Vegan sweet brand gets tasty offer from Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den

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Vegan sweet brand gets tasty offer from Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den

Tasty Mates was founded by childhood friends Joe Woolf and Nick Sunshine to promote meaningful moments with mates

Tasty Mates co-founder Joe Woolf on Dragons' Den
Tasty Mates co-founder Joe Woolf on Dragons' Den

Entrepreneur Joe Woolf secured a £60,000 investment from veteran entrepreneur Peter Jones for a stake in his vegan sweet brand, when he appeared on Dragons’ Den on Thursday evening.

Jones was the only Dragon to make an offer following Joe’s appetising pitch for Tasty Mates, offering all of the money for 20 percent of the business. Joe asked if he would accept 10 percent – they agreed on 15 percent.

Joe, who founded Tasty Mates with close friend Nick Sunshine – the duo met at a Work Avenue event when Joe was working with FZY and Nick at UJS – told Jewish News: “It was higher than we wanted to give away but we understand the value that Peter can bring to the company.”

Tasty Mates co-founder Joe Woolf accepts an offer from Peter Jones

Joe and Nick are still in negotiations with Peter Jones for a potentially lower stake. “Whatever happens with Peter, it’s great recognition and exposure. It was the coolest day ever, a really incredible experience. I was buzzing the whole way and to come away with an offer was great.”

Peter Jones was impressed with the Tasty Mates brand

Tasty Mates already counts Holland and Barrett and Ocado among its stockists.

The entrepreneurs came up with idea for Tasty Mates in 2019 to “portray their mates in sweets.” The gelatine-free range of gummies – think jelly babies meet jelly beans – comprise five unique flavours; The Perfect Pear (pear crumble), The Salty One (salted caramel), The Berry Funny One (very berry) and The Juicy Peach (peaches and cream) and the newly launched, The Passionate One (passion fruit), created in partnership with entrepreneur-turned-social media influencer Simon Squib and Bizzies – set up to help entrepreneurs start their own business – to give away £5,000 to the best business idea. Tasty Mates have also teamed up with Infinity Brands for a special range of Paddington Bear gummy sweets.

“The whole idea was to promote meaningful moments with mates and remind people to check in on their friends,” said Joe. “This was really important to Nick and me, and to our target market. While initially it was fun to build the brand portraying our mates in sweets, we realised pretty quickly that it can actually be a bit of a taboo topic – to really ask how your mates are. There wasn’t anyone in the food and drinks space helping to promote and talk about this. Brands have a responsibility to try and promote important things.”

Tasty Mates founders Joe Woolf and Nick Sunshine

Joe and Nick started building Tasty Mates in 2019. “I have a really sweet tooth and felt that there was a gap for a gourmet jelly sweet that didn’t leave a really sugary white coating in your mouth after you eat it,” explained Joe. “We wanted to make a gourmet version of jelly babies but with the flavour profiles of jelly beans with lots of different flavours. I also wanted to have the ‘relatability side’ of sweets, a kind of modern-day Love Hearts.”

Joe, a former JFS deputy head boy, decided to pick the brains of his friend Nick. Nick was running his own web development design and branding agency at the time, while Woolf had a job in public relations. Woolf had previously been the Mazkir (national director) of FZY following a long-standing affiliation with the youth movement and Nick had worked for UJS.

“We spent the best part of a year working with developers to try and get the recipes right. It started off with us buying loads of sweets and trying to work out what were the common ingredients – it was a mess but we knew what we wanted in terms of our three main goals: to be the tastiest relatable gourmet vegan gummy sweet, to not have a negative impact on the environment, and to promote meaningful moments between mates.”

Tasty Mates are stocked in Holland and Barrett, on Ocado and in major UK companies

In 2020, the duo decided to commit to the business full-time, not long before Covid struck. “This actually played to our advantage in some ways. It gave us a year to take a step back, really build the brand and get everything in place.” They also managed to secure their first major listing with WHSmith, where they launched in 2021.

Tasty Mates are now stocked in a variety of places including Holland and Barrett, Ocado and Debenhams. Joe and Nick have also moved into the corporate market, supplying Virgin Atlantic, WeWork as well as the canteens of several major banks, law firms and companies across the UK.

So why vegan? “First and foremost, I wanted my mates who don’t eat gelatine to be able to eat what I made. And you don’t need to eat beef gelatine when eating sweets.” Tasty Mates’ 30 grams Peaches and Cream packs are kosher certified. “And we felt that there was no need to have a negative impact on our other ‘mate’, the planet, with the products we were creating.”

The demand for vegan products is exploding – as is the appetite for vegan confectionery – the global market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.9 per cent from 2023 to 2030 reaching $2.62 billion by 2030 and over $3bn by 2034.

Although Dragons Deborah Meaden, Sara Davis and Touker Suleyman weren’t convinced by the brand’s message, Steven Bartlett said he thought Joe was a “really impressive” individual and wished him the very best.

Peter Jones said: “I think you have something and it’s all down to you. You have got the quality to become a successful entrepreneur.”

Joe and Nick have raised close to £500,000 to date and are about to hold another fundraising round. Any investment they secure from Peter Jones will be used grow the brand’s business-to-consumer (B2C) offering, secure and push listings within other retailers and streamline production and operations.

Joe said: “We want to have flavours representing everyone’s personality traits eventually and build a brand that the whole country can access in every shop they go into.” They will just need to make sure all the samples are left with Nick. “If they were left at my place, they would all be eaten!” jokes Joe.

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