Name: Sian Holt
Job title: MD
Company: Fudge Kitchen
Twitter url: @fudgekitchen
Linkedin url: sian-holt-6b71a02b
Tell us about your job/company/role?
Fudge Kitchen opened its first shop 35 years ago, introducing authentic, premium, whipping cream fudge to the UK for the first time and re-educating a consumer used to mass-produced, preservative packed, seaside fudge. Since then, we have grown to seven shops (and a pop-up in Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge in the run-up to Christmas), have opened and expanded a production facility and developed a wholesale arm to the business. I love being involved with every aspect – from product development, which is so key to the Fudge Kitchen brand, to being part of a shop team picking up on their enthusiastic buzz and I can still be found in an FK pinny, offering samplings or manning show stands; ultimately you learn most from speaking with your end consumer.
We have fudge-making artisans that moonlight in bands, as comedians, as active am-drams. Our AGMs are quite an event!
What drew you to working in the confectionery industry? (Apart from the free chocolate!)
I was always going to end up in business. My parents are serial entrepreneurs and my degree was in Business Studies and Management. I had just left university, however, when an American family friend decided to open a fudge-making shop in Blackpool and asked for my help researching the viability of the business. ‘Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen’ was born and would eventually become ‘Fudge Kitchen’, after I bought Jim out in the early 90’s. Working with a treat product is a treat in itself: bringing indulgence and joy to everyone, and confectionery is also an exciting place for innovation, which is a defining aspect of Fudge Kitchen.
What do you love most about your job?
The people that I work with, unquestionably. In spite of spanning nine sites, from Edinburgh down to Canterbury, the Fudge Kitchen team is a fantastically fun and loyal family and all have added creative dimensions to them, specifically selected to engage with our customers or creatively input to our NPD. We have fudge-making artisans that moonlight in bands, as comedians, as active am-drams. Our AGMs are quite an event!
What do you dislike most about your job?
They say that imitation is a compliment, but when we have spotted opportunities, pre-empted trends, put in the NPD legwork, taken all the risks, to then see our products or packaging copied – inevitably without the same commitment to quality - I don’t always appreciate the flattery!
What is your biggest creative achievement so far?
My two daughters! Second to them, developing our butter fudge range in 2012 was an exhaustive project, but one that opened up a literal world of opportunities. The aim was to develop a fudge of the same quality and unique texture as the whipping cream, ‘slab’ fudge, hand made in our shops, but with a much-extended shelf life, so that we could supply other retailers and hospitality companies. It took four years to perfect, but was the seed for over 90 products, selectively supplied to over 200 high end retailers and exported to some 15 countries; and to creating own label and bespoke products for the likes of Selfridges, Harrods, Whittards and Hotel Chocolat.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
In business terms we’re not so much seeking bigger, but always certainly better and in these uncertain times, our focus is to ensure we have a stable and sustainable fudge ship for the 80+ staff now on board. Personally, perhaps I will have a little more time to do all that travelling I’ve still got to do!
Describe a typical work day.
I’m not sure that I ever have a ‘typical’ work day. With so many facets to the business – wholesale, own label, on and off-line retail, manufacturing, product development – and with the seasonality attached to producing gift confectionery, my days can vary wildly. Generally, however, they start with a good amble through local woods with Skip our dog.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Apart from walking with our dog, I like to relax with a good book or an addictive box set. I can get drawn right in!
What do you think will be the next big thing in the confectionery world?
Environmental issues such as food waste in production, sustainable/low waste packaging and the use of palm oil, will become increasingly important concerns, informing consumer choices and demanded from the producer. In NPD terms, functional ingredients, from kefir, kombucha to cannabis look set to continue to develop and flourish; free-from is now tinkering on mainstream driven by the trend toward vegan, while product partnerships by specialists will also grow in this climate of artisan provenance and ingredient authenticity. For example, we have created fudge with local micro-distilleries, vineyards, lavender farms and tea blenders, and now have vegan certification for our Drinking Fudges and Smooth Chocolate Classic Fudge. Watch this space for further development to come here.
Apple or Android?
Android every time! Apart from anything else, why develop a system where you don’t have a backward delete button!
What is your favourite book or podcast?
I love a bit of sci-fi or fantasy. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials had me transfixed for weeks. But my treasured copy of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, gifted to me at my graduation by my father, is always around the bedside table somewhere.
Where do you stand on social media – can’t live without it, or an evil necessity?
From day one. Fudge Kitchen has been about engaging with our customers. Still central to our shops, our ‘retail theatre’ approach – making and explaining traditional fudge in front of our customers –was devised as a means to involve them, entertain them, differentiate us and grow a loyal, invested customer community. Social media expands on that central ethos, so is critical to us. We want our fudge community to feel special and included, so communicating directly with them, taking them behind the scenes, breaking news to them and extending offers through our social media platforms ticks all our brand value boxes.
If you could change one thing in the confectionery industry, what would it be?
What’s to change? Confectionery is a vast feel-good industry and is accessible to all levels of business from home-based one man start ups to well established huge conglomerates who offer enormous choice to consumers for every snack, self-treat and gifting occasion you can think of.
What’s the biggest misconception about working in confectionery?
We all eat lots of it?!
What advice would you give to other people looking to get into the confectionery industry?
Just start! Be focused, be unique but be more than different – be the only one who can deliver what you offer.
Time’s up! Thanks Sian
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