AT a time of economic doom and gloom across the land, the sweet smell of success has arrived at the door of one new shopkeeper.

Humbug Confectionery owner Neil Bonner said his first year of trading has been so successful he is set to open a whole range of new stores across the area.

The credit crunch has seen depression-hit citizens turning to a sweet treat according to Neil who opened his store, in Station Road, Epping, last year.

“It's gone amazingly well,” he said. “I've turned the business into a franchise now so anyone can buy into the brand.

“We have hopefully got a shop opening in Kent at the weekend and five by the end of the year.

“We've had such a good response from the local people. Everyone still comes in with massive smiles on their faces, and they tell you all about all the sweets they used to eat as children.”

With businesses failing across the land, Neil seems to have hit on a rich vein of commercial success, and is confident he hasn't bitten off more than he can chew.

He said: “I've been very fortunate. When I started off it was the height of the depression and the economic downturn. Everyone said: 'What are you doing? You can't open a sweet shop at this time,' but we did it and it's been the best year I've ever had.

“We have now got a range of over 500 jars. We started off with around 200 so it's more than doubled.”

With a wide circle of regular visitors, Humbug Confectionery even has its own dedicated fanclub with more than 300 members joining a Facebook appreciation group.

“That's just a bit of fun really,” said Neil. “A customer of ours set it up. I was gobsmacked by it. There's so much positive stuff on there.”

After a year of successful trading, and with hundreds of varieties of sweets now on show, Neil still favours a traditional favourite as his bestseller.

“It's got to be a toss up between an aniseed twist and a cola cube,” he said. “The old classics never die.”