Creating a new food product takes creativity and skill. But it’s also a matter of timing, and market research, and labeling. This week on Food Matters, I told the story of a pastry chef who is finding that elusive sweet spot for his products.
It helps to be making a product that is pretty much universally loved…and everyone who has even a little bit of a sweet tooth would love D’Arcy Ladret’s products. He is the owner of Sugarboy Bakery in Victoria, producing a line of pastries and desserts and candies he sells to restaurants, some retailers and the public through farmers’ markets and private orders. No storefront, yet, but his already rising reputation got a nice boost by having one of his beautiful cakes show up as the main image on the cover of the most recent issue of EAT Magazine. The timing of Sugarboy came about at an accelerated rate. D’Arcy was working as the executive chef at a Victoria hotel that went into receivership, and he knew he was going to be out of a job. So the plan to some day open a bakery went into high gear, and that’s where the good timing came in: “I called up a friend to see if he knew anyone who was renting a commercial kitchen and he said, ‘I have a kitchen and it’s available. Right now.’ So we came up with a plan and moved into the kitchen and it’s great, more than I need.”
The friend was longtime Victoria caterer and gourmet food product manufacturer David Feys. It turns out he is also a longtime friend of D’Arcy’s and is proving to be a valuable mentor: “I met him when I was 15 years old when I was washing dishes at Sooke Harbour House. He was cooking there, Peter Zambri, Edward Tuson, it was a great breeding ground for chefs, I learned so much there. And I stayed friends with David all these years. He’s still around in the kitchen, he makes his crackers there, I help him with those sometimes, and we talk about running a business, new products, he’s been awesome.”
Sugarboy is trying to stand out from all the other cake and dessert makers in Victoria and the Lower Mainland with candy making. D’Arcy had been experimenting with making caramels, and has gone on from there: “After I had figured the caramels out, I started infusing them with different kinds of flavours, now I’m making lollipops, pillow mints, and marshmallows. I’ve been able to sell these items to retailers, but that means I’ve had to learn about labeling, packaging, nutrition information, best before dates, stuff I never had to deal with before when I was working in a restaurant, it’s been a lot of learning.”
The experimentation has resulted in concepts like Earl Grey and Rosewater flavoured marshmallows, fresh bay leaf tinged caramels, and pillow mints. He’s tried to think outside the traditional candy box by using some flavours from nature, sourced locally, instead of the artificial flavours and colours you find in most commercially produced candies. So he also has scented geranium and lemon verbena caramels, flavours he learned about when working at Sooke Harbour House.
Expansion Plans: If the right place came around where he could have a kitchen facility and storefront together, that would be great. There are certain pieces of equipment that would really help with the candy business. In the meantime, he will continue to build the brand by selling wholesale amounts to area retailers, and he’s very proud to point out that his wife has had the major hand in developing all the packaging and labeling for Sugarboy. So it’s all those things that have to come together to be a success…timing, branding, marketing and of course, a good product.