Dorothy Bittles of Blackthorn Foods on the fudge-making company’s humble origins and how the business expanded
Blackthorn Foods was set up by my two sisters and I in 2004. We had previously worked together in another business so we knew that we worked well as a team, with our different strengths. At the time we all had young children so being self-employed was ideal.
It allowed us the flexibility to work the hours that suited us and also nip out for those all important things like sports day!
We weren’t initially sure what business to start. We are all cursed with a sweet tooth and had grown up making fudge with our father. In his retirement he had started making it for our local Post Office and had a small but loyal fan base.
We started trying different flavours and making things on a slightly larger scale. We took a pitch at St George’s Market in Belfast and tested out our flavours and the customers’ reactions.
We bought and renovated premises in Ballyhackamore. To be honest the next few years were daunting as we jumped from cottage industry to small business.
We continued to use pots and wooden spoons with each batch hand-beaten. We feel that this method, although extremely time consuming, is essential to keep the fudge as authentic as possible. It gives the fudge a texture that can’t be replicated with machinery.
Our recipe hasn’t changed that much either. We use no additives, trans fats or preservatives and while this might give a shorter shelf life it definitely gives better fudge. We have a staple range of about 11 flavours, which we add to seasonally. Six flavours have been awarded gold Great Taste awards. We recently launched our Fudge Fondue. This is an earthenware pot filled with fudge which is then heated to use for dipping or as a sauce. We have just secured a contract with Superquinn.
To begin with nearly all our business was in Northern Ireland but we soon realised there simply wasn’t enough to sustain the growth that we needed and we started to look at companies in the UK and Southern Ireland. Invest Northern Ireland put us in touch with the right people to speak to.
Now most of our business is outside Northern Ireland.
Over the last two years we have seen our sales increase by about 30%. This year has seen us secure several large hamper contracts and the last few months have been exceedingly busy. We have never regretted the decision to turn our passion for fudge into a business.