Creating Jersey chocolate with real character
Jersey-based chocolatier Mandy Gagnerie has spent the past few years honing her online business. She speaks to editor Neill Barston about her drive to support the confectionery sector through challenging times with an inspiring range of creative confectionery
Q: How has the past year been for your business – what have the highlights been?
A: I knew I had a hit on my hands with bonbonco. from the moment I shared the product with people. I love the joy that this range brings. It’s an edible, fun and unique offering, an ‘event in a box’ to be made up alone or with family/ friends/lovers. In these unusual times it can bring families together. My three- year search for a UK manufacturer concluded, allowing me to step back and concentrate on being creative, to explore my ideas. Fast forward to January 2020, and there is a manufacturing team in place, headed by someone with the requisite breadth of skills, who understands my vision for the business and who displays the same gritty mindset. I know that these products can be produced and delivered with the same care and attention I expect.
Q: How did you get into the confectionery world, was it through working in retail, or with specific training?
A: Both. I learnt to cook while young, in my French Grandmother’s kitchen. I studied various aspects of cooking, catering, food science and nutrition through my local college at Advanced Level, hand made pretty food gifts throughout my student life and never stopped. This grew to become a creative outlet and a passion. Later, following from the success of displaying them in a local art gallery, I created and retailed chocolate and confectionery items from a local delicatessen, near a picturesque harbour. I spent several years serving on my local consumer council, gaining insight. I’m customer centric.
Q: What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
A: I love sharing and had visited some of the finest chocolateries in the world, noticing that their biggest, complicated constructions were fragile and travelled badly. Nevertheless, I began in much the same way, creating edible, table centrepieces over 1kg in weight, requiring a dinner party of over 20 people to devour the content. They sold well, were feted as ‘works of art’ and I was invited to talk to local groups about my work. People kept telling me how wonderful it must be to be a chocolatier, but I noticed they weren’t able to take part in the fun element of construction.
A lightbulb moment came while editing our twin girls dissertations, from an earlier one I’d written on personalisation, originally for the textile industry. Insight from this now forms part of an agreement with New Food Innovation Ltd, UK. This encouraged me to experiment with what we’ve come to know today as experiential/ theatrical retail.
People want products that are more immersive, interactive and can create an emotional response. I experimented, to see if any or all of the insights would hold true for a British audience. They did, and I concentrated my efforts on providing consumers with personalised experiences. The idea of constructible chocolate, confectionery characters, shrubs,trees, avalanches, volcanoes, grew from there. I perfected a method enabling consumers to take part in the construction element of being a chocolatier the bonbonco. way.
Q: With the coronavirus pandemic causing major problems, how concerned are you for the confectionery sector in the UK and elsewhere?A: Very concerned. Just before the pandemic I’d made some exciting connections with manufacturers, suppliers and event spaces in the UK and hope that they manage to come out the other end of this in one piece. My motivations for creating my venture and for writing this piece are to bring hope, to invigorate the British confectionery industry, to work alongside it and to ask manufacturers to take a look at what I’m doing and to step up if they have products they believe will complement my range.
Q: What is it that you enjoy most about your role?
A: Bringing joy and pleasure to people. That my role is constantly changing, stretching me in areas I didn’t expect and necessarily so. Learning about what other, related industries, might be able to do with and for my brand, especially tv and gaming.
Q: When you are not in work mode, what do you most enjoy?
A: Eternally curious, I enjoy travelling and not surprisingly, enjoy meeting people through their experience of food. I enjoy the company of family and friends, Zumba and swimming in tropical seas.
Q: What are the best things about living on an island like Jersey?
A: Easy question. The good people and food. Walking in country lanes and being on the beach within minutes. Listening to birds sing, observing shards of sunlight through the greenery.
Looking and listening to blue sea crashing on the shore and tasting the salt. I do my best thinking in moments like this.
Q: What key challenges lie ahead?
A: These are many and varied and none of them unique to my business. Bonbonco. could go in many different ways and just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should, and just because people offer me money, doesn’t always mean that I should take it. I’m looking for good fits that mean the brand can stay true to its roots, maintaining authenticity. Essentially ‘bonbonco. makes fine chocolate fabulous fun’ and brings people of all ages together, to share and have fun around confectionery.
- For more details visit the company’s Facebook page, Bonbonco.