplies to them.

"We've done shipments to Cayman and Antigua. We're feeling out the Caribbean waters right now in a way that we were afraid to do because I didn't have my own machinery. Now that I do, and I have my formulations, export is definitely on the cards," Aarons said.

So far, she added, the repeat orders are a good sign.

For 'door-to-door' deliveries in the US market, Aarons said she approached DHL, but the crucial matter of payment for deliveries was threatening to throw a spanner in the works.

"Accepting payments from individual customers in the diaspora has been a stumbling block to growing manufacturers like me," Aarons said in a release.

"The existing collection options are US owned, too expensive, and settlement takes too long to be viable for businesses dependent on robust cash flow," she added.

The Billodex partnership has helped to resolve that. The Sweetie Halloween buckets, for example, are being promoted through the ecommerce platform at US$49, plus shipping charges.

Commenting on the growth of her company Aaron declined to comment on the size of the investment but notes that the dedicated factory space and new machinery completely changed her business model. She no longer had to outsource the production of her confectioneries.

"I simply was doing a contract packing arrangement with Miel. I never had to think about staff or machines or buildings or anything of the sort. I am truly a manufacturer now," Aarons noted.

As a manufacturer, she said one of the first areas she tackled was the taste profile and presentation of her products. For that she turned to a credit facility offered by Development Bank of Jamaica.

"We used the DBJ Voucher for Technical Assistance to bring in Judith Cooley an expert with over 40 years First World experience in the confectionery industry," said Aarons. "SRC [Scientific Research Council] went as far as they could in developing the formulations but they weren't as punchy as we envisaged. We were looking for bold, authentic flavours."

The company's products lines include Sweetie Paradise Plum, Peanut Brittle and Icy Mint, along with new flavours such as guava, jackfruit and mango.

The Clarendon factory was set up in August 2017 with backing from First Angels Jamaica, which allowed Sweetie to grow its workforce from two to twelve, plus four contract promoters.