Sweetdreams gains key regional funding boosting UK chocolate manufacturing
UK confectionery business Sweetdreams Ltd has expanded its ranks and enhanced its operations with a funding grant of £92,000 from the North of Tyne Combined Authority, reports Neill Barston.
The cash injection is anticipated to enable the Northumberland business to create a total of ten new roles across the business, as well as expand its manufacturing footprint. It comes as the firm has placed significant investment into additional chocolate packaging and processing lines.
As Confectionery Production recently reported in an exclusive feature and video interview with the business, as it forged a major supplier agreement with Colombia’s Luker Chocolate for its new Choc Nibbles bar line, which we reported on at this year’s key ISM global confectionery event in Cologne Germany.
Since its foundation in 1998 by husband and wife team Matthew and Cath Stephenson, the company has grown steadily to increase both its British presence, as well as exporting to European markets.
The firm’s fresh funding comes from the North Tyne Growth Fund, stemming from the North of Tyne Combined Authority, headed up by Metro Mayor Jamie Driscoll, and the European Regional Development Fund. It has enabled the business to take on new staff, as well as ensure the delivery of its expanded production capabilities, including lines dedicated to vegan and plant-based offerings.
Matt Stephenson, said: “It’s the first time we ever had any support. Our chocolate bar line wouldn’t have happened without NTCA’s investment. We’ve got an exciting thing here, and the new funding took the pressure off. I’ve got really good people here and I am proud to be in Northumberland.
“Adding to our ability to offer chocolate-coated confectionery, we now have a state-of-the-art depositing line, that can produce plain bars, bars with inclusions and even plant-based vegan options,” explained the managing director, whose firm includes Confectionery Production board member Andy Baxendale (below, right of pic), who serves as technical director of its production operations at Cramlington.
For Stephenson, manufacturing runs in his blood. His father had two successful packaging businesses in the North East, and inspired the entrepreneur in him. He has seen his own venture grow notably, with the Choc Nibbles brand becoming a firm favourite across the UK. “I don’t want to take over the world. I just like making things”, he added on his passion for the industry.
During a recent visit, the elected Mayor saw the chocolate production process in full effect, meeting workers in the company offices and on the factory floor – including some of the new staff funded by the NTCA award.
Among those being taken on at the firm is Darren Andrews, who joined the company in a brand-new role. A former car mechanic, he is now being trained in the production and maintenance of high-speed, high-quality production lines. At the end of his training, he will be an expert chocolatier, who can then pass on his knowledge to other new recruits.
Speaking about his change in career, Andrews said: “Having many years of being a mechanic, this opportunity allows me to apply my existing skillset to the engineering department, while also giving me an insight into an exciting, and quite rare skill, of being a chocolatier. Sweet Dreams have big plans – and it’s great that I am part of this, right at the start”
As previously reported, the company is now able to expand its manufacturing space into a new factory next door, installing power outlets for machines, creating four new production lines – these will include more depositing capacity, One Shot Moulding as well as hollow mould technology, linked to its new Choc Nibbles bar series.
Mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “Nobody wants to see local companies squeezed out of our high streets and business parks. That’s why we set up the North of Tyne Growth Fund. We want to help local small and medium sized enterprises to grow, to create jobs, to put money back into our region.
“It was great to see how Sweetdreams is thriving with support from North of Tyne funding. I’m keen to see what happens next for them..”
Being a small family company in a space dominated by global brands has helped the Stephensons to carve out Sweet Dreams’ niche, working with everyone, from big name High Street retailers to small independent brands that are more creative and innovative.
With ‘White Label’ products – produced for other companies – making up about 40% of Sweet Dreams’ outputs, their size means they can take on smaller, more creative jobs that bigger companies would refuse: “If someone wants to put unicorns on just 5,000 bars, we have that ability”, added its managing director.