WHAT started as a happy accident over a wee tipple has fast grown into global operation, for one North East firm set to toast success in 2018.

Besos Food and Drink has seen turnover go from £22,000 in its first year to a potential £1.5m in this, its third year in business.

The Barnard Castle operation specialises in a range of products – including liqueurs, milk and a world first with its vegan milk chocolate - that derive from the ‘tiger nut”, a tuber that is harvested from the roots of the tiger sedge, a plant grown and farmed in Seville, Spain.

With support from NBSL, via the North East Business Support Fund – part financed by the England European Regional Development Fund – the firm has launched its website and a programme of digital marketing to raise awareness of its products.

So positive has been word of mouth, managing director, Peter Smith, is moving the firm into larger premises at Shildon and is working with the Department for International Trade on plans to open Besos bases in New York, New Zealand, Germany and Israel…all a far cry from the Spanish kitchen that first sparked the idea for the business.

He said: “My wife and I had lived in Spain for 22 years and suddenly she suffered a heart attack. She was placed on a strict diet, with regulated alcohol. One night she requested a brandy, which I got her, but when she asked for another, I decided to add a little of the Spanish drink “Horchata”, made from the tiger nut. It was delicious and an idea was born.

“I made it for a few people and they all thought it was incredible, so I took it to a huge conglomeration in Spain to try and sell it. The chap I spoke to said I was wasting my time as they get hundreds of people contacting them every day. I convinced him to taste it…that chap works for me now!”

Peter put Besos Food and Drink into production and it made 1,800 bottles of the liqueur “Besos de Oro”, which translates as “Golden Kisses”, in the first year, which equated to a turnover of £22,000. Such was the appetite for the product, that grew to £202,000 in the second year and should a potential deal prove successful, that will rise to £1.5m this year.

But the Besos isn’t resting on its laurels. Peter has created three distinct elements of the business, the liqueur operation, which is available in different flavours like mint and orange; tiger nut milk production, set to be huge as the product is among the “superfoods” encouraged by nutritionists; and a new product that is a world first: vegan milk chocolate.

“Vegans currently eat dark chocolate, but milk chocolate is out of bounds,” said Peter. “We have found a way to combine the tiger nut milk with the ingredients of a chocolate bar and it is delicious with the added benefits of being lactose, gluten and nut-free!

“We cannot stand still. While we were the first to recognise the potential of the tiger nut, others are catching on, so as well as Besos de Chocolat liqueurs and vegan milk chocolate, we are also working on a vegan chocolate creme egg!”

Peter is quick to recognise the role NBSL played in the company’s growth. He said: “Around 80% of businesses fail in their first year. Of those surviving the first 12 months, 15% fail in the second year and then another 3% go under in the third – in short, very few organisations want to help SMEs until they’re viable and established. NBSL is not like that.

“Without them, we could not have afforded the website and online marketing we undertook over the last couple of years. After we got the firm online, we suddenly took something like £120,000 in new orders… so thanks NBSL!”

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