Melissa Snover with staff at a recent trade show
Birmingham tech start-up Katjes Magic Candy Factory is disrupting the confectionary industry after becoming one of the world’s first suppliers of 3D candy printers.
American entrepreneur Melissa Snover knows exactly how to launch and grow a successful confectionery business.
Launching vegan candy brand Goody Good Stuff at the age of 27, she sold the brand to major Scandinavian confectioner Cloetta for an undisclosed sum back in 2014.
By the time she finally withdrew from the company in February 2015, Melissa and her team had developed a sales network with 30,000 sales points in more than 33 countries worldwide – all in less than 40 months.
“Goody Good Stuff was the world’s first vegan gummy candy,” she said. “The reason I launched the business was because I was a vegetarian myself and I think I must be the only woman on earth who doesn’t actually like chocolate!
“I loved candy however I couldn’t find gummy candy anywhere that didn’t contain gelatin. I found it very frustrating but I also thought I couldn’t be the only person who was looking for this, so I decided to try to create something that would solve my problem and hopefully help others as well.
“When I researched the idea I found a lot of information about things like halal and kosher diets and how they were not permitted to have most kinds of gelatin and also the free-from market which included things like dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free and many other allergies which were becoming more prevalent.
“I developed Goody Good Stuff to be safe for everyone to eat. It was quite an adventure, I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. I had to learn almost everything I did on the internet, I gave my first marketing presentation to a buyer at a supermarket which was 29 slides long which, if you are in the industry, you would laugh as usually you only get five slides but I managed to persuade them to let me display them all.
“From that the company got stocked in 800 stores in America. The brand grew rapidly from there and ended on around 30,000 stores in three years across the US, China, Middle East and Europe.”
Prior to launching Goody Good Stuff, Melissa had also set up and sold her own financial business, which she launched as soon as she finished her degree at Lancaster University.
Although the business proved a success, she knew her heart wasn’t in it, which is why she launched Goody Good Stuff, to work on a project which she truly enjoyed doing.
So when the time came to sell up Goody Good Stuff, she knew she wanted to get back into business but knew it would have to be something close to her heart. This led to her launching Katjes Magic Candy Factory in April 2015 alongside German confectionary brand Katje.
She said: “When I sold Goody Good Stuff there was a brief transitional period, however once the baby was safely in the hands of the new mother, I went back out on my own again and partnered with Katjes to bring to life the Magic Candy Factory.”
Katjes Magic Candy Factory produces the world’s first 3D printers specifically designed for gummy candy and the first 3D printers for food that have been made available on a consumer retail market level.
“It is an amazing product,” Melissa said. “The printer itself is really small and extremely fast, it prints candy in less than five minutes which is comparative to other printers which aren’t yet in the market but are in development which take around 45 minutes to create candy.
“Ours is a lot faster and we’ve also developed a patented ingredient recipe which is vegan, all-natural and free from allergens so it is safe for everyone to eat.
“We’ve also developed a software programme which is the first ever truly plug-and-play design app for 3D printing.
“It allows anyone from a three-year-old kid to a 79-year-old man to use a 3D printer for the first time. It’s a fantastic way to bridge the gap between this amazing technology and the masses.”
But why 3D printing? Melissa said: “I was looking for a way for people to be able to customise their own candy on demand. I looked at a number of different ways and 3D printing was a really hot technology at the time.
“It was really just a case of ‘can we get it to work so it’s safe’ and ‘can we do it in a way that is fast and scalable?’
"I set the company up in April 2015 and developed a prototype printer in the first six months. I did a BETA test for three months in Berlin which was three times bigger than the current printer, was slower and never had software. It scared me to death but made me realise it could work.
"After those three months of testing we went back, redesigned everything and debuted the first printer at the beginning of February last year at the IFM show and launched to the market in April.
“The idea behind the name sums it up really, we want this amazing technology to look like magic. We wanted our technology to work so well that a customer not familiar with it would think it was magic. We want to bring the Willy Wonka experience to life!”
And since it was founded in April 2015, Katjes Magic Candy Factory has done just that. It has become world famous for its ground-breaking developments in customised candy.
In under 12 months, the innovative start-up has launched across retail outlets in Europe, the USA, the Middle East, China and online.
Now they are setting their sights on corporate gifting, private events and weddings. Having already perfected 3D printing shapes, messages and logos in candy, the Birmingham-based company are also now focusing their magic on their ‘sweet selfie’ function.
“We officially launched the product in April last year and now have around 100 printers in the market spread across the world. This year we’re working on some new innovations and will be expanding into amusement parks and theme parks where we’re working with some big names.
“We have went from zero printers in the market to 100 with 35 locations globally. This year I really hope we hit the 300 number but we’ll have to see. Our printers are hand-made so we have a limit as to how many we can manufacture and there is a huge waiting list for them.”
And despite being born in the Big Apple, it is the Custard Factory of Birmingham which has really caught Melissa’s eye. Although she could’ve set up the business anywhere in the world, she chose to do so in Birmingham, for a number of reasons.
“I love Birmingham,” she says, “I think Birmingham is the Silicon Valley of the UK. It has the most start-ups of any city by a considerable margin. In addition to that, if you think of the US as an analogy, New York is the financial district and California is the Silicon Valley where most of the innovative tech start-ups are based.
“It’s a bit like London and Birmingham. London is a real financial hub but Birmingham has some amazing businesses that have really innovative technology. When I was looking at launching the business I knew Birmingham was just the right place.
“We have three universities within 10 miles of our Custard Factory offices which have 3D printing degree programmes and we’re around 40 minutes away from the Advanced Manufacturing Institute in Coventry which is set to help the UK become a powerhouse in innovation in terms of advanced manufacturing and 3D printing.”
So what’s next for the company? Melissa concluded: “At the moment we’re working very hard on getting more printers to market as there is a real backlog of orders.
“We would also like to explore the amusement park industry a little more as this is something which is really attractive to us – I think our printers are perfect for that market.
“Also the events industry is something which we didn’t expect to be such a big market for us but has proven to be very aggressive in terms of demand.
“We have really big companies asking us to bring printers to their corporate innovation days and are being asked to go backstage at awards ceremonies – we didn’t expect it to happen but is proving to be quite an interesting business model which we’re exploring this year.”
Interested in seeing how it works? So were we - which is why Melissa and her team created a bespoke BQ gummy candy: