A local confectionery company is celebrating after a cash boost of £92,000 has helped it to grow its operations, hire more staff, and break into new markets.

Established in 1998, Cramlington-based Sweet Dreams is a family-owned chocolate and confectionery maker – led by husband and wife team, Matt and Cath Stephenson – well-known for their best-selling Choc Nibbles treats.

The funding comes from the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA), headed up by Metro Mayor Jamie Driscoll, and the European Regional Development Fund. The grant has enabled Sweet Dreams to create jobs; buy new machinery; and increase its product range to include chocolate bars as well as plans for vegan and plant-based products.

Matt Stephenson, said: “It’s the first time we ever had any support… Our chocolate bar line wouldn’t have happened without NTCA’s investment. We’ve got an exciting thing here – and the new funding took the pressure off. Adding to our ability to offer chocolate-coated confectionery, we now have a state-of-the-art depositing line, that can produce plain bars, bars with inclusions and even plant-based vegan options.”

During a recent visit, the elected Mayor saw the chocolate production process in full effect, meeting workers in the company offices and on the factory floor – including some of the new staff funded by the NTCA award – operating out of their base in Admiral Business Park.

Sweet Dreams owners, Matt and Cath Stephenson, with Mayor Driscoll

Sweet Dreams owners, Matt and Cath Stephenson, with Mayor Driscoll

One of these employees is Darren Andrews, who joined the company in a brand-new role. A former car mechanic, Andrews is now being trained in the production and maintenance of high-speed, high-quality production lines. At the end of his training, he will be an expert chocolatier, who can then pass on his knowledge to other new recruits – with Sweet Dreams paying for his training and exams.

Speaking about the change in career, Andrews said: “Having many years of being a mechanic, this opportunity allows me to apply my existing skillset to the engineering department, while also giving me an insight into an exciting, and quite rare skill, of being a chocolatier. Sweet Dreams have big plans – and it’s great that I am part of this, right at the start”

As well as new workers like Andrews, the funding will also help Sweet Dreams to expand their manufacturing space into a new factory next door, installing power outlets for machines, creating four new production lines – these will include more depositing capacity, One Shot Moulding as well as hollow mould technology, and an additional ten jobs. Sweet Dreams is a national living wage employer and hire on a permanent, not seasonal, basis. “I’ve got really good people here”, continued Stephenson. “I’m proud to be in Northumberland.”

Mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “Nobody wants to see local companies squeezed out of our high streets and business parks. That’s why we set up the North of Tyne Growth Fund. We want to help local small and medium sized enterprises to grow, to create jobs, to put money back into our region. It was great to see how Sweet Dreams is thriving with support from North of Tyne funding. I’m keen to see what happens next for them.”

Being a small family company in a space dominated by global brands has helped the Stephensons to carve out Sweet Dreams’ niche, working with everyone, from big name High Street retailers to small independent brands that are more creative and innovative.

Mayor Jamie Driscoll in a white coat and hair net holding a bar of chocolate with Matt Stephenson

Mayor Jamie Driscoll with Matt Stephenson

With ‘White Label’ products – produced for other companies – making up about 40% of Sweet Dreams’ outputs, their size means they can take on smaller, more creative jobs that bigger companies would refuse: “If someone wants to put unicorns on just 5,000 bars, we have that ability”, Stephenson says. For Stephenson, manufacturing runs in his blood. His father had two successful packaging businesses in the North East, and inspired the entrepreneur in him. “I don’t want to take over the world. I just like making things”, he added.

The £92,000 award was made from the ‘North of Tyne Growth Fund’ – set up to support small- and medium-sized enterprises across Northumberland, North Tyneside, and Newcastle to create employment opportunities and stimulate business growth.

Run a small- to medium-sized business in the region and looking to expand? You could be eligible for a grant of up to 30% of capital expenditure. Find out more via https://www.northoftyne-ca.gov.uk/support/funding-opportunities/.