Annabel Palmer talks trade fairs and sherbet lemons with the founders of premium confectionary company Jealous
LUXURY confectionary brand Jealous has been in a year-long hiatus following a modern-day tale of David versus Goliath. Like many startups before it, the company has been tied up in a trademark tangle with a market leader, and has been forced to back down because, despite solicitors inferring they would win if they went to court, the cost – and time taken – would be huge.
But Jealous is finally back on its feet. Its two founders, old friends Imran Merza (a former City trader with Merrill Lynch), and Taz Basunia (a former PwC chartered accountant) are passionate about their product. So the story goes, three years ago Merza was looking for vegetarian sweets for his girlfriend and spotted a gap in the market; Basunia, by pure coincidence, was considering acquiring a sweets internet company – with a view to “premiumising” it – and was looking for a business partner.
Basunia had seen the Hummingbird Bakery premiumise cupcakes, Krispy Kreme revolutionise the doughnut industry, and Hotel Chocolat bring innovation to the chocolate market. To him, it was just a matter of time before sweets followed.
From zero to the shelves at Harrods was a long journey through dozens of trade fairs – which brought them into contact with other suppliers, manufacturers, contract packers and vendors. The pair poured over statistics in the British Library for precise information on the industry that would help them build their brand.
But the real branding milestone came through a one-to-one meeting with Innocent co-founder Adam Balon. “We couldn’t understand how, with the huge brands already on the juice shelves, no one squashed Innocent right at the beginning.” Balon explained to the pair the power of a brand: each juice bottle had a story. So the duo approached B&B, the company behind the branding for Innocent and Firefly drinks, and spent a year shaping their brand identity.
The sugar confectionary market is worth $5.6bn (£3.6bn) in the UK and is the third largest in the world. Since Jealous launched in 2011, the duo say they have seen others come onto the market. “There’s Candy Kittens, but we’re targeting an older market. There’s Sugarfina in the US, but its model is more internet-driven. No one else is offering a top, luxury product like ours.”
This may sound like hubris coming from a company that is only just getting started. But Basunia and Merza are candid about the troubles they’ve already encountered. Basunia previously worked in a family business that had “seen a lot of failures”. To get a Jealous order into Selfridges, the pair struggled to scrape together £4,000 (they have since sought funding – they won’t disclose how much – from private angel investment from friends and family). They’ve also seen late deliveries from warehouses; manufacturers fail to get orders in on time; and they knocked on endless doors before one finally opened.
“I was confident we would get into the big department stores,” says Basunia. “We spent a lot of money on swanky brochures that we sent to all prospective buyers. We didn’t hear a peep for a month.” That’s when they realised it’s easier to reject a pitch via email or on the phone. “But someone will give you ten seconds if you’re stood in front of them”. Selfridges was the first store to stock Jealous products. The pair knew they would sell: they had previously, unbeknown to Selfridges, put their products alongside others in the Food Hall, “just to see customers’ reactions to our brand”.
So what has got them through the bumps along the (rocky) road? “Passion,” they reply. It may not have galvanised them into taking on Fox’s confectionary, but it did motivate them to pick themselves up after that near-fatal blow.
CV TAZ BASUNIA
Company name: Jealous
Company turnover: Expected £1.5m in 2014
Job title: Co-founder and sweet revolutionary
Studied: Imperial College
Drinking: Espresso Martini
Reading: The Intelligent Entrepreneur, by Bill Murphy
Talents: Cooking a good lamb roast
First ambition: To get into a good university
Motto: “Faire sans dire.” It was my school motto
Heroes: Muhammed Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger
CV IMRAN MERZA
Company founded: September 2010
Number of staff: 4
Job title: Co-founder and candy magician
Drinking: Monkey Shoulder Whiskey
Eating: Fillet steak
Reading: Clarity, by Jamie Smart
Talents: I can draw and paint
Favourite business book: Losing My Virginity, by Richard Branson
Motto: “Doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, it’s where you’re going in life”
First ambition: To work in the City as a trader