Behind the scenes at Roly's Fudge: The secrets of their success
PUBLISHED: 12:58 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:07 04 September 2018
Many people know of award-winning Roly's Fudge, but do they know how much hard work and business insight goes into making it?
For hundreds of thousands of visitors to Devon every year, this region of England is iconic for its quaint harbor towns, rugged coastlines, and, of course, its West Country produce.
Cider, pasties, cream teas and fish and chips are all familiar staples of the traditional Devon diet - but nothing is more reminiscent of childhood memories on the coast than handmade fudge.
Down the cobbled roads and high streets of the region, occasionally a familiar name pops up – that is, if the indulgent smell of fudge cooking isn’t noticed first.
Originating from the West Country, Roly’s Fudge has a strong base in Devon. From Barnstaple to Plymouth, there are a number of family-run fudge pantries making fresh fudge each and every day, a scent that pours out onto the high street.
The process, taking up to two hours per batch, produces a particularly unique texture of the traditional English confectionery; crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth, it’s a taste that is popular with fans across the world.
But what has made Roly’s Fudge a national phenomenon? The story started over 30 years ago, in the 16th Century thatched cottage kitchen of fudge founders Peter and Lindsey Riley. Stumbling across the recipe book of Lindsey’s grandmother, they recreated the traditional fudge recipe using pantry staples butter, milk and sugar.
Learning to make it on a wide scale process, Peter and Lindsey practised pouring it out directly onto their sterilised kitchen table. Purchasing an old copper cauldron from an antiques shop in Honiton meant they could make kilos of fudge at a time.
This 150-year-old recipe is still the hallmark of nearly 40 Roly’s Fudge Pantries across the country. All the shops are run independently by families, meaning each shop has its own distinct look and feel.
“Roly’s Fudge still maintains that rare family feel,” says founder Peter Riley. “We credit this to the loyalty, innovations, and huge endeavours of our individual franchisees, to whom the business owes a large degree of its success.”
The process of artisan fudge making is a mesmerising experience, capturing the attention of children and adults alike. First the fudge is slowly cooked in a large copper pan. Then it’s poured out onto our solid marble slabs whilst still hot, where it cools quickly.
Using a paddle, the fudge maker will stir the fudge on the table before carefully forming it into a baguette shape. By now it is setting into shape and can be cut into slabs and pieces, ready to eat.
The traditional, unhurried handmade methods give the confectionery product the unique texture that remains core to the Devon-born company today. Roly’s Fudge continues to be family-run and operated in the heart of Devon.
“Our slogan is ‘it’s crumbly!’ - that’s because it’s what new customers say when they try it for the first time,” explains Dannee, who helps run Roly’s Fudge today.
“We’re more aware as a nation what goes into our food. It’s something we’re very honest about as a company – no artificial flavourings, colourings or additives go into our fudge. We make our fudge with real butter, milk and sugar.
“Then we add as high quality ingredients as possible. So for instance, in our Rum ‘n’ Raisin Fudge, we don’t add any flavourings or additives – we pour dark rum straight into the pan and add handfuls of juicy raisins.”
The proof is in the pudding: recently Roly’s Fudge won 11 awards from Taste of the West, for flavours varying from Vanilla Clotted Cream to Sea Salt Fudge.
It follows on from their 30th anniversary last year, where they won the top award in the entire confectionery category for the new flavour Salted Maple and Pecan Fudge.
So where does fudge go from here? It’s a mix of new and old for Roly’s going forward. The company stays current to market trends with limited edition varieties of fudge flavours released every day in each shop, like the two award-winning flavours Peaches and Cream and Florentine last year.
But equally as important are its traditional values. “We take great pride in having an unaltered recipe with next to zero food waste.” says Dannee. “We even ‘recycle’ our fudge crumbs – they either go into the next batch of fudge, or we sell them as little crumb bags which are loved by children and baking enthusiasts for cupcakes and ice cream!”
“Almost all of our packaging is fully recyclable, including our plastic bags, but we’re still working to improve that even more. At the Steam Fair we have a lovely lady who visits us year upon year with a Tupperware container and asks us just to fill it up to the top with fudge. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could go back to that way of living?!”
A new addition has been the dairy-free vegan range, introduced at the start of 2018. Made using the traditional method, the recipe substitutes butter and milk for organic coconut oil, cashew butter, and soya milk. It still has the same crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The range has been fully accredited by the Vegan Society and comes in two different flavours, Dairy-Free Salted Maple and Pecan and Dairy-Free Maple and Cashew.
“Dairy-free vegan fudge has been high on our agenda for several years, but it was hard to get it right,” says Dannee. “It had to still be our melt-in-the-mouth and crumbly taste - which took months of work and product testing to get right. But the response has been incredible!”