Glen Houston, the managing director of Granny Shaw’s Fudge in County Antrim, is excited about what 2022 holds for the award-winning manufacturer of classic and flavoured fudge.
The company has just moved into a new factory at Broughshane and is developing a range of authentic Victorian-style sweets as part of a £50,000 investment in growth.
The family business, which is owned and managed by Glen and wife Rhonda, from Ahoghill, is developing the new confectionery product capability using rare recipe documents dating back to the late 19th century, a golden period for toffees and hard sweets.
Traditional Victorian sweets included fudge, marzipan, liquorice allsorts, jelly babies, brandy balls, clove rocks, pear drops, coconut ice, marshmallows, bonbons, chocolate limes, toffee or wine gums.
Granny Shaw’s already has a host of fudge flavours in its successful portfolios and is now producing toffee.
The ambitious business has recently completed its biggest ever single investment in essential equipment from a leading manufacturer based in Chicago, which will increase its overall versatility and efficiency for the new confectionery products.
“We had been considering how best to diversify our existing and successful fudge business by adding novel products when I came across a batch of Victorian confectionery recipes that fitted in with our existing focus on premium products,” Glen explains.
“We subsequently experimented with some of the recipes and produced small batch samples of the sweets for family and friends to try.
“Positive reactions to the samples encouraged me to explore how we could produce them for both local and export markets.
“We knew we would have to invest in state-of-the-art machinery for the scale of growth we hoped to achieve,” he adds.
Creator of the first genuine fudge factory, at Glenarm Estate in County Antrim, one of Northern Ireland’s most enterprising country estates, Glen turned to the internet and other sources for help in pinpointing suitable and flexible equipment to manufacture the premium quality confectionery he wanted to expand the business.
The company already includes Granny Shaw’s Trading Post, a unique retail outlet in Ballymena that sells its extensive fudge range and other food and drink from local artisans.
“The research found an experienced business in Chicago which makes the equipment which would enable us to produce a wide range of premium confectionery quickly and cost-effectively in attractive packaging,” continues Glen, an accomplished flautist with a successful background in entertainment management.
“I contacted the manufacturer and learned a great deal about their operations. They were also keen to do business with us and supportive of our plan to create a variety of authentic confectionery from the 19th century.
“Our first batch of new confectionery is likely to include tablet fudge from an old-style recipe that dates back to the 1860s. There’s also scope to manufacture dipping sauces and hard and pulled confectionery,” he adds.
A vegan and dairy free range of fudge and tablet toffee, he says, will be launched in the next few months when the new machinery settles it. Fudge production has already been transferred to the new factory.
Mid and East Antrim Council also encouraged the venture by helping Glen find a suitable factory at Raceview Mill business complex, outside Broughshane, a picturesque village in County Antrim that’s near Ballymena and also close to the motorway network for the supply of ingredients and the distribution of finished product throughout Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Belfast harbour and airports for exports.
The company’s unique identity and successful fudge recipe came from Rhonda’s grandmother.
“We all liked the fudge and were also influenced to start Granny Shaw’s by the remarkable growth in artisan foods here over the past decade,” Glen explains.
“The new confectionery will be handmade using the freshest ingredients as is the case with all our fudge.
“In addition to growing sales here, we also receive orders for varieties of our fudge regularly from international customers,” he adds.
The company has won a UK Great Taste Award for its handmade, hand-cut kettle-churned soft fudge and traditional made tablet fudge.
It has developed a broad range of flavours, including salted caramel, chocolate, raspberry ripple and even bubblegum for children in a variety of bag sizes.
The new sweets will also join the fudge in the company’s Granny Shaw’s Trading Post in Ballymena’s Diamond Centre.
It’s an innovative retail venture influenced by the outstanding success of Trader Joe’s Market in California and other US states.
Glen and Rhonda have brought the dynamic, customer focused and marketing-led approach of the top US neighbourhood grocery store to Northern Ireland.
The retail outlet is also in line with the growing trend, particularly among younger consumers, towards specialist food stores.
The new factory is also being developed with tourists and other visitors in mind.
The couple saw the potential of fudge production when the factory was at Glenarm Estate, a successful magnet for visitors especially at hugely popular events such as the Dalriada Festival.
They believe that a visitor centre at the factory could become a popular attraction for people interested in fudge and confectionery from another era.
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