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Kent Personalities

Taste Kent Meets Sian Holt, Founder of Fudge Kitchen

No trip to Canterbury is ever complete without popping into Fudge Kitchen to marvel at the skill of the fudge makers and pick up presents and decadent treats for the family. Taste Kent meets founder Sian Holt to learn more about this dynamic brand.

Tell us about Fudge Kitchen and why your flagship store is based in Canterbury.

Fudge Kitchen is handmade, premium confectionery innovation. It is also 35 years old. The original business model was seven shops in Bath, York, Cambridge, Canterbury, Windsor, Edinburgh and Oxford, where we still make authentic, fresh whipping cream, ‘slab’ fudge in front of the customer. In2012, however, we developed a gourmet butter fudge range with a much extended shelf life, which meant we could supply other retailers and target such markets as exporting, hotels, restaurants, cafes and own label. This parallel wholesale business is based in our Aylesham production facility – a hotbed of experimentation, which has since launched over 60 products across 6 ranges, including Drinking Fudge, Fudge Sauces, our Delectables,’ luxury Caramels and Brittles and a wide range of themed and single flavour fudge selections. Our branded, bespoke and own label products can be found in over 200 stockists across up to 20countries, including such foodie arbiters as Selfridges, Waitrose, Harrods, Lakeland and Fenwick.

While all our shops are equally important, being close to the ‘mother ship’ has meant that the Canterbury shop has played a practical role in our growth. Indeed, before we opened our production facility, it was here that all the NPD work behind the creation of our butter fudge range took place. Which was a lengthy process. Recreating the same handmade, all-natural creamy-texture of our original fudge but with a longer shelf life, took three years to achieve. Canterbury was also where our Fudge Sauce and Drinking Fudge came into being and it is still where all our ‘slab’ fudge speciality orders are put together – whether for wedding orders or the bespoke Build-a-Box orders from the website. Given that the shop staff totals 5,working in 500sq m of floor space, they are a busy bunch.

You’ve partnered with lots of other Kent food business, why is it important to you?

Using the best ingredients is the important bit for us and Kent happens to be awash with exciting producers and artisans creating incredible products and authentic ingredients. Of course, we are very proud to be a part of the Kentish food and drink scene and keen to support our fellow producers and to source locally from an environmental stand too, but we look for the best and luckily are well placed to not have to look too far. Our past partnerships have included creating fudge selections using the exceptional products of Debonair Tea Company, Kentish Lavender from the Hop Farm, Biddenden Vineyards, Anno Gins and Nip from the Hip; and we supply Simply Ice cream with brittle offcuts which they magic into an amazing Peanut Brittle ice cream.

What do you think makes Kent food and drinks so interesting?

It’s a unique combinationof elements. The climate and geography that make for some of the finest produce– whether that’s apples, vines or lavender – and that gave us the Garden of England moniker which is at the heart of Kentish excellence. With that history has come a rich legacy of specialist producers, building on age old skills, facilities and simple sage knowledge of how to grow or harvest or make. With these small industries comes innovation. We independents can make products in small batches often in our own production facilities, so have the flexibility to experiment and be creative. And creativity really is a Kentish characteristic, as a result. I recently joined the board of Produced in Kent and have been staggered by the amount, the variety and the quality of new producers coming through the pipeline. So it looks like a tradition that will thankfully stick around.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Across 35 years, there have been quite a few, but some of the most memorable highlights include buying out Jim Garrahy in 1985 to start the serious business of streamlining and developing the business. It was a scary move, gratefully supported by my parents, but the rest was indeed history. Opening our own production facility in 2012 has to be the next FK milestone. It marked a point of serious growth for us and opened up so many new opportunities in terms of markets and products. It has tripled in size since then. Being listed by such foodie benchmarks as Selfridges and Harrods was fantastically affirming and, most recently, we were thrilled to be invited to host a month long Christmas 2018 pop-up in the famous Fifth Floor Foodmarket in Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge; and to create a seasonal Harvey Nicks limited edition fudge for them too. Moments like that are reassuring indicators that we’re doing itright.

What should Kent’s food and drinks businesses be doing to raise the profile of Kent as a whole?

Such organisations as Produced in Kent, Visit Kent and the Kent branch of the IOD do a wonderful job of promoting, uniting and supporting our producers and local food retailers and restaurants within the county and beyond, and establishing a strong community that, in turn, has created a very strong Kent identity. We are very much known as a foodie county, with both a history to trade on and a future to embrace in the emerging wealth of new innovators. Long may they keep up the good work. The Kent Food & Drink conference, now in its 2nd year, is a wonderful example of this, bringing everyone – agencies, producers and all –together to network, learn and discuss the issues of the day.  I would highly recommend anyone who has any touch point with food, to attend.

Further afield, however, in my role as Kent Institute of Directors’ ambassador for Food and Drink, I have been privileged to attend various DTI and Kent County Council events promoting UK exporting, including meeting the Mayor of Calais in 2017 to help promote Kent across La Manche. This is one key route for global awareness-building of Kent’s finest and we are extremely lucky in this county to have plenty of council and governmental support to access, including local and personal International Trade advisors, and a local council that has run many seminars, trade visits and funded exhibitor trips across Europe and beyond.

What can we look forward to in 2019 from Fudge Kitchen?

We are in the midst of aradical overhaul of our ranges and our packaging, which is very exciting. It started last year with a rebrand of the shops and of our e-commerce website; and continues this year with a beautiful repackaging of our brittles and caramels range and of our themed fudge selections, giving them a range unit yand a contemporary uplift. The products and flavours across all our ranges arealso being carefully curated to offer a wider span of targets in design, pricepoints and flavours. And we will continue to innovate, spot and pick up onemerging trends to create unique products including free from and vegan, East Asian flavours and the vintage trend that refuses to go away. Too early to sayhere but watch this space to find FK produced products in some new and exciting flagship UK stores, along with more international spread as we have just appointed new distributors in Germany and Canada.

We’re very excited by our 2019 NPD output and are hoping to add to our seventeen Great Taste Awards and -fingers crossed – a World Food Innovation Award for our finalist Chilli and Lemongrass Peanut Brittle.  A busy, but exciting time, in short, which marks a confident and contemporary Fudge Kitchen coming of age.

Sian Holt, MD Fudge Kitchen

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AJ is a food writer, editor and PR.