Any other business

How a government loan put one awe-inspiring cocktail startup on the road to glory

6 min read

17 October 2015

As the nation lets its hair down this weekend and millions of us set off to clubs, pubs and restaurants for well deserved drink, those in the growing cocktail business will be going to work.

According to research from drinks consultancy CGA Strategy, sales of cocktails have risen by more than ten per cent in Britain’s bars and pubs over the last two years, as more than one in five venues now serves them.

The number of those under the age of 35 who bought a cocktail in the last week has gone up from 36 per cent to nearly half (43 per cent) in the last year.

Although demand for the classic mojito remains strong, consumers are now looking for exotic, innovative cocktails and cocktail-related products.

Part of this growing trend is Smith & Sinclair, a company that creates what it describes as “cocktail confectionary.” As the name suggests these are cocktails – but in the form of a sweet. The company’s motto is: Who would want to drink their drink, when they could eat it?

The company was founded by Melanie Goldsmith and Emile Bernard. The two have always enjoyed creating what they describe as products with “shock and awe.” The idea for their current business came about after they ran a series of dating nights with a theme of “adult play”, for which they created a range of sensual sweets with a high alcohol content to break the ice and get people talking.

Goldsmith’s background is in the arts while Bernard is an experienced chef. The pastilles they created for their events proved to be so popular that they became the star attraction of every evening. “We began to take them outside of our event context and got a stall on Berwick St,” said Goldsmith. “We took £3,000 in three weeks and felt that we were on to something.”

A year later in January 2014, Goldsmith and Bernard launched their cocktail sweets company.

“Neither Emile nor I had any previous experience running a company and especially not a food or drink product,” she said.

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“Because my background was in arts production, I had experience in running budgets, managing cash flow and organising logistics to make things happen but 90 per cent of what we’ve learnt has been by doing.

“Emile has been a chef for ten years and worked his way up whilst remaining incredibly inspired and innovative in his own time. Without specific training he has a natural talent for working out the supposedly impossible and that’s where we complement each other. Emile creates and I make sure we get it out there.”

Flavours include Mixed Berry Daiquiri (summer berries, dark rum and a pink peppercorn infused coating), Spiced Rum (dark rum and warming spices), Spring Clean (gin, elderflower, thyme) Gin & Tonic (violet infused gin in a lemon sherbet coating), Cake Icing (whisky and amaretto) and Whisky Sour (a classic with a grapefruit twist).

The alcoholic sweets are sold in Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and other retailers as well as online. Smith & Sinclair has now created signature edible cocktails for over 32 alcohol brands including Langley’s Gin and Beluga Vodka. The company has also worked on several international marketing campaigns, including one for shoe brand Schuh, while also partnering London Fashion Week and Jamie Oliver.

To fund their project Goldsmith and Bernard approached the Start Up Loans Company, a £310m government-funded initiative that has provided over 32,000 loans to startups across the UK – resulting in almost 40,000 jobs since it launched in September 2012.

A couple of days after launching their website they received an order of 20,000 pastilles from Imbibe Live, an annual exhibition for those in the licensed on-trade drinks sector.
“This skyrocketed our business into the drinks industry,” Goldsmith revealed. “We were approached by Harvey Nichols to retail in our first summer.” The company has also won a Not On The High Street Makers Award two years running and has built up a team of people.

The novelty of the product has been an advantage but it has presented challenges too. “We’re constantly facing various battles as we’re working to forge an industry for edible alcohol,” explained Goldsmith.

“I would say our biggest hurdle is consumer education. We aren’t trying to change people’s drinking habits or provide them with a replacement. What we’re working to do is create a new product ritual which people understand as something exciting and innovative and equally valuable to use for celebration and indulgence.”

Turnover is projected to reach £550,000 and profits are set to increase from 12 per cent to 20 cent this year. “We have extremely large ambitions,” she said.

The company is launching its first physical presence in a pop-up store on Carnaby Street in Soho, London, on 17 November. “We aim to be in a number of large hotel groups, airlines and eventually rival internationally renowned products for the ‘must have’ hostess gift for dinner parties and events.”