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Home / Business / Pandora Bell: A family voyage in search of confectionery perfection

Pandora Bell: A family voyage in search of confectionery perfection

This is not a food story about farms and forks, and luscious green pastures (we are Irish we take that as a given). The Pandora Bell story stems from a fascination with beautiful food and European Culture. This is the story of how the early purchase of sweets in a local corner shop led founder Nicole Dunphy to work with some of the world’s most prestigious food halls, designers and magazines.

In the pursuit of adventure, Nicole explored the sweet tradition of Europe. Rows of Pate’s de Fruit glistening in a Patiserie in France nougat being sliced – the wonder and luxury of Pandora Bell’s sweet food tradition. After training at the prestigious Valrhona École du Grand Chocolat in France, with further studies at the Italian Culinary Institute, Nicole set up a decadent confectionery label clearly influenced by the tastes of Europe.
Fine food shops and delicatessens in Ireland snapped up the first offerings from Pandora Bell. The reaction was astounding and fledgling Pandora found her feet within the culinary circles of Ireland. Then came the Bridgestone Guide, “Newcomer of the Year Award”. Here is what they said: “You want to see and taste perfection? Here it is, again. Nicole Dunphy’s salted caramels and nougats and lollipops are of a standard no one in Ireland has ever achieved’.

Followed by an Image Businesswoman of the Year Award and a medal at Blas na hEireann: The Irish Food Awards. Nicole was then named by Image Magazine as one of Ireland’s 100 most Inspiring Women, and, shortlisted for the Entrepreneurial Award in Bord Bia, Irish Food Board Awards. (AKA – The Oscars!)

Good design is key and Pandora Bell was chosen to exhibit at the “World’s Best Packaging Exhibition” at the Taste Festival Berlin. Speaking of packaging, Pandora Bell was also featured in the ‘Crafter’s Guide to Packaging Handmade Products’ an American book by Viola E. Sutanto.

Not short on glamour; Dolce & Gabbana has used Pandora’s Candy Canes to decorate their Boutiques in London and Milan for Christmas. And, Vivienne Westwood also choose Pandora Bell lollipops to launch her fragrance ‘Sunny Alice’.

Most recently, Pandora Bell was given an Innovation Award at the SIAL Exhibition in China and scooped five Coveted UK Great Taste Awards.

From humble beginnings, Pandora Bell confectionary is rapidly to become the face of luxury confectionary.
The Pandora Bell founder, Nicole Dunphy, credits her time in college studying arts history and literature as the foundation for Pandora Bell. Her studies gave background to the character as “she’s a girl interested in arts.” Nicole financed the company by working in nightclubs, and in the journalism industry but explains “I always wanted to run my own business, have my own adventure, my own project”. Nicole knew that one day this dream would become a reality. The Pandora Bell founder endeavoured to educate herself and master the art of the fine confectionary trade. This included cooking courses, and a gelato course in Italy, chocolate making in France, and barista courses at home. Along this journey Nicole picked up the tips of Europe’s sweet culinary trade.

Nicole remembers how she returned home with her chocolate moulds and started experimenting. Sometimes the sweet delights would turn out beautifully but others failed, Nicole kept at it saying that “to be able to understand quality is so important”. She took these skills and turned them into Pandora Bell, joking that otherwise all her travel would have felt like it was just a holiday.

For the entrepreneur, there was never a question of whether or not Pandora Bell would be a luxury brand. “If it’s not high end, you can’t really compete with huge companies” she explained, “and second of all my heart wouldn’t be in it”. In the early days of the business, exporting wasn’t considered as Pandora Bell started as a local shop. “We are an island, it does add a cost to export from Ireland”. Limerick is “nice, cheap, and reasonable to work from, especially in comparison to London where there is pressure to have to scale up and keep the wheels turning”. Keeping the company located in Limerick has worked quite well for Pandora Bell so far. Pandora Bell now exports to stores in the UK, Switzerland, Norway, and as far away as Australia. The company began exporting as the product is easy to work with, as it does not need refrigerating.

“When we started, it was with a few products; we had lollipops, nougats, and caramels”, Nicole says in regards to the early days of Pandora Bell. “I went to local stores and the main Irish food stores. People were very supportive of the young business. The food revolution in Ireland is only in its infancy.
From that point of view, it was a good time and the interest in food was there”, she said. Today the company conducts 30% of its business at home, with 70% of the product being exported. Pandora Bell now has “nice prestige clients” such as Brown Thomas, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, Kensington Palace, Dean & DeLuca UAE.

Pandora Bell’s unique selling points are firstly, that the ingredients are “the best of the field in confectionary collections”. They also cater to different diets to reach as many people in the market as possible. “We cater to special dietary requirements. We’ve a lot of vegetarian products, vegan products, and gluten free products”, Nicole explained.

So what is next for Pandora Bell Confectionery? “We are always looking for new partners and new distributors, we have representatives in different firms, including firms representing us in the US for the next few months”. As Pandora Bell is a luxury product, Nicole admits that they would have to expand to countries with a standard of disposable income. “There’s plenty of opportunity out there, it’s a big world and it’s great to be able to access different markets”.

“I think we’re nicely located in Ireland in that we’re so close to all these amazing countries”, she said with regards to being able to travel to and trade with different markets. “We’re in the right generation and era to be able to do it as well”.

Being an Irish company, Nicole says that Ireland is most known for beef and dairy products as opposed to luxury confectionary. “Luxury products are usually associated with France or the UK, so it is good to be known as European”, she says, as Europe is renowned worldwide its food. “To be part of that umbrella gives us a step up” she says.

The next step for Pandora Bell is to develop the characters story, as once they started working on the products, the Pandora Bell characters got “taken out of the equation”. “The story of Pandora Bell is something we’re trying to bring out now”, explaining that the company plans to bring out a backstory for her of her adventures, her travel and discovery of wonderful ingredients and decadent lifestyle.

With Christmas fast approaching, the question of how busy and how much will Nicole enjoy the holidays has to be asked. “What’s good is December quietens down for us, because the shops bought everything and they want to sell out, the main buying is October and November”, she explained. This allows Pandora Bell to enjoy the holidays and close for 2-weeks during Christmas.

As for advice when starting a business Nicole warns that “it can be frustrating but if it was easy everyone would do it”. She believes that discipline and making connections with people are highly important. She acknowledges that things move slower than expected, and that getting the buyers attention, and then getting them to actually buy the product can take some time. “Obviously there’s going to be challenges. You have to get out there and keep yourself fresh”, she advised. “It’s exciting as well, every year we are getting better”.

Article by: Aisling O’Connor & Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: Tarmo Tulit


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