30 Digital Champions: The small business creating creamy bundles of gooey deliciousness

For the Digital Champions campaign, Real Business is out to discover the 30 forward-thinking businesses that have welcomed software and tech as pathway to growth, better customer service and more, instead of shying away from change.

We spoke with founder Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie, otherwise known as the chief whisk, about her desire to change the face of confectionery forever. Part of that mission is achieved by creating a happy and flexible workforce – to the extent that staff don’t have a holiday allowance.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Mallow & Marsh is an alternative confectionery brand that is dedicated to putting marshmallows on the map. Founded in late 2013 to disrupt confectionery and bring quality and innovation to the category, we provide 100 per cent natural, on-the-go, sweet snacking solutions.

We don’t make normal marshmallows. We make creamy bundles of gooey deliciousness. On a scale of jelly to nougat we sit as close to nougat as is marshmallowy possible. We use the highest quality ingredients we can, from 100 per cent natural raspberry to organic and fair trade vanilla extract and we’ve made sure there are no additives or preservatives.

We plan to float them down the Thames, be the first marshmallow into space and take them around the world – we’re more than just another marshmallow.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

For us it’s almost what hasn’t been a milestone. A lot has gone wrong, a lot has gone right and we’ve muddled through the rest. Our major break came when we won a #pitchup competition with Sainsbury’s, and landed a 12-month listing. That was back in 2013 and we can still be found in 257 stores nationwide.

The second would have to be finally getting our production line working. I spent almost a year elbow-deep in machinery, trying to work out how to realistically scale the recipe so that we could make enough to grow. We finally got everything sorted for the launch of our bars in August 2015, and are now pushing forward to grow out distribution without having to worry about the quality or capacity of production. It’s such a relief.

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

For me, passion, dedication and determination are essential when starting a business, and really caring about what you do. Here we are making the best possible quality products we can and helping to improve a category that has seen little change in half a century. We’re shaking things up and encouraging people to rethink their treats, but at the same time we’re having fun. The fun is essential, we make marshmallows, it can’t be too serious.

As an entrepreneur I am blown away by the dedication, creative ideas, and approach of my team. They inspire me to keep driving forward and growing the brand so that we can make their ideas a reality. We are a close family, and we consider our customers as part of that family, so it’s like we’re all in it together.

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(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

Every obstacle is a challenge to overcome and learn from. I like the challenge of having to work things out and find solutions as we grow, it’s what makes us persevere when things are difficult. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Over the past two years, we’ve hit every kind of problem – cash flow, lack of resources, the summer of “mushy mallows” as I call it, which is when I realised for the first time that marshmallows melt like chocolate in heatwaves. On the production front, scaling a recipe from making it in your kitchen to making over 150 kilos in one batch is incredibly difficult and took a steep learning curve.

I had no experience in the food industry when we launched, so it’s all been about learning and developing the company and brand.

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

Social media is key for us. It is the one way we can talk to our customers, get honest feedback and tell them what we are up to. At first I was sceptical of what reach the social world could have, but we now have over 16,000 Twitter followers, and Facebook and Instagram are growing fast.

I have also found systems like cloud accounting, cloud storage and business apps invaluable. They’ve helped me to grow organically and enabled us to work on a professional level but without being huge and cumbersome. I even use WhatsApp as the base of my board communication. It’s great.

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(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

One of the biggest hurdles for us is stock management, distribution and supply chain. Managing what is where, when and where it’s going is very difficult. We have a short shelf-life so we need to react very quickly.

Through a variety of new systems, and crisp communication we have been able to set up processes that mean we now know exactly where everything is. We have a new barcode warehouse technology so we can track cases and have instant visibility on what is going on.

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

We very much have a work hard, play hard attitude here. I don’t mind what working hours people do as long as the work is done. As a result, there is a strong element of flexi-working. Over Christmas everyone worked from home or abroad, and as the whole company is cloud-based you can access it from anywhere.

I spend my life on the M1 between the office and production, so there is a lot of time working on a tablet, phone or laptop, checking in between meetings. The team are exactly the same. I don’t think working is the same as what it used to be. If someone is having a productive day, great – they might do 12-14 hours, the next they might crash out and leave at 4pm. It’s about being the best you can be.

We don’t have a holiday allowance at Mallow & Marsh. If you need a break, take it. I would rather people took extra holiday to the norm, but performed at 100 per cent the rest of the time. Rather than burning out. I hope that I never have to implement a holiday allowance, it’s against everything I believe in.

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Customers require you to respond 24/7, so any technology that helps us to react to that, and work quickly and efficiently is lifesaving.

I love that I can access our accounting on the go and make quick decisions on the budget and payments, and then the next moment be responding to queries on social media, before switching in to our sales database to follow up on some leads.

Everything today is so smooth and slick you can be multi-tasking to a whole new level whilst being on a train.

The whole company is cloud-based, with access available from anywhere at any time, so really it is everything. We couldn’t work without any of our technology. Well we could, but it would make for an entertaining reshuffle and I wouldn’t want to try it.

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(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

We currently only work with some basic CRM platforms, it would be great to improve that and find an affordable solution. There are the enormous companies, but the cloud systems haven’t quite caught up yet.

I’d love to see some flexible, interactive CRM platforms appear that I can use to really manage all of our communications. It’s hard to track what is going on where sometimes.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

As a brand we want to really establish ourselves in the UK first, build a really strong relationship and understanding with our customers and then grow the company from there.

We have big dreams of new innovative lines that will continue to shake the category and grow our range. If I had a choice I’d have do it all now, but I have to hold back and bring them out slowly.

Everywhere I look I see potential and the opportunity to further improve the category, getting natural, quality products onto the shelves for customers to enjoy. We want to do to confectionery what Green & Blacks did to chocolate – change the face of category forever.

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