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HR advice proves critical as chocolate manufacturer pivots to an online service during the pandemic

Following a dramatic fall in sales of 60% at the start of the pandemic, Cramlington-based chocolate manufacturer, Sweetdreams, turned to The HR Dept Newcastle for guidance on constantly evolving government advice, whilst also pivoting its business model to adapt to differing customers needs and new routes to market an online operation.

Sweetdreams, is a leading UK confectionery manufacturer and panning and coatings specialist, that makes the popular retail brand, Choc Nibbles, as well as supplying high quality confectionery to leading retailers throughout the UK.

Managing director, Matthew Stephenson, said: “We had to adjust and adapt to the lockdown, without knowing how long it would last or what affect it would have on Sweetdreams. Knowing The HR Dept Newcastle would manage key people issues, including the furloughing of all staff, meant I could focus on the commercial aspects of the business.

“Since 2017, we had seen significant growth across the business and in March of this year we were 20% up in turnover from the previous year, with that set to continue.

“Then came the pandemic. As an essential service we could not shut down but I immediately furloughed all 16 staff, except myself. Like many other businesses, we did not know what to expect next.

“Our customers are traditional sweet shops, independent retailers and leading UK high street stores and this market disappeared with the closure of the shops.

“During the first week of the lockdown I didn’t sleep, my only focus being to save the business and that meant pivoting our offering almost overnight. “Being a smaller, more agile business, meant we could look to new opportunities and markets, whilst also working closely with our customer base on what they needed, whether that meant smaller production runs, product innovation or just someone to talk to.

“It was this entrepreneurial, flexible approach, that allowed us to get back on track very quickly and by the end of April we secured a large, one-off contract to a major UK food brand, as well as creating a new online sales channel via Amazon and our own website www.sweetdreamsconfectionery.com.

Dovetail this with a strong customer base which was also reacting positively to the challenges they were facing, enabled us to come out of this period profitably and allowed us the time to bring furloughed members of the team back to work.

“April, saw our production turnover drop by 60% but by the end of May we were close to last year’s numbers and, thankfully, June started to show growth again. During this time, we worked very closely with The HR Dept Newcastle, whose hands-on advice and expertise was critical when it came to planning. We covered everything from a doomsday scenario to growth.

“At a time when it was heads down, the constantly evolving government advice could have been overwhelming, so it was crucial we had clear and consistent HR advice. Our team at The HR Dept Newcastle provided us with precise and very timely information, which meant the implementation process was superfast.

“Without this essential external support, I fear we may have been distracted from our key strategic goal of restructuring our business delivery model. This was an excellent partnership that was tested to the full during what was a time of unparalleled pressure and has assisted us to save the business and move forward with even greater confidence.”

The HR Dept Newcastle was established in 2014 by director, Jayne Hart and is part of a national franchise of HR Depts across the UK, Ireland and Australia. Jayne and her team of HR advisors provide outsourced HR and employment law advice and support to small and medium sized businesses in the North East.

Jayne Hart, said: “Matt’s story is one of resilience. Like all businesses, large or small, we have all had to adapt rapidly to a new business climate and a level of uncertainty which none of us have been through before.

“The team have worked closely with Sweetdreams and all our clients by keeping on top of government guidance and translating it in a way which was easy to digest. “I have also tried to be there for clients by simply listening to them and understanding their needs. I am a small business owner going through exactly the same thing, so I can relate.

“It is of huge satisfaction to see how we have supported and added value to Sweetdreams and we will continue to do so in the months ahead.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by The HR Dept .

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