Candy crush: Belfast’s newest sweetie shop has them lining up

Candy crush: Belfast’s newest sweetie shop has them lining up

Belfast’s newest sweetie shop has them queuing out the door, as Alan Sherrard, director of Sweetez Retail Limited tells NR.

There’s one type of retailer that’s bound to be met with a rapturous response when it arrives on the High Street and that’s the humble sweetie shop.

Sweetez was no exception when it opened its first Belfast shop earlier this month, sparking queues out of the door of the Cregagh Road store and customers coming back for more on the following day.

Alan Sherrard, director of Sweetez Retail Limited, explains that sweets are still popular despite the cost of living crisis.

“Life’s tough enough at the minute but people are still treating themselves, and going out and getting the wee bits and pieces that they want,” he says.

“We’ve had a great response, we’ve had queues out through the door and we’re getting a lot of repeat customers back in. It’s not just one group – there’s young kids coming in and older customers coming in as well.

“We offer a big range, not just of American confectionery, but also what I would call local stuff that you would get in other shops.”

Undertapped market

The USP of the store is its focus on American confectionery brands which Alan says is an undertapped market.

“We saw there was a big gap in the market for American lines and this is mainly being driven by the likes of TikTok and YouTube,” he says.

“You get a lot of younger children and kids coming in and asking for things that they may have seen on YouTube or TikTok, mostly American lines.

“So there would be new lines coming out, the likes of Takis, Cheetos, that type of stuff, that they’re seeing on there because people are maybe doing taste test challenges and they’re coming in and asking us for those lines.”

Alan has been immersed in retail management and sales since leaving school 23 years ago, and this isn’t the first store he has managed.

“When I left school, I joined SuperValu as a trainee manager, worked my way up to managing my own shop and then moved into the other side of it and went out to sales, so I’ve done sales as well,” he says.

“The shop I was managing was Centra in Loughgall at the time – it’s a Mace now. I’ve also worked for the National Lottery as well, out and about on the road with Camelot.

Direct sales

“Our sister company is a wholesaler of confectionery so we decided we could open a shop and sell directly to the public,” Alan says.

“We came up with the idea of opening a shop in Armagh. So we investigated and came up with a location in Armagh that would be our test shop to see what worked and what didn’t work.

“We got that one open in July of last year and then followed up with the Portadown store in March this year – and now Belfast. So that’s been three stores within the last 12 months.”

Donut brand

And they haven’t just stopped at sweets, Alan says.

“What we’ve done also, we created our own donut brand because there is a big gap in the market there, and we launched it in our Portadown store,” he says.

“So all of our donuts that we sell in our own shops are manufactured in our Portadown store under the brand of Gangsta Donuts.

“The Portadown store is three times the size of the Armagh one but we have a bit more space there so that we can develop this brand. Because there definitely is a gap in the market there for a reliable good quality donut brand.

“We do the ring donuts but we also do filled donuts with the likes of Biscoff, Bueno, Milky Bar, that have the softness in the middle of them, and that’s something that we are going to be pushing and growing.

“So we are looking to sell those in the stores, not just within our own retail stores, but we also have a couple of customers coming on board who have their own shops that we’re going to be supplying as well.

“We’ve doubled the amount of space that’s being given to the donuts, and the rest of the range will be similar. We pack our own branded pick-and-mix sweets in our warehouse so we’re pushing them as well.”

Healthy desserts

Another big innovation on the way is the company’s new line of Dole desserts – a soft serve dessert which is vegan, gluten-free, low fat and low sugar.

“It’s a healthy alternative to shipped ice cream. It comes in pineapple and raspberry flavours, so it’s like a sorbet but it comes out of the whipped ice cream machine,” Alan says.

“I think there’s only one other shop in Northern Ireland that’s doing it so we’re going to be pushing this in all three of our shops.”

Fittingly, the new store at Cregagh Road was actually a former donut store and Sweetez has converted it and put their own twist on it with their own style of branding.

Alan says: “When customers walk in, they’re hit by a sea of colour, our famous pink branding that we have in all of our shops. They’re hit by a sea of pink, and then they’ll see a big range of sweeties, personalised products and our donut counter when they walk in through as well, – it’s very much in their face.

Personalised service

“We can also do personalised sweet bags, so we can personalise any of our pick-and-mix bags. We do a big range of those for the likes of birthday parties, weddings and christenings. Any event that is out there, we can provide a personalised bag or bags for it.

“We’ll also do the likes of the sweet cones that you can get – we can personalise those for parties, we can do 24 of those with, say, somebody’s face on them and a message. There are lots of different things we can do for people to cater for parties.”

The plan is to keep growing and become the go-to shop if somebody wants sweet treats for an event, Alan says.

“If somebody wants sweets or a treat, we want Sweetez to be the go-to destination,” he says.

“Events are something we’ll look at at some stage, but at the moment we just want to get the shops up and running and going.

“We did take a stall at the Co Armagh show where we had our big gazebo up at it, so it’s something that we’re looking to do as well going forward.”

New locations

And the company is currently eyeing up new locations for shops, he says.

“There’s a couple in mind – we’re always looking so the plan is to just keep growing and add on when the right location becomes available. We’re not stopping at three shops,” Alan says.

“We’d like to think by the end of the year there could be another one open and then keep going again.

“Belfast is where the people are. There’s a bigger population in Belfast so we will look towards Belfast but we’ll look to keep going in different areas as well whenever we can see something suitable come up, maybe Lisburn, Belfast, that sort of direction.”

Next big thing

They will also be looking out for new ideas as well as new locations.

“We’re always looking to see the next big thing coming along,” Alan says.

“If there’s something different that somebody else doesn’t have but, you know, a gap in the market, we’ll look to exploit that. We don’t know what it is yet but we’ll keep looking out for that. The Dole and the donuts, those are the big growth areas.

“The Gangsta Donut brand that we have there is our key growth area, I feel at the minute, because we’re finding that, especially in Belfast, that one in every two customers that’s going to the till is purchasing donuts.

“They’re made fresh every day so you can rely on them being fresh as well . We also do coffee under the Gangsta brand, so we do have a deal there – a donut and a coffee deal as well in the shop and that’s been popular.”

To read the full feature in Neighbourhood Retailer, click HERE.