Inside Track: Sisters flying high with luxury confectionery for the jet set
Bernice Moran, founder and co-director, The Be Sweet Company
Bernice Moran: ‘We plan to have shops in capital cities in the next few years
Virgin Atlantic 747 pilot Bernice Moran is co-founder and director of The Be Sweet Company with her sister Linda Moran. The business specialises in a wide range of high-quality confectionery, which is presented in luxurious packaging.
What sets your business apart from the competition? There isn’t really another confectionery company that does a full range of luxurious confectionery so we don’t have any direct competition in that regard. Our packaging is very luxurious and we think it stands out from the competition as design-led.
We sell our sweets in gourmet foodhalls and shops such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Avoca, Kilkenny and at Shannon Duty Free.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? I was flying out of Havana one night and thought of the idea for the sweet company. I contacted my boss Richard Branson by email about the idea and he wrote back saying: “Build your brand based on your passions and beliefs and your vision. Create your brand identity and the doors will open . . . people buy you and your brand. Be fearless going against global brand players in the confectionery business.”
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? I jumped in like bull in a china shop trying to secure global contracts and it’s hard to establish the export market – it takes time and it’s expensive and it’s a slow burner. I had no patience and I hadn’t got my research done. The paperwork and red tape in different markets really has to be examined. For example, in the Middle East ingredients are very important where it comes to alcohol or pork gelatine. In the US the ingredients lists must be broken down into lists of vitamins, which again involves a lot of work. I wasn’t ready for all those different regulations at the beginning.
Who do you most admire in business and why? It would have to be Sir Richard Branson. He helped us to develop the brand and he always says ‘make money while you’re sleeping’ so that’s the overall plan! I love how he has created Virgin Atlantic – it’s the brand that’s huge, not necessarily the fleet. We want to do a twist on things like he’s done in business. I admire his ingenuity and how he treats his staff – even the uniforms we wear are designer. He has so many diverse industries and he’s also a philanthropist, trying to heighten issues and support charities.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs? With regard our finance, both myself and my sister Linda have invested personally along with funding from other family members. We received start-up finance from Ulster Bank of € 50,000 but we both had to act as guarantors for the loan.
We had a major contract at the time, which probably helped, and neither of us had given up our jobs so perhaps that was another factor.
What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy? The Bord Bia offices worldwide, the Irish Exporters Association and the local Enterprise Board in Fingal have been amazing so they are doing their bit for the economy. I think it would be fantastic if Government did more to help female entrepreneurs realise their dreams. They need to look at someone like Paula Fitzsimons of Going for Growth as to how to go about it.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face? Ninety-five percent of our business is based on export so it’s a big challenge for us to break into different markets. Challenges for us are the labelling requirements, cultural differences in terms of ingredients and the climate issue of exporting to hot countries which is a massive hurdle for us logistically. Culturally I’ve found it easier to appoint a male sales director in Asia, so while I go to the meetings as the face of the business, they look to him for the answers.
How do you see the short-term future for your business? The company is registered in Hong Kong now and the office there will open in the next three months. Asian customers love anything European and seem on the tip of a revolution in terms of their desire for European food. A box of our chocolates in Asia could retail for up to $40 so it’s accessible to the wealthy consumer for whom brand is everything.
Finally we are getting our name out over there. We also hope to go into desserts and are developing that side of the business again with a view to targeting the airlines. We hope to open a stand-alone shop in Dublin within the next six months.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it? Our turnover at the moment is approximately € 1 million. There’s an exciting time ahead for us so I won’t be selling any time soon. We plan to have shops in capital cities in the next few years and are currently in negotiation with investors.
In conversation with Ruth O’Connor