After blagging a pitch on Portobello Road market, Oonagh Simms left her job as a chocolatier and founded The Marshmallowist.
Six years later, Simm’s business now offers gourmet marshmallows with unexpected flavours across the UK.
Business Advice spoke with Simms to find out more about what inspired her venture, future expansion plans and what advice she has for small businesses.
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Oonagh Simms and I’m the founder of The Marshmallowist – the UK’s first gourmet marshmallow company since 2011. I combine classic confectionery with unexpected flavours. I never use fruit powders, extracts, or “natural” flavourings to achieve our marshmallows’ bold flavours or bright colours. We only use premium products such as fresh fruits, organic herbs, fairtrade sugar and boutique alcohol.
How do you make money?
I whip up soufflé-light marshmallows which are egg free, dairy free and gluten free. I sell them through luxury retailers such as Harrods, Selfridges and John Lewis. I create Toasting Marshmallow Experiences at key sites arcross the UK such as Kew Gardens and Blenheim Palace. I have also created bespoke flavours for private client partnerships such as Alexander McQueen and Mumm Champagne.
What makes you different and why should people take notice?
I’ve always liked to do things a little differently. My marshmallow flavours are bold and not often found in confectionary. I use basil, gin, yuzu and unusual bitters. They have a French soufflé-like texture with a London edge.
I wanted the boldness of the flavours to be reflected in our branding. So we work closely with a wonderful designer who echos our ethos throughout our imagery and packaging. I love working creatively and I wanted the brand to be synonymous with progressiveness.
What was key in terms of getting started?
Small steps. I was lucky that I was a working as a chocolatier and I managed to blag a weekend market pitch on Portobello Road market. I would make marshmallows when I got home from work at night and sell them on a Saturday.
A market stall was the best place to find out if I had a good product. If you can sell out week after week, not only by tourists, but with locals popping by and picking them up for dinner parties or birthday treats then you know you what you do is valued.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I published my first recipe book, The Marshmallowist, with Penguin Random House in 2016. Our bold designs and unique luxury packaging have also attracted attention worldwide as my products were featured in Vogue, Wallpaper magazines and The Times.
What setbacks have you had along the way?
I’ve worked with unreliable suppliers and stockists. I’ve over-promised and I’ve underquoted. I’ve hired the wrong people and I haven’t hired enough people. There is a running joke amongst our team about learning curves…
Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to make friends with other startup owners whom are at a similar stage and that can be really supportive. If you’ve got a problem, they will nearly always have had the same one.
In five years’ time, I will be…
Expanding our product line, so we can export the Marshmallowist to America and Asia. I want to take the ethos behind our current soufflé mallows and then combine cutting edge design in order to provide a really beautiful product for the worldwide luxury retail market.
What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Work out what your golden rules are and don’t break them. For me, quality is not negotiable. I will turn down projects and commissions if I think they will compromise the quality of what we do. We haven’t taken supermarket contracts or brand dilution.
It’s also important to grow a team around you that cares about the brand as much as you do. I spend a lot of time training, taking the time to try other products and developing recipes to keep all of our skill levels up.
Who are your business heroes and why?
Small business owners, artisan makers/producers and stall holders. Anyone who encourages people to become more conscious and question what actually goes into their food and drink should be celebrated.
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