What started out life as a Yorkshire pastry chef selling hand-crafted confectionary on a London market stall has now become a thriving food business selling into some of the most prestigious retailers in the UK.
The Marshmallowist, the brainchild of Oonagh Simms and based in Leeds, is on track to turnover £650,000 this year, having landed a contract with upmarket department store to sell into its 26 stores nationwide.
The deal is one of only two contracts John Lewis has done with a food retailer in the past seven years and sees them join with the likes of Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols as exclusive stockists of the artisan, handmade marshmallows the firm is producing.
Sales with The Marshmallowist have doubled year-on-year for the past three years and the firm expects to sell more than 600,000 marshmallows in the run up to Christmas.
In the past week it has seen a 200 per cent lift in month-on-month sales after launching a new range of marshmallows containing CBD oil, the non-psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis plants.
CBD oil, 100 per cent legal to own and supply, is widely understood to have properties that make contributions to health and well-being and is stocked by the likes of Holland & Barrett among others.
For Oonagh, it marks a remarkable journey for a business she effectively started in her spare time.
“This year our growth has been exponential,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“We won a major John Lewis contract nationwide in February, something that had been on our dream board for five years. We have also been with Harrods for a year. It wanted an alternative to buying chocolates in summer months but we have not believed the rate they are getting through. They ordered 900 boxes on Wednesday and had sold them by Friday.”
Oonagh, who trained and worked as a pastry chef in both Paris and London, creates all of the marshmallow recipes herself, using seasonal fruits, herbs and essential oils.
The Marshmallowist employs seven people full-time, including four chefs, as well as close to 100 part-time people to sell the products at events.
She got her big break when, entirely by chance, one of the chief buyers from Harvey Nichols visited her London stall one afternoon.
“She said ‘these are the best marshmallows I have ever eaten’. We were the first gourmet marshmallow maker. We still have strong relationship with them.”
In order to grow the business Ms Simms decided to move the business back to her native Leeds, at which point her sister Jenny came on board with the business.
“There is so much more space here,” said Oonagh.
“And it so much more supportive of smaller companies. You get a lot more advice being from Yorkshire. We had great support and mentorship from the Local Enterprise Partnership, as opposed to London where everyone was fighting after the same contracts and looking for the same small pots of money and support.”
The Marshmallowist is now selling its wares abroad, exporting to Denmark with talks with a US supplier at an advanced stage. However much of its domestic trade centres on the capital.
“All of our stock is to London,” said Jennifer.
“It is interesting, we have not had an awful of regional support in terms of stockists. But in terms of mentorship and business support it has been unbelievable.”
Such is the interest that Oonagh has already released a recipe book through Penguin Random House.
“My whole view is to create as many different and varying flavours as we can,” she said.
“It is something I enjoy, Because of my training and the fact that I am always interested in current food trends.”
The latest product containing the CBD oil is one that the two sisters had been thinking about for a while after the two sisters read about cannabis cocktails beind sold in upmarket bars in Los Angeles.
The Marshmallowist was approached by one of its customers (a bakery shop in London) who got in touch asking for saying they would love to see CBD oil used in gourmet confectionery .
The marshmallows contain no THC (the illegal ingredient of cannabis that gets people ‘high’).
They are sold through the company’s website and are not offered to retailers.
The CBD oil is mixed with fresh grapefruits and pink peppercorns to give it a citrus lift and a touch of spice.
Among the benefits said to be derived from cannabis oil include reduce pain and relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and insomnia.