Distinctly different

As specialists in coating and panning, and the manufacturer of the Choc Nibbles range, Sweetdreams Ltd supplies the food industry with some of the most unique, high-quality confectionery

The most exciting, traumatic, stressful, yet brilliant experience of my professional life.” This is how Matthew Stephenson, founder and Managing Director of Sweetdreams Ltd, describes 2018. The reason behind this emotive response to our enquiry as to how things have been for this leading UK confectionery manufacturer and panning and coatings specialist, is because it marked the year that the company officially implemented its growth strategy.

Based in the North East of England, Sweetdreams is perhaps best known for its much loved, quirky retail brand, Choc Nibbles. Enjoyed in a range of flavours, including Toffee Crumble, Mint, Jammie and Orange, sales of Choc Nibbles continue to increase, with 2018 seeing growth of around 30 per cent. Due, in part, to this Matthew has known for several years that the time would come for Sweetdreams’ manufacturing activities to scale up, and with that would come the opportunity to better showcase the company’s ability to create distinctively different confectionery products and engineer technically advanced bespoke solutions.

“It was nearly two years ago that I was first introduced to Mike Flower, a gentleman who, in addition to being our Technical Director, we fondly refer to around here as ‘The Alchemist’ when it comes to what he can do with chocolate,” Matthew explains. “During our conversations, we discussed the types of unique confectionery that he was producing, what the market outlook was for these products, and determined that this approach would be a great fit for the Choc Nibbles brand and our wider panning activities. Creating distinctly different ranges also ties in excellently with our own approach when it comes to focusing on hand-crafted products and low minimum order quantities. Since those initial conversations with Mike, we have taken all of the lessons that we have learnt in making Choc Nibbles the successful brand that it is and applied that thinking to new product development, and this has led to a number of exciting developments.”

Expanded footprint
As well as opening the doors further to those customers that wish to make use of Sweetdreams’ capabilities in order to create bespoke confectionery – Matthew reveals at one point that a recent customer visit to its factory resulted in the invention of eight brand new lines for itself – these recent developments 67have allowed the company to expand its footprint into growing areas such as the dairy-free market. “When we started the investment programme, we were already working with a few customers within the ‘dairy free/vegan sector’ producing white label products for them, but our big breakthrough came about when we developed Freedom Confectionery’s Freedom Mallows,” he details. “Today, with our increased capacity, we have now firmly planted our flag within this market segment. The lifestyle/functional sector is a key market for us now, and in January 2019 we signed the biggest single contract in Sweetdreams’ history on the back of our hard work and efforts.”

Among the many significant changes to occur in the run up to 2019 have been the company’s move into a new 15,000sqft factory, and its subsequent expansion to 25,000sqft, the increase in its tonnage to around 25-30 tonnes per week, and the near doubling of its work force. “The step change that we have made in the space of some 18 months has been phenomenal, and is all the more rewarding when you think that we have delivered it without once affecting our customer service, the quality of our products, our lead times, or our supplier relationships,” Matthew enthuses.

Firm foundation
The investment made in its infrastructure and resources is beginning to reap significant rewards for Sweetdreams, with a number of new customers and contracts already in place, however, Matthew is at pains to stress that what this is, is a foundation for further growth in the coming years. “My dad was probably the wisest person I ever met, and he once said that if you make a serious investment, like the one that we have done, then there is no point just doing what you know you can achieve,” he says. “We have done this by adding in extra shifts, by increasing the size of our production areas, by instigating a major upskilling programme among our existing workforce, and by establishing a factory that will allow us to meet our target of achieving 20-30 per cent growth per annum in the next three years.”

Unique flavour creations
Sweetdreams concluded 2018 in fine form by being certified at a high-grade A accreditation by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Safety Standards, giving the brand an internationally recognised mark of approval for food safety, quality and legality. “Achieving BRC was a major milestone for the company and a real game changer when it comes to achieving our growth targets,” Matthew continues. “It has given us a fantastic platform to work from, it means that we can now sell to the major supermarket brands across the UK, has helped to cut down the auditing process significantly so that our speed to market is faster, and most importantly of all has already resulted in several new customers coming on board.”

When we spoke to Matthew, it was roughly one week removed from his attendance at ISM Cologne 2019, the largest trade fair in the world for confectionery and snacks. It was here, he reveals, that Sweetdreams proudly launched its new quality gifting line, Reivers Confectionery, and took the opportunity to showcase some of the more unique flavour creations it has devised. “A massive win at ISM amongst visitors to our stand was an espresso martini coffee bean, our dark chocolate fiery ginger chocolates, and other ‘on-trend’ flavours such as strawberries and champagne, buck’s fizz, and gin and tonic,” he proclaims.

New business upsurge
Now back from ISM, Matthew is focusing a good proportion of his efforts on making 2019 an even more 69successful year for the company. “This year is all about delivering on the contracts that we have in place, making sure that we are operationally slick and that our quality assurance procedures are of the highest standards, and ensuring that we have a robust, motivated team around us,” he concludes. “2018 was very much about working hard to get the Sweetdreams name and its brand out there to the right audience, showing them what we can do, and we are now seeing the benefits of these efforts in the way of a big upsurge in new business. Further ahead, we have already started to build a business plan for where we want the company to be by 2021, but in the meantime, this year is all about consolidation, bringing new products to market, and giving our customers something new and exciting to enjoy!”