A SWEETS company is celebrating its 20th year in business by expanding into new markets in the Middle East.

Blackwood-based Bon Bon Buddies has become Europe’s leading supplier of licensed character and branded confectionary.

The firm was founded in 1993 in the front room of managing director Chris Howarth’s house, and has expanded its presence in Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain in the last six months.

In 2011, it began trading in the United Arab Emirates and has already grown its distribution presence there by more than 600 per cent over the last year. It is now hoping to expand into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Ukraine in the coming months.

Bon Bon Buddies now employs over 80 staff across its sites, which includes its 15,000 sq ft Blackwood headquarters, together with six dedicated sales and logistics facilities in Central Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Last year, it turned over a record £37 million through exports to 40 countries.

It is one of only two companies in Wales to be featured in the Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 League Table, which ranks Britain’s fastest growing international sales performers. Earlier this year, its achievements were recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade.

Mr Howarth said: “Even after the first year, when I turned over £120,000 with Thunderbirds-branded Christmas crackers produced for Woolworths and moved from my front room into dedicated premises, I didn’t imagine 20 years on we’d be working with some of the world’s leading entertainment and toy brands, or that we’d have six dedicated sales and logistics facilities across Europe and the Middle East.

“The Middle East is an important growth market for us. People who live there have a high disposable income, a propensity to consume confectionary and are also very familiar with the brands we work with thanks to access to a myriad of satellite TV channels.”

Bon Bon Buddies’ partners include Disney, Warner Bros, Nintendo, Mattel and Hasbro. Mr Howarth said: “Bon Bon Buddies never fails to provide excitement and new challenges – for me and for everyone who works here.”