This week we have a conversation with Sweetie Confectionery CEO, Patria-Kaye Aarons. Sweetie Confectionery is one of only 2 candy making companies in Jamaica; and the only one in the Caribbean producing authentic Caribbean flavoured confectionery like jackfruit, mango, guava, pomegranate and june plum. Patria-Kaye Aarons has a wealth of experience in launching and successfully marketing brands and products. With some 17 years experience in Marketing and Communications she has made celebrated impact in fortune 500 companies Western Union and Sharp, and was integral in the shaping of Jamaica’s biggest brands both in Jamaica and abroad namely Digicel and GraceKennedy. She holds an MSc in Management from the University of Edinburgh which aptly equips her with the solid business acumen to lead Sweetie towards success. Here is our conversation with Patria-Kaye Aarons.
Q: Are you a business person or entrepreneur or both?
I’m a little of both. Nothing new about candy making; but certainly, making candy in Caribbean flavours like jackfruit and guava and june plum is a pretty novel idea. It’s never been done in Jamaica.
Q: What was your profession before you started your business?
I left a promising Marketing career in corporate Jamaica to start my business. At the time I was Sponsorship and Communications Manager at GraceKennedy and had gotten great experience and exposure in both the food and financial services sides of the business. I also served 9 years at Digicel as Public Relations Manager at perhaps the most challenging (and exciting) time in Jamaica’s telecommunications history.
Q: Who or what motivated you to start Caribbean Sweetie?
My then six year old god-daughter Rochelle once asked me “Auntie, what’s a blue raspberry?” and I was stumped. After buying her candy for years, she was now old enough to read the wrapper and was asking questions about the flavours that I couldn’t answer. I wondered to myself, “Where are the candies in flavours that she knew and could identify with”. And so began the idea of Sweetie. With no idea where to start, I set out to make candy in Caribbean tastes Rochelle already knew and loved.
Q: Is she happy with the flavors?
I’m happy with how the tastes turned out. The development process was tedious because we had to try flavour samples from different suppliers, and many of them tasted artificial. That wasn’t the vision for Sweetie. In other traditionally consumed candies, “watermelon” doesn’t taste anything like the fruit; “strawberry” is unrecognizable. Sweetie is made from the oil extractions of the actual fruits; no artificial flavours, so the tastes are more authentic.
Q: Tell us about your Caribbean Sweetie?
Sweetie Confectionery is one of only 2 candy making companies in Jamaica; and the only one in the Caribbean producing authentic Caribbean flavoured confectionery like jackfruit, mango, guava, pomegranate and june plum. Sweetie products are available in hard candy and there are plans to produce “juju”, taffies and lollipops. Sweetie with its authentic Caribbean flavours will satisfy the sweet tooth of Caribbean people at home and those in the Diaspora markets longing for the tastes of home. With formulations developed exclusively for Sweetie by the Scientific Research Council, products are manufactured in Kingston, Jamaica using oils extracted from the best Caribbean fruits. Sweetie is co-packed at the island’s only commercial confectionery manufacturing facility, (in operation since 1988), for distribution to various wholesale and retail channels. Sweetie gives the promise of product excellence and a patriotic commitment to Jamaica first; being made in Jamaica for Jamaicans and Jamaicans at heart.
Q: Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?
Which entrepreneur hasn’t! I so believe in my business though that I have invested my entire pension into making the dream a reality. I also had a car accident at the start of my journey that rendered my car irreparable. It was then easier to get a car loan than it was to get a business loan and so I put the insurance cheque into the business and took out a car loan to replace my vehicle. Business financing needs revisiting in Jamaica with urgency.
Q: Many businesses have a moment they call their “big break”, whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that “”big break ” yet?
I’m really grateful to Western Union International. Within my first month of operation, they purchased 100,000 pieces of candy for distribution to their customers around the Caribbean. It gave me early regional exposure and capital to produce my first batch of candy for retail.
Q: Currently what is our biggest business challenge?
Were it not for my local competitor, I wouldn’t have a business. Traditionally, you think of your competitor as your enemy. In my case, I didn’t have the outlay to purchase my own factory, so I now co-pack at Miel, the only other existing commercial candy manufacturing company in Jamaica. We don’t make competing products; I make fruit candies and he makes mints and ginger logs and paradise plums. I get commercial factory facilities and he gets additional revenue. It works. And I encourage Jamaican business competitors to contemplate ways you perhaps can collaborate for the good of both your businesses. There is space for all of us.
Q: Other than the money what types of satisfaction do you get out of your work?
The first time Rochelle had a Sweetie and said “Auntie, this tastes soooo good”, all was right with the world. I love seeing the look on the faces of Jamaicans and Jamaicans at heart when they indulge in my little piece of paradise. I also love the freedom to be able to get work done anywhere at any time. Today my office was Aunt May’s stall on Hellshire Beach.
Q: What motivates you on a day to day basis?
I’m driven by a dream. With an estimated 9 million Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica the possibility exists for Sweetie to bring the tastes of home to some 12 million potential Jamaican customers. We may call it a nesberry and the Eastern Caribbean calls it a sapodilla, we may call it a june plum and they call it a golden apple, but we love and appreciate much of the same fruits. I’m driven by the possibility of bringing a little piece of paradise to an underserved Caribbean people yearning for the tastes of home.
Q: How do you motivate people that aren’t close to you and enable them to see your vision?
The business environment is very reflective of the brand; work is always fresh and fun. My team know I trust that I have hired competent people who always get the job done. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors along the way. Their style has been to teach me all they knew and to empower me with the autonomy to make decisions and mistakes without fear of being chastised. I extend that to my team and it works. I’ve also found merit in being a very inclusive leader. We all see Sweetie as OUR company and we all have a say and hand in its success. My people also get unlimited Sweetie. That helps.
Q: How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
Failure is never an option.
Q. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
I’m usually up by 5. I co-host the morning show CVM at Sunrise in Jamaica so my work day actually begins pretty early. I’m not big on routine. I make a detailed “Things to do” list the night before and check off as much as I can during the day. My days are never long enough to complete everything though.
Q. Do you have any hobbies?
I love Salsa dancing…in fact I love all things Spanish; the music, people, language, countries. I also love cooking. My kitchen is my favourite spot in my house. I escape there.
Q. If the economy crashed hard and there was no more room for you in the business sector, what would you do with yourself?
I love television. I thought that was my calling (until I found out what it actually paid). I’d find a way to make more great TV and tell peoples’ stories.
Q: Seven day, six night, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…
South Africa. I would elephant back safari one day, visit Robben Island, explore metropolitan Durban, swim with the penguins, see Cape Town…. I love the diversity and history South Africa has to offer.
Q: My favorite guilty pleasure is…
Oliver at Large re-runs. God bless the internet. In my down time, I sit and watch marathons of old episodes online.
Q: My favorite Jamaican food is…
Sweet potato pudding. I ditched the traditional birthday cake last year for a birthday sweet potato pudding. Nothing tops the perfect slice; slushy on the top and heaven under that.
Thank you for spending some time with us and all the best.