For this month’s Big Interview, Kiran Grewal sits down with Fudge Kitchen MD, Sian Holt, who tells Kennedy’s Confection all about the brand’s sustainability plans, company ethos and how they celebrated 39 years in confectionery.
Give us a background on Fudge Kitchen. When and where did it start?
Back in 1982 my parents knew an American called Jim Garrahy. He owned a fudge business that he wanted to expand, so asked me to set up a shop in the UK. We opened the first Fudge Kitchen shop in Blackpool in the 1980’s. It was such a success that we soon expanded into Bath, York and Canterbury.
I took over as UK MD in 1995, and we embarked on the journey that has got us to where we are today. Thanks to our amazing people and delicious fudge, we survived two recessions in the 80’s and 90’s, we more than doubled the range of flavours and continued to establish new branches.
Just after the millennium I took the business online, and we began trading at shows and events. In 2010 the call to wholesale our product had become too loud to ignore, but our traditional slab fudge was freshly made with a short shelf life. We began product testing a new longer life fudge range, that was still handmade in small batches using natural ingredients. Our butter fudge launched in 2011 and we’ve continued to innovate ever since.
What does sustainability mean to you and to the business?
At Fudge Kitchen we are for people and the planet. We believe our products should not only taste good but feel good too. For me, sustainability is about ensuring that we can continue to grow steadily, whilst making a conscious effort to reduce our environmental impact in every aspect of the business. Last year we developed an internal ‘Green Team’ to tackle sustainability head on and make sure that the planet is at the forefront of every decision we make, no matter how big or small.
Going forward we are committed to ensuring our products are 100% palm oil free, packaged sustainably and produced using ingredients from ethical suppliers. As well as this, we’ve partnered with B1G1 who aim to tackle both social and environmental issues close to our hearts. Through our partnerships with B1G1 and Fareshare, we’ve ramped up our support for community and social causes in the last few years. In 2021 we raised over £15,000 to support those facing food inequality, provide emergency covid relief in India, and over 800 weeks of community support for older people in the UK.
What developments have you made to improve your sustainability credentials?
In 2021 we took a leap and underwent a complete rebrand with sustainability at its core; our mission was to prove that sustainability and luxury really can go hand in hand. All our packaging is now fully recyclable, and in some cases compostable. We put in the due diligence to really ensure we were using the latest innovations in sustainable packaging, including small changes like switching to plant-based inks and water-based glues, but also to understand the complexities of the packaging life cycle, and where we can make the greatest impact.
We also reviewed our supply chain – looking at where we source our ingredients and what the human impact is, and took steps to make all future products feel as good as they taste. This began with trailing UK-grown beet sugars as an alternative to the traditional cane sugar grown overseas, and in early 2022 we made the switch to Casa Luker, Columbian chocolate – a single origin chocolate supplier committed to fair and ethical production. These are the first steps in educating ourselves and our customers in the importance of transparency, and making active choices to do better, for both people and the planet.
At Fudge Kitchen, we have always prided ourselves on leading the way with new & innovative flavours in luxury confectionery. Last year our NPD team mastered vegan-certified coconut ice, chocolate-covered honeycomb, and launched a new vegan toffee fudge with the same rich creaminess of our traditional whipping-cream fudge. We even developed our own in-house nut ‘butter’ as part of the new recipe!
Why do you think it is important for confectionery businesses to take further action in terms of sustainability especially with ethical sourcing?
Confectionery is a longstanding and important sector for both self-treating and gifting, but it hasn’t had a very good reputation for sustainability and environmental practices historically. With the emergence of artisan brands, the impacts on people & the planet have been higher on the agenda and many start-ups now put this at the heart of what they do.
I think as business owners, regardless of sector, we have a responsibility to consider the impact we’re having on the planet longer-term and do all that we can to minimise that impact. That’s why we are sourcing our packaging and raw ingredients from the UK where possible, and making sure any overseas suppliers produce in an ethical & transparent manner.
As an artisan confectionery brand, our ingredients are what make our product stand out from the rest. That’s why it’s so important to know where those ingredients are coming from, how they are produced and by whom. We strive to make our business a happy and enjoyable place to work, where people are treated fairly and paid well – so it only seems right to make sure we’re working with other businesses and suppliers who do the same.
What does a typical day at Fudge Kitchen look like?
Busy! We don’t stop. We have a fairly streamlined team, and I’m still very much in touch with the day to day running of the business. The rebrand has taken up a lot of my time in the last few months. I wanted to make sure the look and feel was just right. We’re also in the process of overhauling our digital management systems to make sure the business is operating as efficiently as it can. I spend a lot of time at Fudge Kitchen HQ in meetings with the shop teams, wholesale team and digital team; and now that events are back up and running, I’ve been attending some of the big events in our industry.
No two days look the same as there’s always something different happening. We don’t rest on our laurels, so there is always a ‘what next?’ mentality in the way that we work. One thing that does keep me grounded and remains consistent is my morning dog walk! It gives me that time and space to clear my head… or think up my next big business move!
How did you celebrate 39 years of business?
On 4th and 5th April this year, the entire business took two days off for our first ever Fudge Goes Formal event. We all spent two days in Windsor, kicking off with an awards dinner and dance followed by a day of competitive fudge making activities! It was fantastic to get everyone together from all parts of the business. As well as celebrating 39 years in confectionery, it was also a great opportunity to recognise the hard work, dedication and strength of the whole Fudge Kitchen team. Every member has played a part in successfully driving the business forward in the last few years.
The tradition of getting the shop teams together annually is a long standing one. With our shops so widely spread across the UK, it’s important to take the time to get the teams together. This year we collectively applauded our survival throughout a pandemic and celebrated all that we have achieved, from a re-brand to making great headway along our sustainability journey.
Why did you think it was important to celebrate the employees and create a formal event for everyone?
The business has gone through a lot of change in the last few years, and our employees have had to remain resilient in the face of covid-19 and all the restrictions that came with it. Apart from our production site, all other sections of the business had to close and we were all working remotely for a long period of time. Being able to throw our ‘Fudge Goes Formal’ event was an acknowledgement of the sacrifices people have made and a celebration of all that we have achieved in the last few years.
Our business is split across three main teams – shops, wholesale & e-commerce, and it’s always been important to maintain a connection between them. We do this digitally through weekly meetings, but being able to hold our Fudge Goes Formal event felt extra special since we’d all been kept apart for so long due to restrictions.
What is the best piece of advice you received and from who?
The original Jim Garrahy – from whom I bought the UK business – had a simple, succinct and genuine purpose: ‘Be nice to folks and keep it clean’. It’s still at the core of what we strive to deliver today. I like to think we have some great relationships, from customers to wholesale to brand partners. I think being nice (but fair) in business is what has propelled us forward.
We endeavour to ‘keep it clean’, with our high-quality natural ingredients, transparent and honest working relationships and by putting sustainability at the heart of what we do. Jim was a great inspiration to me in the early days, and I like to think we’re doing him proud with everything Fudge Kitchen has achieved.
Where do you see Fudge Kitchen in 5 years’ time?
World domination – we will settle for nothing less! On a serious note; I’d like to comfortably and sustainably grow the business across retail, online and wholesale focussing on our three brand pillars of ‘product, people & planet’. We want to continue bringing delicious, innovative confections to customers in the UK and beyond through a 360 experience. At Fudge Kitchen we’ve always embraced retail theatre and offered fudge making experiences in our stores, but I aspire to one day have a space big enough to do this on a much larger scale.
Editor: Kiran Grewal firstname.lastname@example.org