Covid-19 seemed to spell the end for micro-business FudgePots, but lockdown saw some unexpected opportunities. Co-founder Catrin Thomas-Price tells the story of an unusual venture in unusual times...
Picture: © www.GoodSixty.co.uk
The two founders of FudgePots, Rita Som and I, started off just under two years ago, making and selling fudge in farmers' markets and food festivals. The plan now is somewhat different – to supply premium and exclusive shops with luxury-packaged fudge. The process has already begun and I can tell you, it's a long journey from standing in wellies in open fields, delivering sales patter to passing punters, to the comfort of packing up regular shop deliveries. (No more 5am starts – imagine!) .
CURRIED FUDGE - A WORLD FIRST
The business began when Rita (of Bengali heritage) and myself (all-Welsh) decided to combine my mother's fudge recipe with Rita's knowledge of Indian cuisine. This produced what we think is the world's first "curried fudge" – a mix of rich, buttery gourmet fudge flavours with ingredients like cardamom, cumin, and Bengali spices. Nobody knew what the flavours were (Mishti Masala and Panch Phoron mean, literally, "spiced sweets" and "five spices") but they attracted crowds from the outset, first at farmers' markets and then at food and drink festivals.
A SECRET RECIPE
The exact cooking methods were our special secret. My mother's recipe creates fudge of exceptionally high quality, with a melting interior beneath a fine, glossy surface patina. As well as Rita's exotic flavours, we offered traditional fudges like Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate Orange, and Christmas Cake, plus a very popular Salted Pistachio.
In an interesting twist, younger customers often came to try the exotic flavours, but ended up buying Vanilla or Chocolate (they are delicious, after all). While, for older people, the reverse was true - I lost count of how many grandmothers insisted they only wanted Vanilla fudge, but once they'd tried the Mishti Masala (made with turmeric and cardamom), ended up buying that instead.
VEGAN CUISINE FROM OVERSEAS
Rita's knowledge of Indian cuisine also led her to create unusually good vegan fudges. These are made with coconut instead of dairy ingredients, which makes sense if you think about cooking in a hot climate like Bengal, where dairy products go sour very quickly. It can be difficult to achieve vegan equivalencies, but Rita made no compromises: her knowledge of plant-based cooking skills means the FudgePots vegan range is as fine as the dairy.
At food festivals, so many customers – vegan and non-vegan – tasted and bought the vegan Chocolate Coconut, it actually outsold the traditional dairy Chocolate. The comment we constantly heard was: "Gosh, you wouldn't know it was vegan."
LOCKDOWN -- THE END OF FUDGEPOTS?
After such an exciting start, lockdown seemed at first to spell doom for FudgePots. April 2020 was a terrible month: one by tortuous one, all the food and drink festivals we'd pencilled in – our main source of income for the business – cancelled, or postponed, or postponed and eventually cancelled.
A SILVER LOCKDOWN LINING
Lockdown created new shopping habits for everyone. First, people began to order more online, and to make use of local schemes such as contactless Click & Collect markets. FudgePots gradually took more and more orders, both via their own website, their local Click & Collect scheme and also the artisan food website GoodSixty.co.uk. Sales have increased steadily ever since.
Then, FudgePots' increased online profile eventually attracted the notice of several established shops and, in particular, a new and highly successful local farmshop, www.foragefarmshop.co.uk which we now supply on an ever more regular basis.
This led us to new ideas . . .
LUXURY FUDGE FOREVER
With no food festivals to attend, I had time to make use of the help offered by Cywain, the business support scheme for start-ups in Wales. I had heard of them before, but the excitement of launching the business and then going to all the festivals left very little time for anything else. Now, along with some very useful workshops and training, Cywain financed a wonderful new brand design especially for FudgePots, which is due to come in shortly before Christmas.
The new motif includes a glamorous hint of peacock feathers, in recognition of the business's beginnings; the peacock being the national bird of India. As well as the bags of fudge currently available, FudgePots will offer plush, luxurious boxes of fudge. The boxes themselves will be rather desirable and gorgeous, and the finished item will be highly suitable for special gifts and after-dinner treats.
We may also have some excitingly celebratory (boozy!) flavours such as Prosecco and Mojito, to help the festive season along and perhaps provide some fun stocking-fillers.
I wish lots of luck to all other entrepreneurs out there, and I hope that ours is not the only start-up to have experienced a silver lining to lockdown. When the food festivals start up again we still intend to go to a few, to meet our customers in person and get their immediate reactions to our unusual flavours.
There is no substitute for this, in my experience; and there is no better feedback than seeing that expression of joy pass over a customer's face as they bite into, say, a lump of Chocolate Orange fudge that is so much more delicious than they expected. FudgePots fudge is not for children - it is fudge for connoisseurs!
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