Soft, sugary and oh-so moreish, marshmallows used to be something you’d give to children as a treat, but Helen Robinson from Hawkhurst-based Dulci Bella has taken them to a whole new gourmet level. Here she tells Eileen Leahy how the kitchen table business idea she had five years ago has grown into such a delicious success…
What gave you the idea to go into making marshmallows in the first place?
The positive encouragement of friends and family.
Traditionally, marshmallows have been made by pouring the batter into a tray and then cutting it into cubes.
However, I very soon discovered that the consistency of marshmallow batter is quite similar to that of meringue, and so the adventure of developing a piped marshmallow began!
After several months I had developed a recipe and the technique required to achieve this.
What made you choose the name Dulci Bella?
Because it means soft and beautiful in Italian, and therefore seemed to be the perfect fit for a marshmallow company.
It was also the name of a lady I met a few times at a nursing home when I was on a domiciliary visit as a
She was very sparky, with a love of fast cars, and quite a character!
What did you do before you went into making marshmallows full-time?
I originally trained as a silversmith and jeweller.
I also worked in print production, did a dental nurse job and started a sales promotion company with my husband – all before working on Dulci Bella.
Who is your core market for the Dulci Bella?
It varies hugely. The flavours of the mallows are quite intense so mainly appeal to the adult palate. I would say that most of our customers are women, and our products are often purchased as an indulgence. I often hear ‘these are just for me and definitely not for sharing!’
How do you market your marshmallows?
I started selling them through food fairs and farmers’ markets. These were both an invaluable learning experience as there’s a wealth of information to be had from talking to fellow producers and, of course, you receive very direct feedback and comments from your customers! However, over the past year the business has become primarily an online one. The marshmallows are made to order – there’s no mass production in our kitchen – and posted within three to five working days, which means they arrive in the very freshest condition.
When is your busiest time?
It’s usually around Mother’s Day and in the lead-up to Christmas.
What’s the most unusual flavour you make?
Probably the After Dark Range of marshmallows. These are flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom and boast caramel, dark chocolate or Amaretto centres. They’re perfect to have with coffee – or something a little stronger!
How do you get inspiration for all the different flavours?
I’m constantly on the lookout for new combinations. and thankfully there are always fantastic new ingredients becoming available. I avidly devour cookbooks and foodie magazines, reading about what flavours are trending and the latest taste partnerings.
It’s sometimes a case of finding something unique and thinking ‘how can I make this work in a marshmallow?’
How did it feel when you won your first Great Taste Food award?
I cried! You have to check the Great Taste Award website to see if you have been awarded anything as you are not automatically notified. When I won my first in 2014, I kept having to check there had not been a mistake as I won two awards – one for Simply Strawberry and the other for Lemon Meringue.
Have you won any other notable accolades?
I won another Great Taste Award in 2015 for my Really Rather Rhubarby flavour, and another in 2016 for Sonata After Dark. I was also highly commended by the Great British Food Awards in 2016 for Really Rather Rhubarby, which was judged by John Whaite, a former winner of the Great British Bake Off and now a TV presenter.
What have been your most memorable marshmallow moments so far?
One that immediately comes to mind was receiving an email from St James’s asking if I could make a delivery to Buckingham Palace, which of course I delivered personally! Other highlights include supplying the marshmallows for a charity event in association with Liberty of London and MTV.
What are your plans for the future?
I will be adding more exciting and vibrant flavours to our product range in the coming months. The mail order pre-Christmas period is absolutely crazy, so I will be flat out until the beginning of 2017.
My plans for next year include increasing the brand’s online presence, as we currently only deliver within the UK. So we will be looking to branch into international sales. The corporate side of the business will also be developed further as the number of enquiries during 2016 has been gradually increasing, and thankfully looks like it will be a trend that will continue into 2017.
To find out more about Dulci Bella and the range of marshmallows available, visit www.dulcibella-marshmallows.co.uk