Founder of British Sweets & Treats, Andy Adams talks to MiNDFOOD about our love for British confectionary, and how Willy Wonka changed our candy-eating habits forever.
How did the British Sweets & Treats story begin in Australia?
I originally came to Australia in 1999 under a business working visa in construction and as often happens, ended up meeting my partner and the temporary visa became a permanent one. Like so many other Brits in Australia, I really missed some of the products from home. It was during the second takeover of the company I was working for, that my sister in Wales bought a corner store and suggested that rather than working for someone else, why didn’t I start my own business. British Sweets & Treats was born in 2005.
What do you think is the biggest point of difference between British sweets and Australian sweets?
When it comes to chocolate, we British like a smoother, creamier type of chocolate, and the biggest difference is probably because of the amount of cocoa butter used. Our chocolate has a higher content and will tend to melt a lot faster in the heat than an Aussie one will. As for hard boiled and gummy sweets, they are a national institution and have been around in the UK for over a hundred years. With sweet shops on most corners and our love of all things sweet, confectionery has played a big part in our history and in our lives, whereas this tradition does not seem to have had the same effect here.
Why do you think the store concept works so well? Do you think media and movies have played a part in why Australians love imported candy and treats?
I think that the store concept works well because of the visual effect of seeing the colourful jars of sweets and rows of chocolate. For kids, the store is probably the closest you will get to being in a scene from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I also think that with the economy being in turmoil, adults in particular enjoy looking back on less complicated and happier times, and childhood and sweets are synonymous with those happier times. In the UK, sweet shops are making a comeback, and it is the old retro favourites that customers are looking for.
Australians definitely relate to the imported candy and treats because of movies and the media, however I think the US is more influential on the buying of imported candy than the UK. Just remember, ET was lured out of the woods with Peanut Butter M&M’s, and Carrie from Sex and the City loved Reese’s Pieces and Salt Water Taffy. Marketing companies are very clever with their branding, and Australians are quick to pick up on the product names and seek them out to try them. I can’t really think of a British media influence other than Willie’s Chocolate, which was on the Lifestyle Channel last year.
What sweets is most reminiscent of your childhood?
Coconut Mushroom (my grandmothers favourite), Toffee Bonbons, Humbugs and Sherbet Fountains (in the old paper pack, not the new plastic ones). And who can forget eating so many Sherbet Lemons one day, and taking the skin off the roof of your mouth!
What are your most popular products?
In sweets, the Rhubarb & Custard, Sherbet Lemons and Small Pear Drops boiled sweets are big hits, plus all of the bonbons (Strawberry, Toffee, Blackcurrant, Lemon and Apple). Bassett’s Jelly Babies, Liquorice Allsorts and Flying Saucers are quintessential favorites. Chocolate – it has to be the Wispa, Double Decker, Yorkie and Galaxy bars. Customers also enjoy the Walkers and Tayto Crisps, plus any UK or Irish tea (PG Tips, Yorkshire Tea and Barry’s). There are so many favourites its hard to list them all.
You also stock some quintessential UK savoury products like Irish Pork Sausages and back bacon. How have they been received?
The Irish pork sausages we stock have been a big hit, and are the closest thing we have found to a British/Irish sausage here. The other “quintessentially UK” product we have is the Black and White Pudding. You can’t have a proper Sunday breakfast without these essential ingredients, and, for that typical evening meal, who can beat sausages with mashed potatoes, mushy peas and Bisto Gravy.
Are the majority of customers Brits or Aussies?
The majority of our customers are British and Irish, however we do have a lot of Aussie customers as well. Australians are well travelled and those doing their time in the UK are very familiar with our products as are those with British parents or grandparents. The British Empire covered a lot of territory at one time so we also get customers from India, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, and Africa, and it’s always good to hear how they ended up with very British products in their lives.
Are there any plans for new stores, growth or new product lines in the future?
We are always adding new product lines, as either new products are being made, or customers are requesting specific items that we endeavour to get for them. In regards to new stores, we are always looking ahead, so there is definitely a possibility.