After securing a premises with enough capacity to meet the standing wholesale orders, FEAST2 provided a wealth of technical support to ensure the business was ready to trade.
Inspired to create a business out of a passion for home-baking, the Toffee Hut has established itself as a confectionary retailer and wholesaler on Regent Street in Mansfield in April 2021. The business idea originally started as an online sweet business in August 2019 that would act as a wholesaler and supplier of toffees to retailers, including the likes of Selfridges and Harrods. The shop now sells sweet treats, including homemade toffee and fudge, hot drinks, and other local brands such as 200 Degrees Coffee and The Beeston Brownie Company from Nottingham.
The Toffee Hut employs three people (excluding Rachel) on a 30-hour, 16-hour, and Saturday basis.
Engagement with FEAST2
Perhaps unconventionally, the business plan was based on a number of secure orders, before a sale was ever made. Unbeknown to the business, despite a number of contracts and agreements already being place, the orders required SALSA accreditation in order to meet food safety standards. Having contacted the project, a FEAST2 advisor recommended that the business seek SALSA accreditation to sell wholesale in order to meet the requirements needed to sell at Harrods. Prior to engaging with the project, the business had no awareness of SALSA or any other forms of accreditation.
The FEAST2 project is receiving up to £2million of funding from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for the European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit: www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding
SALSA certification would help to open up new markets and supply Toffee Huts products to national and regional buyer’s wholesale. Working in conjunction with Environment Health food standards, SALSA is far more in-depth and is primarily concerned with traceability.
Moreover, the immediate market interest in wholesale homemade toffee and confectionary also necessitated a need for a commercial kitchen space. An opportunity arose in Mansfield, offering a commercial property at ground level, with a basement that would be appropriate for a commercial kitchen.
There was little financial support available to Rachel as Toffee Hut did not qualify for any government grants, apart from the bounce-back loan, as the business opened during the pandemic. However, grant support from FEAST2 of close to £1,000 has gone towards the cooking facilities, crockery, fridges, freezers, everything to do with the manufacturing side. The shop opened on the 12th April, and has since seen exponential growth; to date, the premises is self-sufficient, and covers the 3 new staff – including a part-time member at weekends.
After securing a premises with enough capacity to meet the standing wholesale orders, FEAST2 provided a wealth of technical support to ensure the business was ready to trade. The webinars and mentorship provided food technical support to help with process flow, food hygiene and safety, nutritional analysis, recipe costing and pricing, long-term planning, and finding a commercial kitchen and store premises.
Impact of Engagement with FEAST2
The Toffee Hut had approached alternative means of business support, including the local council, but were initially rebuffed as a start-up. The business had also engaged with D2N2, who had little to no specific knowledge on the food and drink sector at all – the business didn’t find them to be useful at all.
FEAST2 supported Toffee Hut in their search of a new premises, considering a range of options including converting the garage at the business owners’ home, also discussing the requirements from a food safety perspective. The project also advised on property values, and also considered letting The Forum’s own food premises. The engagement with FEAST2 made the business consider the future, and where they want to be, and helped them to conduct a long-term review, as oppose to simply meeting short-term aims. Eventually, after securing the premises with the help of the FEAST2 team, the business qualified for an empty-shop grant from the district council.
FEAST2 also facilitated a number of profitable relationships through The Forum’s extensive network of food and drink manufacturers in the East Midlands. As a direct result of a referral made through the project, Toffee Hut were aligned with the Treat Kitchen, who buy locally-made confectionary and sell it under their own brand. Still in its infancy, with little track record of its own, Toffee Hut were able to secure a year-long order off the back of connections made through the FEAST2 project. The Treat Kitchen are associated with Harrods, Selfridges and larger supermarkets (even Belgium, and they sell it direct through their store in Nottingham), which offered a real area of opportunity, but they couldn’t sell under the Toffee Hut brand until the business was SALSA accredited. FEAST2’s support has allowed them to have their branding in all these places. Toffee Hut have a programme of 200kg orders of toffee for the Treat Kitchen, which alongside the retail arm of the business, is enough to nearly fill the capacity of the existing commercial kitchen. Any additional orders on top of the Treat Kitchen will require an even bigger premises.
A further example of the Food and Drink Forum’s extensive network benefitting the project beneficiaries is the relationship facilitated between the Toffee Hut and Chocolate Solutions – after being introduced by the FEAST2 team, the Toffee Hut has been able to secure their chocolate supply at a cheaper price, and have since commissioned Chocolate Solutions to produce their handcrafted chocolate bars.
As the business develops new products and offers for customers, the market is growing as people visit the brand for more reason than simply confectionary. The Toffee Hut have established a number of collaborative relationships with other well-known local brands, including 200 Degrees Coffee, The Beeston Brownie Company, and Cakey’s Cheesecakes.
The Toffee Hut also now hosts a range of pop-up events from other local businesses, including Cheeky Pancakes, which produce mini-Dutch pancakes in Nottingham, and Project Doughnut, which creates handmade luxury doughnuts in Nottingham, Leicester, and Lincoln. The business is also the producer of the world’s hottest chili toffee for The League of Fire, a contest and league-table-based website for chili-eating champions. There is an increasing demand for vegan options too, for which the Toffee Hut has also hosted promotional events to market dairy-free products.
Impact of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic threw everything into doubt, with the kitchen taken off the market, income had ceased, and the future looked bleak. Toffee Hut sought support from FEAST2 out of desperation, at a time when food and drink manufacturers were doing everything they could just to survive. They issued samples, and started looking at premises again, which was constrained by the lockdown restrictions. Prior to any support, the business was reliant on online sales, although this wasn’t sufficient to maintain the business model.
The online webinars were very accessible and provided expert advice tailored to the food and drink industry. Although the webinars were online, there were still opportunities to ask questions, and if anything, it was easier to make notes, and to listen to other businesses on the same webinar.
The business has transitioned from a home-based, small-scale kitchen project to a wholesale and retail model. In the future, Rachel is looking to expand to a larger commercial kitchen space to meet the growing demand for her wholesale products and she has aspirations to open another store location, possibly in Nottingham.