Founded by Oonagh Simms who was inspired by the Parisian’s passion for the confectionery treat, the Marshmallowist is the first producer of gourmet marshmallows in the UK.
After studying as a chocolatier in Paris, what made you decide to focus your business in producing marshmallows?
Well, I originally trained in chocolaterie and patisserie. I adored every early morning, burnt fingered, flour faced part of it. When I returned to London I worked for a luxury chocolate company but I loved experimenting with confectionary for myself. In Paris, fruit marshmallows were a common sweet treat in patisseries and luxury food stores- but not in the U.K. I loved them and spent evenings playing with different flavours- inspired by cocktails or unusual desserts pairing herbs and spices with seasonal fruits. The marshmallow recipe I created is perfect for carrying flavours because it doesn’t use egg white and is soufflé like in texture so you can taste the different layers and notes of the flavour develop as you eat them.
At what point did the idea turn from a concept into a reality?
I managed to blag a weekend market pitch on Portobello Road and began selling my marshmallows. I would make them when I got home from work and sell them on a Saturday. At first it was just a way of me testing new marshmallow flavours (and making a bit of extra money) but very quickly the marshmallows started getting a lot of attention- Vogue Magazine, Harpers Bazaar, the BBC. Soon after Harvey Nichols asked if they could start stocking them. That was 5 years ago and now I have my own bakery, a small team of Marshmallowists and we’re growing more than I could have ever imagined.
You have achieved so much for a young team, is your age an advantage or a drawback?
I think both age and gender are a challenge. I have a team that I employ and it’s always noticed that when we have meetings or visitors to the kitchen, my kitchen manager who is male will be assumed to be the boss- not me. Also, being a chef by training meant that the first formal meetings I attended were not under the mentorship of someone more senior. It was me negotiating as a company owner. I always assume it’s a good thing- my drive and passion for the product isn’t about just the numbers it’s about representing my craft.
The product is beautifully produced using the highest quality, fresh ingredients, how do you ensure consistency as you grow the brand?
Quality is non-negotiable. I will turn down projects and commissions if I think they will compromise the quality of what we do; we haven’t taken the supermarket contracts or the brand dilution. It’s also important to grow a team around you that care about the brand as much as you do. I spend a lot of time training. Taking the time to try other products, develop our recipes and keep all our skill levels up.
What future challenges and developments do you foresee in the food industry?
The sugar tax is something that everyone thinks must worry sweet companies but I genuinely think it’s a good thing. I will never be ‘anti sugar’ but anything that encourages people to become more conscious consumers and question what actually goes into their food should be celebrated. I see a lot of companies making quite spurious claims about their product being ‘natural’- when they are selling something that is ‘candy floss’ flavoured. I hope the sugar tax spurs more confectionery companies into selecting their ingredients with care rather than just heaping in the sugar and colourings.
What are the current trends in the marketplace and do you see this changing anytime soon?
Certainly in confectionery there are two definite camps at the moment- the raw cake, avocado ice cream movement and the unicorn Frappuccino, edible glitter kitsch pleasure seekers. Both seem to exist in parallel.