The glint in Liam Burgess’ eye rarely goes away. The 23-year-old’s achievements over the past 5 years are on a scale that few young entrepreneurs could boast but it’s not his style to be dwelling on past glories. His sights are set firmly on the road ahead as he continues to grow his chocolate company at an exponential rate.
Over the past five years he has gone from making chocolate in his mother’s kitchen to becoming a significant employer and the force behind a product and brand that is now visible across Wales and well beyond. A big part of that success is the bright-eyed enthusiasm and energy that Liam and his band (average age 20) bring to the task of making and selling chocolate. Notwithstanding his obvious business acumen, Liam’s joker-in-the-pack charm is an essential part of the NOMNOM brand and his sense of mischief is never far away – as we found out when we visited him at his base in Llanboidy, near Whitland.
"I grew up next to a chocolate factory in Bournville and then when we moved down here we were over the road from another chocolate factory. It’s a pretty strange story – but what got me into chocolate was that I kept getting kicked out of schools. I found myself working as a teenager in food and drink locally and I completely fell in love with the whole community around food in Wales. From there I fell in love with making chocolate.
"Grown-ups maybe don’t know what they’re talking about as much as you’re led to believe when you’re younger. The best thing about young people is that they are not grown-ups and they don’t realise the things that ‘can’t’ be done so they just do more stuff because they don’t know what they’re doing. We are total proof of that – we’re completely naive in what we do and so we approach things without any baggage and it's worked - without any grown-ups – but now we are at a point where we need grown-ups. So I’ll have to accept that one.
"We didn’t have anything at the beginning at all other than a £3,000 loan from the Prince’s Trust. We went out and bought the kit but I actually had to return it and get a refund so that we could buy ingredients. The cash was non-existent and I remember being completely terrified, but about a month later everything felt completely different and fine. After maybe a year and a half of having no money that became just like a natural state and everything kind of worked. We were constantly outgrowing everything. We were in a kitchen on a caravan park for £30 a week and from there we came to the cowshed and converted it. It used to be the home to 60 cows – I kind of liked that. From that £3,000 loan, 3 years on we now have 17 rascals working here and produce 250,000 chocolate bars a year and each and every one is handmade and wrapped by hand.
"There isn’t any better place for young people to start businesses than food and drink in Wales. It’s so accessible. I started by making little chocolate truffles in the kitchen in my mum’s house. So I didn’t have to pay any rent or anything and it’s naturally grown from there. Food and drink is natural to people and works on all levels. Because it’s about simple great ingredients, and because of the abundance we’ve got here it’s a very realisable thing – to start your own food and drink business here. The thing about food and drink businesses with young people at the heart of them is that most of them are creative and a bit wild because again they don’t recognise any boundaries, they don’t know what can’t be done. Even though we’re wrapping thousands of chocolate bars a day, not the most stimulating thing, everyone here is really creative...we’re not there yet, be cause we’re so busy we can’t not wrap the bars and go and do other cool stuff, but as we grow we’ll be able to explore ways in which we can all – yes, come to work, but can explore our dreams and passions too.
"There is definitely magic happening in Wales right now especially from a younger company of people and especially in food and drink. There is just this whole culture of confidence with the attitude of 'yes!' this is the best place in the world to live and work. This whole bunch of people that are kind of similar to us and all bring something to the party...all of this energy is there to make great stuff happen and it’s about that business community being cooperative and connecting with each other. And that’s what's exciting right now because we’re just about to do that I think."