Product idea #3: Smith & Sinclair
The confectionary start-up shares why market testing is essential to successful product development and how its cocktail sweet grew from an ‘icebreaker’ to a sustainable product business
Founders: Melanie Goldsmith and Emile Bernard
Date launched: January 2014
The product: Handmade cocktail pastilles
Smith & Sinclair’s cocktail pastille evolved from what co-founder Melanie Goldsmith declares was the “perfect combination of two key elements – my life-long ‘sweet tooth’ and our chef’s innate curiosity”. Originally created as an edible icebreaker for a series of dating games that the founders ran; it soon became clear that their ‘world’s first alcoholic cocktail sweet’ was more than a mere experiment in the kitchen, and so the founders pumped £4,000 of personal savings into turning their novelty product into a confectionary business.
To date the company has sold over 80,000 pastilles, made it into established department stores such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, displayed at leading events like the GQ Men of the Year Awards, and featured on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube Channel.
The company’s success, according to Goldsmith, is down to careful development of the product. After a successful pop-up, the team altered their pastilles to suit the market’s tastes – focusing on combining classic drinks such as gin and tonic with real fruit and infusions of flavours such as elderflower and thyme.
Smith & Sinclair appears to have a big future ahead of it, with plans to run additional pop-up shops and events, widen its supplier range to theatres and cinemas, and further develop its product offering, both in the UK and internationally.
Here Goldsmith describes the “hurricane” journey of bringing their original confectionary product to life and connecting the world of food and drink in a creative and playful way…
Can you briefly describe yours and Emile’s backgrounds?
Emile Bernard has been working as a chef for the better part of a decade, working his way up from pubs to Rosette-awarded restaurants. He’s always had an insatiable passion for food and experimenting with people’s perceptions.
My background is in the arts – studying music at university with the aim of running a jazz club. I always enjoyed the production aspect of events and have a skill for getting things done and getting people to see it. I also worked in a sweet shop whilst studying and have had a lifelong addiction to sugar!
Where did the idea for Smith & Sinclair come from?
I was running a series of ‘adult play’ dating events. We wanted there to be an ice breaker at the beginning of the events that focused on the senses.
Bernard created an alcoholic pastille sweet, which proved to be incredibly popular with guests. Bernard then took it to the next level of developing layered flavours and replicating the experience of consuming a liquid cocktail.
Describe how your confectionery is disrupting the marketplace?
We are the first confectionery product to be marketed as alcoholic with an abv content of 6-8%. We need to be sold on a licensed premises and only to those of the licensed adult age.
Smith and Sinclair is forging a marketplace for adult-only confectionery outside of chocolate and is bridging the gap between confectionery and alcohol providing an additional experience to drinks as well as treats.
What market research did you conduct to learn more about your potential sector or industry?
We literally took the product to market a week after we created it, during which we also set up relationships with alcohol brands including Compass Box Whisky and Calvados Drouin. From being out in the market, we were able to see the product’s reception and develop it and our brand identity accordingly.
Going straight to market also enabled us to confirm that a market for our product existed and that people would pay for something different. There is nothing else like it in the marketplace worldwide and brands were very eager to collaborate with us from the beginning.
What have you done to protect the IP of your confectionary products?
Our name ‘Smith & Sinclair the Original Cocktail Confectioners’ is trademarked. We have ensured from the beginning that everyone who has seen the product process or knows the recipe has signed a detailed NDA, non-compete form or non-reverse engineering form.
Furthermore we use every opportunity to place our brand in front of consumers to make sure our name becomes synonymous with the product.
How did you finance Smith & Sinclair?
We invested small amounts of personal investment to launch and to manage cashflow. In October we received a Virgin Start Up Loan but Emile and I remain the sole equity shareholders in the company.
Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your cocktail sweets to bringing them to the market.
An absolute hurricane! We’ve had the most incredible year from product inception. We went from creating a product not in existence to having an order of 20,000 for Imbibe Live after six weeks of launching.
From the beginning we’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of incredible brands including Langley’s Gin, The Duppy Share Rum, schuh and GQ Men of the Year Awards. We were on the shelves of Harvey Nichols and Selfridges within 10 months and are having a blast being online with notonthehighstreet.com.
We have faced numerous challenges ranging from the needing to learn the science of producing handmade confectionery with a long shelf life and almost spoiling £10,000 worth of stock; to understanding pricing and buyers’ retail habits; to keeping our branding and design within an incredibly small budget. But all-in-all we’ve been incredibly lucky with the support and response this far, and are working day and night to ride this wave to the fullest.
Do you manufacture the sweets entirely yourselves? And if so how did you source suppliers?
We manufacture ourselves and as we have a small budget we have had to be creative, cooking out of church and school kitchens until we can find a big enough permanent space that’s within budget.
We started off with online suppliers but have moved onto companies who can deliver on a pallet without needing an MOQ (minimum order quantity) of industrial proportions.
Do you have plans to take Smith & Sinclair overseas?
Absolutely we are looking to go into Europe in the next six months followed shortly by Asia. I recently took a trip to New York to see what the reaction to our product and brand was across the pond. After meeting up with some buyers it was clearly something that would work well – but working under the liquor license may prove more difficult in the States than elsewhere.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching their own confectionary/alcoholic product business?
Firstly I would say that passion is everything and a good product is a close second. If you have something you love, other people will love it to, especially if they can see how much you want (and will) make it work.
We’re all about doing and planning alongside it as sometimes you just have to go for it, learn on the job and fix mistakes when they happen.
What are Smith & Sinclair’s future plans?
We are working to create an international brand with a range of products that continue to challenge both the confectionery and alcohol industries.
We are aiming to upscale our manufacturing in the next couple months in order to continue the growth we’ve been experiencing. We love to be creative and wish to continue working with interesting brands to break boundaries and forge a world that taps into adult curiosities.