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Bristol couple sell shop to set up chocolate factory

By Lorraine Mullaney , 14-Jan-2013

Bristol couple Ian and Ruth Yard sold their food retail outlet and invested the £250,000 in setting up their first factory manufacturing Ooh! Chocolata chocolate bars.

They are already supplying their premium chocolate bars to several delis and shops across Bristol after only a month of production and are now taking on staff to help with sales and marketing. They plan to have six staff on the payroll by the end of 2013.

The couple plan to supply Waitrose and northern supermarket chain Booths.

Ruth Yard told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We have to set our sights high because we’ve set our unit costs and margins in accordance with achieving a high volume of sales. Our stock needs to be going out on pallets rather than in boxes.

 “The Green & Blacks and Nestlés of this world have a massive amount of financial clout behind them, which really helps but we’ll keep plugging on. There’s always room for new product. The confectionery market is huge in the UK and we’re carving a niche for ourselves.

‘An affordable treat’

“I’d like to see us as a recognised independent chocolate bar brand that people view as an affordable treat.”

The couple have used their background in retail to help launch the product.

Yard said: “We were working with chocolate and confectionery in food retail and fancied getting into manufacturing. We know about food and used our retail background to help provide retailers with the kind of product they want.”

Many food manufacturers don’t factor the retailer into the equation when developing food products and ignore key factors such as on-shelf presence and price point, added Yard.

“Starting out as a retailer has given us a dose of realism,” she said. “You can design and manufacture a product that’s delicious and looks nice but if it’s the wrong price and won’t fit or stand out on the shelf, you’re giving the retailer a hurdle to overcome. It sounds obvious but there’s a limited amount of space on shelf. You need a product that has a turnaround.”

Steep learning curve

Despite having the advantage of knowing the retailer, setting up the factory has been a steep learning curve for the Yards, as neither one has a background in food manufacturing.

So refurbishing an empty shell on an industrial estate, installing the latest processing equipment and starting the production lines was not entirely a smooth process. For example, they discovered that their initial idea of wrapping their product in a similar style to Green & Blacks would have been far too costly, so they had to learn about flow wrapping very quickly.

“We got a large flow wrapping machine delivered and thought: ‘Where do we start?’” said Yard. “The engineer gave us some training in how to use the machine but, after that, we were on our own.

“But we worked together and we’ve got the stoicism to think problems through until we’ve solved them. A lot of it is just common sense.”

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