‘I turned a £50 bet into a multi-million-pound marshmallow business’
A woman who turned a £50 bet into a £3million business has described the moment she "took a leap of faith" to quit her day job and make marshmallows for a living.
Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie, 35, now considers herself the Chief Whisk at Mallow & Marsh – a business that started out after she was challenged to make a batch of the sweet treats at home.
"It was 2012 and I was running a jewellery business aimed at making independent designers more accessible," Harriot told Mirror Money.
"The business concept was good, and I'd made the leap to leave my job in the city to focus on it full time, however I was struggling to really get the traction I was looking for and in all honesty was a bit lost.
"I signed up for a Google Campus start-up weekend event, which was focused around working on other people’s business ideas and during the two-day event, a conversation about marshmallows came up and I was challenged to make them at home on the Saturday evening."
Harriot said she took on the mission and went home to start researching how to make marshmallows.
"With a few beers, I made a very random selection of blue marshmallows, bacon marshmallows and a few 'normal flavours' to share with the wider group on the Sunday," she said.
"The reaction was amazing, and before I knew it we were all talking about marshmallows. None of us had considered that you could make sweets like that in your own kitchen and the idea just got under my skin.
"Before I knew it, I was playing around with recipes and flavours, and force-feeding friends and family with samples.
"Interest for the marshmallows grew, and alongside jewellery I started to look at what it would take to really turn this into a business, from factories, to packaging and everything in between. I invested £250 in buying a whisk and a batch of ingredients and then it all took off from there.
"One day at a market, I was asked to bulk make some marshmallows for Jamie Oliver’s Feastival, so that they could be sold on top of Waffles, and also in little branded bags on the stand."
Harriot made a batch, dropped them off and they sold out within two hours.
"I made more money than the average day in jewellery. I think that was the first moment I realised that this really could be something," she said.
"I started to look at developing the idea into a business, going to talks, getting advice from others, and really learning about business 101, whilst all the time making marshmallows in my evenings to sell at the markets, refining the recipes, testing flavours and selling bespoke boxes to people for parties and events."
'I won a pitch for Sainsbury's'
"My first supermarket pitch was a little different to any I've had since," Harret recalls, describing the moment she found out her products were about to be listed on shelves in Sainsbury's.
"I attended a talk where I found out about a competition Sainsbury's was running called 'Pitch Up Sainsbury's'.
"It was a competition to win a 12-month listing for a new brand, and I fitted the criteria, so I applied.
"The result was a series of online 'stages' that I went through answering all sorts of questions about brand, supply chain and packaging.
"The preparation for the pitch was mad, I'd never done anything like it, and spent about a week reaching out to anyone I could think of that worked in food to find out what I should do in a pitch.
"Answering as much as I could, I created a printed booklet of the idea and how I’d execute it. I went in and gave it my all. I think my winning moment was the humbleness in our pitch, I’d asked for a local listing of only 20 stores, as I knew that as a one person business I wouldn't be able to handle a national listing."
A week later Harriot got a call to say she'd won and that she had a Sainsbury’s listing.
"It was probably one of the biggest life changing moments of my career within Mallow & Marsh. It’s exciting to think that that 20 store listing is now over 1,300 branches."
Once Harriot had secured her Sainsbury’s listing, she took out a bank loan and borrowed a small amount from her father to get the first packaging run sorted.
"We then raised two small angel investment rounds in 2014 and 2016 to help us really drive the business forward and build the foundations for the company we are today.
"Since then we've been lucky enough to run a tight ship when it comes to finances, re-investing as we went and being able to build and grow the business without the need for further investment. By using tools such as accounting software, Xero we were able to track our profits, costs and cash in the business which in turn gave me the confidence to really build and grow the company."
Prepare for plenty of ups and downs
Today, Mallow and Marsh is based in Camden, London, in an office space run by the charity Camden Collective.
Harriot's factory is based in Yorkshire, Leeds.
It stocks a range of products from Marshmallow Bars which sell for £1.35, to Pouches at £2.50 and gift sets at £6.99.
In 2019 the company – which has 14 employees – produced 4million packs of marshmallow, around 276 tonnes – equivalent to two blue whales in weight.
And last year, the business turned over £3million.
Sharing her tips for other hopeful entrepreneurs, Harriot says you need to keep an open mind.
"I don’t really believe in looking back and changing things. Sometimes you just aren't ready to really hear what people mean, or you just need to experience it yourself as you go. The learnings and journey I have been on have helped shaped me and the business into what it is today.
"We've had many ups and downs and lefts and rights, and we've always come out of them in the end, often stronger, or sometimes just in need of a holiday and a strong drink!"
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