What does it take to launch a new food product – and get it onto the shelves of major stores? Carey Davies-Munro reveals how she started her business Sweet Virtues, one of the 2014 Vigin StartUp Foodpreneur Festival winners.
What is Sweet Virtues?
We are the creators of chocolate truffles that are genuinely good for you – packed with superfoods, raw ingredients, and cold-pressed oils.
Last year we won Best Healthy Food Business at Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur Festival 2014, impressing judges Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley with their delicious yet nourishing treats.
What’s your career background?
I have a background in fitness, health and physical education and therefore a passion for overall wellbeing. I am also an HR professional very interested in the concept of wellness at work and optimising performance.
Managing motivation, positivity and physical and mental health comes as a package, and this is the origin of our triangle of health.
Where did you get the idea for Sweet Virtues?
I had worked with Ocado to provide content for their website when they wanted to highlight healthier recipes, and had changed my diet some 10 years previously following a six week detox.
Experimenting with foods to provide optimum nutrition with zero compromise on taste, mouthfeel and overall enjoyment became a bit of an obsession. Cutting out dairy, wheat, sugar and gluten was a given, but then I wanted to ensure every single one of the ingredients I worked with added nourishment, vitamins and minerals and good fats.
While running food clinics for families wanting to learn how to cook quick easy and nutritious and delicious meals, I made some raw truffles one Easter and was asked if people could buy ororder them. The results put me on a long journey to launch Sweet Virtues.
What makes your truffles special?
Our USP is very different to our competitors’. We set out to make the holy grail of chocolate, which for me was sugar free, dark, raw, and enriched with super foods to enhance the nutrient value. Our chocolate also contains bio live cultures.
We were first to market with super food chocolate truffles and to use Maqui berry, one of the highest rated foods on the ORAC scale, in our chocolate.
We have even had our truffles tested over and above that which they are required to verify a nutrient profile rich in a range of vitamins, fibre, pantothenic acid and zinc.
You won Best Healthy Food Business at Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur Festival 2014. How has that helped your business?
We always tell people we are winners of Best Healthy Business at Virgin Foodpreneurs and include it where possible in our PR literature and interviews. I am sure the connection with Virgin adds credibility.
What other awards have you won?
We have recently won a Great Taste award for our Baobab and Vanilla truffles, we won the Healthy Living Best Healthy Snack last year, we were runners up for the Free From awards with Chia and Lime and shortlisted for all three flavours, we were chosen as DEFRA 50 Foodstars, and we were finalists in the World Innovation Awards.
How important is branding to your business?
Our branding and messaging is vital to our business. We want our products to appeal to everyone and communicate our brand values all at once.
Because of our beautiful boxes and visuals we are perfect for gifting as well as self-consumption and it drives home our message that ‘ good for you’ does not mean compromise on anything. It means better – so by presenting our products in exceptional packaging with beautiful images we shout ‘special’ and ‘luxurious’ on every level.
You’re sold by several UK retailers, including Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. How did you get Sweet Virtues into them?
Some of our retailers approached us, and others approached. If you want to get your products into national stores, you need to go to the right shows – you need to get your products out there on the right platforms.
We had a wealth of good coverage in the press because our products are so unique and our branding stands out. We also sent out no end of samples to places and people where we hoped to retail, and then relentlessly pursued the leads and contacts.
It does not happen overnight and it is not easy, but we were single-minded about where we wanted to be, our demographic and the right places to be for our brand.
More importantly for us is to know what is wrong for Sweet Virtues, and when to say ‘no’ and walk away. We won’t and can’t do large discounts as we are all about the integrity of our products and ingredients which are not cheap. If retailers want to push margins too hard then we walk away as it would mean compromising on our ingredients, and that is something we will never do.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in your business?
The biggest challenge has been taking my own recipes from my own kitchen and scaling up production. Letting go and handing over – and then managing it – has been the hardest part of all for me.
And your high point so far?
We have won many awards and are excited that people are contacting us far and wide having seen us in places like Harrods, so we are going international far sooner than we planned.
Launching our new products is also such a milestone, but for me personally the best thing about the last year has been growing Sweet Virtues to a point whereby it is no longer just me. I am now part of a management team of three! Being able to share the highs and lows now with two others (an ops manager and a senior business manager) who are both exceptional and invested in the business and have the belief, has been wonderful!
Where would you like to see Sweet Virtues in five years’ time?
We want Sweet Virtues to be recognised as the go-to health business for all things holistic. We are developing a very exciting range to sit alongside the food products and slowly we will grow.
We believe we will have extended to work internationally quite significantly, while we continue to grow our domestic base here in the UK and add to our current product range. We have much in the pipeline.
What tips do you have for another aspiring Foodpreneur planning to launch a product?
- Launch a product you are personally invested in and are extremely passionate about – not just because you see a gap in the market. You must have the belief.
- Understand your demographic – the people you want to buy your products.
- Get your branding right first.
- Test the concept and keep testing.
- Ensure the people around you provide a good support network.
You can learn more about Sweet Virtues on their website.