Like the health and fitness industry, the food space has seen a new boom, with everything from pop-ups to street markets and beyond. Candy Kittens, founded by Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing and friend Ed Williams, is one such company capitalising on the loving embrace consumers have for new edible goods on the scene.
A bag of Candy Kittens costs more than your average bag of Haribo, and that’s because the company is out to forge and dominate a sector of its own – gourmet confectionery.
When Real Business first spoke to Laing and Williams at the end of 2015, the pair were in the midst of a crowdfunding round on Seedrs seeking a £300,000 investment and, at the time, they had secured a third of the capital.
Joining us for our latest Black Cab Entrepreneurs interview in the back of a taxi for a cruise around London this month, however, the Candy Kittens founders revealed the investment was a success – though they made a “weird” decision afterwards.
Recalling the campaign, Williams said: “It was really awesome. We hit the target and raised the total we needed, which was really exciting – then we did something quite weird.
“There were 500 investors through Seedrs but we realised that about 80 per cent of the money was coming from seven people of that 500.
“We looked at that and said ‘it makes a lot more sense for us on an admin basis to take seven shareholders rather than 500’.”
Making a pitch for the standout seven, Laing and Williams proposed that they increase their amounts accordingly to remove the other 500 investors from the equation.
“We said ‘we can just have you guys as shareholders and be a smaller, tight knit community’ and they all said yes straight away, so we actually closed the crowdfunding early,” Williams detailed.
“As a thank you, we gave everybody who had invested their money back and a load of sweets and kept them on board as brand ambassadors. And with this smaller group of shareholders, we’ve got a really great group of people from interesting trades.”
As Candy Kittens has evolved, with funding and developments such as a rebrand taking place, new people have joined, but Laing said the one consistent thing is that the team has remained young.
“I’m 28 and I’m the eldest, followed by Ed, who’s 27. It’s strange, but when you start to get older, you don’t realise that you don’t know about trends and it’s really hard to keep on top of them,” Laing said.
“So having a young team means they always know what’s going on and that’s key for the business, because we keep on top of that every single time.”
Find out what the pair said during our Black Cab Entrepreneurs Q&A in the video below:
Live events have been on the agenda for the business, with the Foodies Festival among them. In keeping with observing trends through the team’s youth, food festivals help Candy Kittens to connect with consumers who actively seek new products.
“I think these events give you a chance to meet people who are passionate about the product, as they’re people who are searching for new food. Those people are more interested because they’re spending their weekends looking for new products, so for us the feedback is invaluable,” said Williams.
“And because we’re so small, we’re not stuck in a set way, saying we’ve got to make a million of these a day. We’re agile, so if someone says the product would be better like this, we can make changes quickly.”
Laing added: “We constantly look at different brands, where they are going and where people are going.
“The Americans do customer service so well. And at the Foodies Festival and those kinds of things, our customer service is so good because we talk to everyone, we explain the product, talk about the history and really interact with them. They go away having felt they had a good experience and I think that’s really key.”
As with any business, people behind it are key. For the two Candy Kittens founders, they’re less interested in CVs and more interested in passion – a necessity for offering that “good experience” to customers.
“I think a lot of people just look at CVs and go ‘okay this person has got this and this’ – for me that’s the smallest thing. It’s about passion, drive, where they want to go, what they want to achieve,” explained Laing.
“You can hire someone great at this or that, but you really want someone who genuinely wants to invest themselves into the brand and love it. They’re not just an ambassador in the office, but out of it too, so passion for me is key.”
Williams backed Laing’s sentiment, adding that energy and is a major requirement as the pair operate at 100mph, attempting to run their own race with Candy Kittens and gourmet confectionery.
Looking to the future, Williams added that the goal is to become a household name.
“We want to be the biggest and best confectionery company in the UK, if not further afield,” he said. “But it’s about how we get there and we have all sweets under the gourmet umbrella, so we’re talking about how we really back that up.”
One move towards that direction was the launch of the first vegan batch of Candy Kittens this year, which comes as 20 per cent of Brits aged 16-24 are now vegan.
The key challenge for the company, however, is brand awareness and getting sweets into people’s mouths.
“We’re constantly evolving how we market and sampling is playing a big part in that,” said Williams. “Getting people to try the sweet is the biggest challenge as people just eat whatever they’ve eaten growing up, not because they like the brand or because they think they’re good. They may just buy Haribo because they always have.”
A partnership with the likes of Hello Kitty is a step in the right direction, something made even more impressive by the fact the Japanese brand sought out Candy Kittens to unite.
“We just launched a product with Hello Kitty,” said Williams modestly. “The idea is we do a limited range every six months. They’re a ridiculously big brand and they approached us, which was super exciting.
“We want to collaborate with a lot of different people and push ourselves into areas we’ve never been before. We recently did some cool stuff with London Fashion Week too.”
With the Candy Kittens now making a profit, it’s fair to say the business looks set to become the cat that got the cream.