Josh Byers was one of the first winners of one of our $1,000 entrepreneurship grants. At the time he had grand plans to start a confectionery brand selling the UK’s first caffeinated lollipops. In the six months since then he has gone from just a rough idea to a fully fledged business with products you can actually buy.

The non-stop lolipops may not have survived, but the concept of caffeinated sweets has in The Caffeine Co. Over to Josh and his partner Harry Thomas to tell us what it took:

How To Start a Confectionery Brand From Scratch

We (Harry Thomas and Josh Byers) are two students at the University of York, and earlier this year we made the decision to start our own business.

With little to no alternatives to coffee or energy drinks available to consumers looking to get a caffeine fix, we decided to develop a range of products which are both caffeinated and easy to consume, and thus The Caffeine Co. was born.

Our aim is to start a caffeine revolution, giving consumers a choice that until now seems to have been absent from the market. Beverages contribute a staggering 99% of all product sales in the caffeine market, and we believe that there is a significant demand for a product that can be consumed conveniently and that will last over the course of a day. Our aim to meet this demand has become a passion for both of us, and we are devoted to delivering high-quality products to a society that deserves better.

A bit of history…

The Caffeine Co actually began under a different name; Non-Stop Lollipop. The brainchild of Josh, this was a company that would produce caffeinated lollipops in a number of flavours to be sold as an option for those who don’t like caffeinated drinks.

Initial responses to the idea were very positive and the company won a number of awards, including Sam’s entrepreneurship award. Which granted us our initial seed capital of $1,000.

Now we had an idea, but we needed a product. After some 136 emails, we began to lose hope. The vast majority of confectionery companies won’t even talk to a business with a turnover lower than half a million and require minimum orders by the shipping container.

This is when we started picking up the phone. It seemed as though our emails were largely ignored, but on the phone our passion and knowledge of the market potential was clear. The first supplier we found was incredibly cooperative for the first month, but after some back and forth they turned the cold shoulder. Once again we lost hope but somehow we managed to source a company that would make the lollipop mixture for us, locally and with reasonable conditions.

Things were finally looking as though they were beginning to come together for us. However, when it came to actually getting the lollipops developed we discovered that the idea was going to be unmanageable as we did not have the capacity to produce and package the lollipops. Packaging lollipops requires special machinery which a handful of companies in Europe have at their disposal. Moreover, the POS packaging for lollipops would be incredibly difficult to procure at a reasonable cost. And finally, even if we were able to develop a lollipop, packaged with the appropriate display, we would be left with a product that was considerably more expensive than other brands of lollipops.

The final straw for the lollipop idea was discovering through market research that men are much less likely to consume lollipops than women. This would limit our already niche market. Rather than giving up on the idea (as many others would) we decided to start again and develop an idea that did what we wanted it to do without being so niche as to be undesignable.

Therefore, a rebranding was required.

An early sample of our sweets! So much has changed and yet the product has still remained true to the original idea.

Branding

We knew that strong branding would be essential to the success of The Caffeine Co. The product needed to stand out on a shelf and differentiate itself from potential competitors on the market.

To start, we employed the help of a graphic designer. We found this designer after looking out several large design agencies, responsible for some major UK brands, and cross-referencing freelancers who had worked with them. The guy we found was amazing and after viewing his portfolio online, we immediately got in touch. After a couple of meetings and discussions about the brand, he helped us to draft out three prototypes for our new logo.

early branding ideas from caffeine co

Our initial design concepts for The Caffeine Co.

The logo had to be cool. We wanted our product to shout energy and power to the consumer, because that is fundamentally what our product is about. Although the first two concepts were cool, they really didn’t fit our vision. And so, the gorilla was born. As soon as we saw the gorilla, we knew it would be perfect.

Nothing says power like a 200kg mass of muscle and teeth.

Flavour

With our branding in place, we got started on the product. We set up a survey with Google Forms to try and find out what the market wanted. And asked all our friends and family to answer. In conjunction with Market research we found that cherry is an incredibly desired flavour for sweets and isn’t necessarily well represent in the confectionery market. Samples also showed that, with a little ingenuity and patience, cherry could work very well as a caffeinated flavour. Now we needed the correct format

Format

Lollipops were not going to happen (for now at least), but a traditional boiled sweet could hit just the right spot. Luckily, after many meetings and greetings we were able to sort a deal with a major UK confectioner to provide our first batch of product. It’s always nerve-racking to meet suppliers and other partners in person for the first time, and most business owners were surprised to find we were first-year university students.

That didn’t hold us back though; having a strong brand and array of accolades to our name, we were in a good position to find a manufacturer to fulfil our needs. This was probably the most difficult stage to conquer, most manufacturers are unwilling to create a specialised product with a minimum order quantity under several tonnes – this is a logistical nightmare for any startup.

We were finally able to negotiate a sample order of just 100kg, but this is uncommon. 100kg is the equivalent to about 570 tins of 20 boiled sweets each.

In full business attire after a successful networking event with Mazars

Packaging

Once we had a product and brand, we looked into packaging solutions. A problem many people find with boiled sweets is they get sticky, messy and the packaging is not re-sealable. We resolved all of this by using food-safe aluminium tins with an insert to ensure they are airtight. This allowed our product to be consumed over several days or weeks, making it the perfect accessory for any glovebox or locker.

Addition from Sam – I can confirm I’ve been having 1 or 2 a day for the last week and the remaining sweets are still fine.

The Sweets

Our first product, released in September 2017, was the Cherry Bomb. This is a tin of 20 hard-boiled cherry sweets, with each sweet containing the same amount of caffeine as an instant coffee.

The whole product is made and packaged in Yorkshire, staying true to the roots that we feel are a core driving factor behind our brand. Whilst we hope this is the first of many products we could not be prouder of what we have achieved with it, and for a company to have its first product in the market less than 6 months after conception is no mean feat!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Cherry Bomb

Where are we now?

Last month we made our first sale to a sweet shop based in York, and we have had major interest from other people and companies looking to buy our product.

Our approach has involved visiting businesses in person, but also using business networking events to make contacts. For the most part, businesses have contacted us – everybody wants to be the first to stock something innovative and new. We’re currently in talks with potential customers from Africa, to Venezuela and the USA. But for now, Cherry Bomb is best bought straight from our website www.thecaffeine.co. Make sure you like our Facebook page or Twitter to keep updated on our progress — we have so many new ideas in the pipeline we just can’t wait to share.

caffeine cos first shop front display

In the centre, at the bottom. Our product in a shop front’s display

Back To Sam

If you have any questions for Josh or Harry on how to start a confectionery brand or on anything else then please comment below, they will be monitoring.

Our next round of applications entrepreneurship grants closes 30 November. If Josh and Harry’s successful attempt to start a confectionery business has inspired you, then please apply! Applications are open to anyone.

Further Reading

If you like hearing about people’s journeys starting their own brands of physical products you might be interested in: