How did you get started?
Born and raised a Doonhamer lassie I’m 30 years old and this is my first business venture. Until a few of years ago I worked as a psychiatric nurse specialising in forensics at a private hospital in Ayr. I was pretty good at it too- I was a charge nurse by 25, then things started to go wrong, my health deteriorated and an injury at work resulted in my move back to Dumfries and back home with mum. During a rough couple of years I finished my post-grad and was told I could never return to practice as a nurse and so the idea of Wee Sweetie started to grow.
I reckon I’m quite the sweetie connoisseur- my first job (aged 12) was in a sweet shop and I eat a massive amount of sweets (but for medical reasons - that’s my excuse and I'm sticking to it). I have Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder and sugar is about the only thing I can eat without being unwell so breakfast and lunch are usually sweets (not a great diet but better than being in constant pain!). I always have a stash in my pocket or bag and I’m the only adult I know that regularly eats double lollies and cola bottles.
I often complained about the lack of variety and quality of sweets and got fed up of eating the same things so I was delighted when last Christmas my sister bought me Hope and Greenwoods book Life is Sweet, I had been making tablet and fudge from the age of 12 but had never considered making anything else, and everything kind of snowballed from there.
Over the past few months I’ve put out a variety of samples at my friends business and her customers blind tasted and rated them for me, the results and comments were amazing and I started taking custom orders (far more than I expected) for gifts, weddings, parties, etc. Around 4 months ago I became fully approved by Environmental Health and Trading Standards to create sweeties from my home kitchen which is fantastic as I can often be found making something at 3am when I’m too sore to sleep!
My friend will be stocking my sweeties in small quantities initially as I can only cook when I’m well enough to but I hope to find other local suppliers- farm shops or cafés, recently Abbey Cottage Tearoom have just started carrying some stock. Of course, I’ll continue to take on custom orders whenever I can.
Wherever possible I use local products including Uncle Roys colours and extracts and Lockerbie butter, I’m looking for someone to supply my cream and would love to find an artisan butter maker. I’m keen to collaborate with other local food businesses too and use their products wherever possible an example being my recently created chilli pulled sugar sweets using Galloway Chillies products.
I make a point to trade ethically and fairly sourcing only sustainable/organic/fairtrade/free-range/recyclable raw materials, and make a point of ensuring that my prices are fair to my customers too. My packaging is deliberately recycled and recyclable, while still looking elegant and special.
I make a broad range of sweeties including taffy, toffee slabs, bonbons and coins, candy canes and lollipops, sherbet dips, nut brittles, fudge, boiled sweets and caramels in a wide variety of flavours and colours from old-fashioned childhood varieties to very modern creations. I’m led to believe that im the only person in Scotland (possibly the UK) who currently sells handmade pulled sugar sweets.
I can even create sweeties especially for your event/business- choose which ingredients/colours/ flavours you’d like and I’ll work my sweetie magic just for you! Again I seem to be totally unique in offering this service.
I always make small batches to ensure my sweets are as fresh as can be and I always try to make them look and feel handmade, not uniform and mass-produced. I don’t believe in adding anything unnecessarily so make sure everything is always completely natural, preservative and additive free. Most are gluten free and veggie friendly too.
Right now Wee Sweetie is tiny but who knows where I’ll end up? I’m doing something I love on my own terms and building a fresh start all at the same time!!
• *My papa always called me Wee Sweetie - I’m 5’2", only weight 7 stone and I’ve always had a very sweet tooth. He worked at the Carnation factory and would bring home mountains of mis-shapes and rejected sweets, heaven!
What's the best piece of business advice that you would give?
I can't decide between "really, really do your homework before you start trading". I spent months sending out samples, researching, getting approvals, expanding my repertoire and perfecting my techniques before I sold a single sweetie, running even a tiny food business entails an awful lot more red tape than I expected.
Secondly, "you can’t please everyone all the time" so it's important to fully believe in your product and yourself. The reason I say this is that during my sampling phase for cinder toffee, about 50 people rated it 9 out of 10 but one person scored it 2 and their comments were "this isn’t toffee so I don’t like it, more like a Crunchie bar!" but rather than get upset I laughed my head off. Another example was my limited edition Christmas fudge, when a similar number of people scored it 9/10 but the comments sheet read "too sweet" not too sweet" "too sweet" over and over and over again.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
In 5 years time I hope to have built up a reputation for making brilliant sweets and have them on sale in a number of outlets throughout Dumfries & Galloway and hopefully further afield too.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be and why?
That's easy, it would be my Brown Sugar Espress-ohh Fudge, it only has 4 ingredients and is one of my most plain creations but it's my favourite by far, I always have to have a supply to hand. Coffee is my second favourite thing, sweets being the first of course!
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal - Who would it be and and why? ...and what's on the menu?
You say living or dead so I assume my dinner date can be fictional? It has to be Willy Wonka, the original as played by Gene Wilder. What’s on the menu? I’d let him order for me and learn from the master!
The mixed box of goodies that I received contained a selection of fudge, toffee and boiled sweets. The three fudges included Pecanamel, Scotch Mist (flavoured with whisky, strawberry & meringue), and Espress-ohh. All three tasted great and I can see why the Espress-ohh is Donna's favourite. The three toffees were Chilli Lime, Nuts About Toffees, and Butter Twofee (twisted toffee). Again all three tasted very nice - like good old fashioned toffee that your granny might have given you all those years ago. The last sweeties to complete the box were the boiled sweets with Piña Colada, Roobard'n'Custard, and Summer Berries. Once again, each of the boiled sweets tasted exactly as you would expect, full of fruity flavour.
The thing that surprised me the most about the selection of samples that Donna sent to me was that every single sweetie in the box had its own identity. For anyone to create any one of these sweets to this standard is fantastic, so for Donna to be able to hand craft so many well flavoured and different styles of sweets is a mighty achievement.