Award-winning fudge makers Glen and Rhonda Houston of Granny Shaw’s Fudge in Co Antrim are hoping for sweet success for a novel food venture shaped during the lockdown.
The couple, from Ahoghill in Co Antrim, has just established Granny Shaw’s Trading Post in Ballymena for their handmade, hand-cut kettle-churned fudge and also added dozens of local foods handcrafted by other artisan producers to the shop. It’s an innovative business venture influenced by the outstanding success of Trader Joe’s Market in the US, a dynamic, customer focused and marketing-led group of neighbourhood grocery stores in California and other states.
Trader Joe’s is headquartered in Monrovia, California and a leader in “fresh format” grocery stores. By November 2019, Trader Joe’s had over 503 stores nationwide in 42 states and Washington DC.
The enterprising local couple previously owned Northern Ireland’s only fudge factory and visitor centre, Granny Shaw’s, on the historic Glenarm Estate in the Co Antrim village. “While we loved the setting in the estate and were well treated by the team there we became concerned about the impact of the coronavirus on footfall from tourism and especially the many events organised there including the hugely successful Dalriada Festival,” Glen, originally from Lisburn, explains. Granny Shaw’s os a Food NI member company.
“Tourism has effectively dried up for this year and mostof the events have been postponed. We just had to move to a location which offered greater numbers ofshoppers and thereby enable us to sustain and grow our business. I’d always been keen on running my own food business. Granny Shaw’s Trading Post is a dream come true for both of us,” he says.
They quickly found premises in Ballymena’s Tower Centre. “This gave us an opportunity to review our business model, strengthen our appeal to shoppers and thereby ensure our long-term future,” he says.
Encouraged and assisted by brother Cliff, who has vast experience in food retailing, the couple opted to carry the Granny Shaw’s identity into the creation of the new trading post that’s run by Rhonda.
While fudge continues to feature strongly at the shop, Glen and Rhonda grasped the opportunity to introduce many of local artisan producers to Ballymena town centre. It’s initiative that has attracted support for local producers who also see the potential of an attractive location at the heart of one of Co Antrim’s most popular shopping hubs.
The new store brings together some of the best food products around. Apart from trays of fudge, of course, the shop includes Erne Larder’s Bacon Jam and Ketchup, Amber Catering and Cakes, Papas Mineral Cordials, Ruby’s Fine Foods, Kennedy Bacon, and Long Meadow Apple Cider Vinegar.
There are also cheeses, sausages, oils, balsamicvinegars and curry sauces. Glen describes it as a one-stop shop for fine food excellence coupled with a friendly customer service.
To be ready for the re-opening of shopping centres last week, they kitted out and stocked the shop in just three weeks, a measure of strength of their commitment to their new business venture.
“We are immensely excited by the trading post because we believe it’s something very different in Ballymena,” continues Glen, a talented flautist who also runs a music management business. Sons Ross (20) and Jake (17) have both studied the instrument at the prestigious James Galway Flute Academy and are continuing their academic studies.
Selling fudge has brought the couple into contact with dozens of other artisan traders. They quickly saw the business potential from Northern Ireland’s vibrant artisan food sector which has also won international acclaim.
The company’s unique identity and fudge recipe comes from Rhonda’s grandmother. “We all loved her fudge and were also influenced to start Granny Shaw’s by the remarkable growth in artisan foods here over the past decade. It began as a bit of a hobby but soon moved up a notch due to the very encouraging feedback we received from our participation at food markets such as the hugely successful Causeway Speciality in Coleraine,” he says.
He continues: “Our fudge is handmade using the freshest ingredients and creamy Irish butters in a range of flavours. The fudge doesn’t need to be refrigerated and keeps at its best for up to six weeks. In addition to growing sales here, the company also receives orders regularly from international customers. The fudge has also been recognised for its taste and quality in the influential UK Great Taste Awards.
Rhonda’s management skills and dedication led to a shortlisting in the Ulster Tatler magazine’s Business Woman of the Year Awards last year.