“If you haven’t got a co-founder, it would be good to at least have a mentor or someone to go through that emotional journey with you”

Meet Joe Woolf, the co-founder of Tasty Mates, a gourmet gummy sweet company that seeks to capture the essence of friendship in every bite. Much like the treats that he and his business partner Nick have created, Joe is the perfect blend of sweetness and entrepreneurial spirit. They founded Tasty Mates with a simple yet ingenious idea: to create a range of sweets that would capture the unique traits of different personalities in a friendship group. Here are some:

Pear –  Whether they’re taking a stroll in the park, enjoying a night in or jetting off for a holiday romance, the Perfect Pear are simply #couplegoals…and while their PDA often causes a stir, we know you secretly want to be them!

Peach –  Late nights and early mornings at the gym is a big commitment but it has definitely paid off! The proud owner of the Juicy Peach never skips leg day and has the Belfie pose struck down to a tee!

Salted Caramel –  Every friendship group has a Salty One! A hint of sass, mixed with a bit of competitiveness, they’ll have you laughing at their salty comments, unless the joke’s on you! Our advice, from experience is: don’t get on the wrong side of them!

Berry: With age comes maturity… but not for this one! Whether it’s the one liners or the terrible dad jokes, The Berry Funny One will always put a smile on everyone’s face. Did you know: laughing relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for 45 minutes after…A great Tasty Mate to have!

But Joe’s passion for spreading sweetness doesn’t stop at the candy aisle – Tasty Mates also gives back by donating a portion of their profits to Mind and Crisis, proving that their flavours of friendship extend beyond taste buds to make a positive impact on mental health and crisis support.

Joe’s journey hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns (mind the pun). Read on to delve into Joe’s journey of overcoming challenges and emerging wiser, his insights on effective networking and his experience as a member of Home Grown.

We think that the concept behind Tasty Mates is so catchy and we ask Joe how it all came about.

‘One of my friends was winding me up and I dubbed her “The Salty One”, so other friends started asking, “Which flavour am I?”. It all started from there. Each of our flavours portrays a personality trait in a friendship group. Eventually we’d like to come up with hundreds of personality traits and associated flavours.’

We resist the temptation to ask him which flavour we are, and instead ask him, why candy?

‘I have a proper sweet tooth. I used to munch my way through whole bags of jelly babies over a two hours’ drives. I realised how unhealthy that was and that that there was nothing in the gourmet market that really has the same chew or consistency as a jelly baby. Tasty Mates fills that gap. We make gourmet jelly babies which tick the boxes of vegan, gluten free, palm free and contain natural flavours and colours. The brand also lends itself to gourmet upmarket.’ Sounds simply sweetalicious.

We ask Joe to talk us through the first steps.

‘First, we worked with our initial developers, Tastehead, to get the ingredients, flavour, and consistency right. Once we were happy, we got samples and went out to seek our first round of investment. With that investment, we set up our own commercial kitchen in Hertforshire. We worked for eighteen months, making every product by hand. We had a team of six people working around the clock, and often we would go up and help churn the sweets out!’

And what about the first challenges?

‘Our first listing was WH Smith. We had an order from them to fulfil by the first of February, something like twenty thousand packets of sweets. We resorted to having shifts of our friends coming in to help us make sweets. My mates and I were in the Kitchen on Christmas Eve, another bunch of mates came to help on Christmas Day and so on, working around the clock. It was a lot of hard work and looking back I don’t know if I could do it again. But we learned a lot about product and had some fun too.’

But hopefully, two years on, Joe, his co-founder Nick, and their mates are exempted from a life of toil in the kitchen?

‘Now Tasty Mates are made in a factory,’ (Phew!), ‘where we can produce our candy efficiently and fulfil our bigger clients. For example, next month we’ll launch in a major department across America, Canada and Australia, an airline, and more.’

Joe’s journey through hell and high water must have given him lots of wisdom, and we ask him to share some of it with other entrepreneurs.

‘I think that understanding that your time doesn’t have to be fixed on 9 until 5 as an entrepreneur is really important. It’s definitely helped me. The second advice is to start engaging with people from early on. I met most of our investors years ago in complete random situations, and when the business came up I reached out to them. One of our new board members is on the Management Team of Ogilvy & Mather, the PR firm. When I was 17, I did a 1 week work experience there and was working under her. When we launched Tasty Mates, I emailed her for feedback and we stayed in touch. Now, we’ve brought her on as an advisor. So even when you’re younger, really connecting with the people that you meet is huge. Networking events are one thing, but I think the more authentic relationships often get you further because you don’t go in wanting something and they don’t come in wanting something from you.’

Joe is lucky to have a co-Founder who also volunteers ideas, and we suggest that having a network might be more important to single founders.

‘Big time. There’s nothing better than having a co-founder with whom to share both miseries and joys. If not a co-founder, it would be good to at least have a mentor or someone to go through that emotional journey with you.’ says Joe.

It is impossible to cross Home Grown without making connections, and we ask Joe if he has made many.

‘So many. One of the best things about this place is that people are really happy to talk and hear from each other. There have been some tangible things too, but it’s also just nice to come here and be at similar stages of your journeys, or learn from people who are way further ahead in their career, and offer you advice or friendly conversation. It’s amazing.’

Over our own conversations with other members, we’ve heard conflicting stories about small businesses working with large retailers, and we asked about Joe’s own experience.

‘Our first experience placing Tasty Mates in a large retailer was a great opportunity, but they required an outrageous marketing spend compared to the volume they were buying. What was worse was that they didn’t use the marketing spend correctly. One weekend, I visited five of their stores and none of them had what we paid for. I emailed them about it, but there’s not much you can do. We are a small brand, and we needed them more than they needed us. It got to a point where we managed to get lots of listings, and we didn’t need them anymore. In any case, everything depends on what you’re trying to get as a food brand. If we launched in Sainsbury’s, for instance, we’d have to commit to a certain marketing spend not so much because they’d require it, but because for us to get a rate of sale that is good, we would require it. I guess that, too, was a teaching experience: it prompted us to take a step back and think of a strategy. First, we build our brand, understand our market, build our reputation within their customer base, and only then we grow it!’

While we avidly munch on our Juicy Peach Tasty Mates (Oh so juicy!), our eye is caught by a detail: the candy we’re eating is vegan! But why vegan candy?, we ask Joe.

‘Two reasons: one is so all of our friends could eat the product, whether that is vegetarian, vegan, kosher or halal. Anything like that was very important to both me and Nick, my co-founder. We felt there was no need to put gelatine or beef or fat in a sweet, when it tastes just as good without.’ Better, in our opinion!  ‘Not that we shout about being vegan that much. We see ourselves as a gourmet gummy sweet that happens to be vegan,’ says Joe.

As Marketeers ourselves, we cannot help but ask about one effective marketing technique Joe has used for Tasty Mates.

‘Our aim is to promote meaningful moments with mates and the importance of being there for your friends and catching up with your mates, so a lot of our social media is around that. We’ve done that on a small scale, and one thing we’ll be doing next is putting this in practice on a much bigger scale. We want to be the driving force in food and drink of promoting Meaningful Moments with Mates,’ says Joe.

We’re sadly coming to the close of our interview, but before we break off, we want to know about Joe’s biggest achievements.

‘I think the first obvious one is listings. We’re collaborating with brands and retailers on creating flavours that portray their audience. For example, we’re speaking to a cinema chain for a popcorn flavour very specific to that brand, and will soon launch a collaboration with one of Britain’s (or the world’s) most loved cartoon characters! I also simply seeing people reactions to trying our samples. People overall really like the product.’

But we can’t let Joe go without first asking him about his experience at Home Grown.

‘Love it. I’ve been here since last September and have been coming twice a week. I use the club to meet people, work, have lunch. I love the food and meting people. It’s a really effective way of networking.’

With Tasty Mates, Joe has added a dash of fun and friendship to the candy market, reminding us that success can be just as sweet as a gummy treat. And with Home Grown’s support, our members are empowered to dream big, take risks, and create something special. Each week we sink our teeth into the inspiring journeys and creative insights of our talented members – can you guess who we’ll be interviewing next? Keep your eyes peeled to find out.

If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.