Tentatively bent over a tray into which she is pouring liquid fudge from a shiny chrome cauldron, there is no time to waste for Sian Holt.
In the near future, her company Fudge Kitchen will start selling branded products into Waitrose for the first time. Later this year, they will also begin supplying confectionery to all 400 English Heritage sites.
As another tray of fudge comes out of the cooker, Mrs Holt comes out with the revelation this is actually a quiet time of year for the business.
Fudge Kitchen managing director Sian Holt at the company’s factory in Aylesham Industrial Estate
After a “very good Christmas”, the firm has scaled back production from two shifts a week to one, with staff numbers reduced to a core team of 11, down from 25 during the hectic last six months of the year.
Between now and March, the focus turns to finalising new products coming out soon. It is also a key time for negotiating orders with current and potential customers.
“We are on the cusp of one or two significantly larger orders,” said the managing director from Lyminge, whose company has taken on a new lease of life since opening its factory in Aylesham, near Canterbury, in 2013.
Despite long-running interest from retailers, the business had never before been able to sell its freshly-made fudge, which only kept for a few days, beyond its shops.
Fudge Kitchen now sells its products in Selfridges
It all changed after two years of product development launched a range of long-lasting butter fudge in 2011, which could be stocked for up to nine months.
Launching its production facility two years later, the fudge-maker has doubled turnover in each of the two years it has been open.
Revenues from wholesale have risen from £150,000 in their first year to more than £500,000 last year. In the last three years, turnover for the whole business has grown from £1.4 million to about £2.2 million, driven by new ideas and the factory at Aylesham.
“New product development and butter fudge has taken us in all sorts of new directions,” said Mrs Holt, whose firm supplied “hundreds of thousands” of pieces of fudge to Hotel Chocolat for its selection boxes last year.
Harley Williams makes sure the latest batch measures up
It produces own-label fudge for Selfridges “in quite a large volume”.
It is setting up a permanent concession in the retailer’s Birmingham store soon.
“The difficult thing is to get to be a supplier in the first place. Once you are, it is up to you to keep putting enticing products in front of the buyer so they still want to list your range.”
Boy, has Fudge Kitchen done that. The company has launched more than 60 products within three years, all inspired by customer requests.
Rhianne Jones mixes ingredients
Tania Silva adds a stencil to the fudge
Wendy Adcock operates a fudge slicing machine
“The development of our flavours is totally customer driven,” said Mrs Holt, who took her firm to international confectionary trade fairs in Cologne and Paris last year.
“We were asked by a lot of Scandanavian potential clients for a liquorice fudge so we imported liquorice syrups from Denmark.
“We developed a cardamom fudge for a customer in Dubai. It is delicious. Middle Eastern customers want products that contain elements of the flavours they like, such as rose water, cardamom, cinnamon and pistachio.”
Founded in 1983 as Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen before changing its name in 2010, the firm has been famous for its shops in Canterbury, Bath, York, Cambridge, Windsor, Edinburgh and Oxford, where it freshly prepares treats for customers in store.
The Fudge Kitchen team at the factory in Aylesham Industrial Estate
After undergoing its wholesale revolution – which has taken its typical shelf life from a few days to up to nine months – the company is spreading its confectionery wings to produce caramels dipped in chocolate for the first time.
The three items in the range, which include a brittle, will be launched at the end of the month. “It has been a real departure from what we have been doing up to now,” said Mrs Holt.
“There aren’t many people who are producers, wholesalers and retailers.
“We don’t want to change who we are. Even if we have larger orders to fulfill we still want to be hand producing in the quantities we are now. We will just have to make more batches.
“We don’t have any intention to turn ourselves into a factory. We want to remain true to who we are.”
Managing director Sian Holt
Fudge Kitchen set up its Aylesham facility with a £300,000 grant from Expansion East Kent, a cashpot from the government’s regional growth fund which is run by Kent County Council.
After spending most of the money on equipment, the firm has since expanded into the unit next door as production increased and they needed more storage space.
With business going so well, and a couple of potentially big new orders on the books, it might not be long before the firm is looking for more financial support.
Mrs Holt said: “We are just at the point where we are probably able to hold our own.
“If we were to grow organically, doubling our product and turnover as we have been doing over the last year, we would be able to handle that because we have adequate space.
“If we get access to larger customers through these international trade fairs, we might find ourselves needing more funding.”