Granny Shaw’s in Ballymena invests in the past for an even sweeter future

Granny Shaw’s Fudge, an award winning manufacturer of a range of original and flavoured fudges, is expanding its product portfolio to include authentic Victorian confectionery in an investment of around £50,000.

By Sam Butler
Monday, 10th January 2022, 1:00 pm

Granny Shaw’s Fudge, an award winning manufacturer of a range of original and flavoured fudges, is expanding its product portfolio to include authentic Victorian confectionery in an investment of around £50,000.

The family business, which is owned and managed by husband and wife team Glen and Rhonda Houston, from Ahoghill, is developing the new confectionery product capability using rare recipes from the 19 th century. Typical Victorian sweets included fudge, toffee, liquorice, marzipan, marshmallows, soft sweets such as jelly babies and hard sweets including clove rock and pear drops. Glen is not disclosing yet the sweets he’s planning – apart from new Irish whiskey flavoured fudge.

The ambitious enterprise has recently completed its biggest ever single investment in essential equipment from a leading manufacturer based in Chicago which will increase versatility and efficiency for the new confectionery.

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Glen Houston of Granny Shaw’s Fudge pictured in the trading post in Ballymena

“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 wished to achieve.”

Creator of the first genuine fudge factory in Northern Ireland, at Glenarm Estate in Co 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 successfully the small business which also includes Granny Shaw’s Trading Post, a unique retail outlet in Ballymena that sells the company’s 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 also 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 toffee from an old-style recipe that dates back to the 1860s. There’s also scope to manufacture dipping sauces and hard and pulled confectionerys.”

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 is being transferred to the new factory.

Mid and East Antrim Council encouraged the venture by helping Glen find a suitable factory at Broughshane, a picturesque village that’s near Ballymena and also close to the M2 Motorway network for the supply of ingredients and the distribution of finished product throughout Northern Ireland, to 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.”

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.