What does it take to create a premium chocolate brand in the UK?
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David Zulman, founder and managing director of premium chocolate business Firetree, explains why you can never have enough money creating a new product and why launching a chocolate brand in summer is a bad idea.
1. What’s the business in a nutshell?
We manufacture of high quality, great taste chocolate from bean to bar on one site.
2. Why did you start it?
We saw the opportunity in a growing market sector to make some great chocolate where customers would appreciate the quality and tastes without concern for the price.
The mass market is fixated by cost and this has implications for genuine high end discernable quality. There is the potential to become a recognised brand in an increasingly busy market sector
3. How did the business develop?
Three founders (with many years industry experience) around a pub table honed a business plan – raised funding from friends and family – moved on site and installed equipment.
We started the business doing B2B – further fund raising - launched ‘firetree’, our own brand.
4. Tell us about market conditions
The mass market in chocolate is super competitive with very good large players.
The super-premium end is much, much smaller with a number of small companies with less sophistication. Consumer spending is always tough, although the more premium end is less constricted.
5. What’s been the biggest challenge?
Growing sales in a market with small customers and being heard in the marketplace.
6. What’s your biggest mistake?
Not raising enough finance.
7. Any major bumps in the road?
Launching a chocolate brand in the beginning of summer was not smart. We overcame the problem with some perseverance and a further fund raise.
8. How do you attract and retain good people?
We are a small team of passionate chocoholics – we share our passion and vision with potential new recruits, we usually have fun in doing what’s got to get done and we eat excellent chocolate every day.
We have a great product to work with that receives constant rave reviews.
9. What’s your best advice to would be entrepreneurs?
Sanity check your game plan without letting the non entrepreneurs disuade you; raise 30% more money than you think you will need; if you are not passionate about your vision and plan and are not prepared to work all hours to make it happen, don’t do it.
The effort you need to put in at the beginning is immense to get the fly wheel turning. Once it gathers momentum it gets a little easier.