Scientists at the University of Greenwich at Medway, have solved a confectionery conundrum, which has helped a fudge company to expand its business and which looks set to boost its bottom line.
Sian Holt has been successfully running Jim Garrahy's Fudge Kitchen in the UK for 25 years. The company makes all its 20 flavours of fudge by hand in its shops, so customers can see it made and buy it fresh.
However, plans to supply the product wholesale to farm shops, delicatessens and other retail outlets have been hampered by the relatively short shelf-life of the fudge. Unlike many other types of fudge Sian's doesn't contain butter, which means that after it has been made it needs to be eaten within a week.
Determined to extend the shelf-life, Sian looked at many options including different packaging; however, none was successful. Then, following an internet search, she came across expertise available at the University of Greenwich and was put in touch with Linda Nicolaides.
The Natural Resources Institute
Food safety expert Linda Nicolaides is from the university's Natural Resources Institute (NRI), which is based at its Medway campus in Chatham Maritime. Together with Sian, she successfully applied for the Fudge Kitchen to be part of the South East England Development Agency's (SEEDA) Business Plus scheme, a knowledge transfer programme, which matches companies with universities to help solve problems.
Food technologist Julie Crenn, a recent graduate from NRI's MSc in Food Safety & Quality Management, was chosen to help with the research and received funding to try to help solve the fudge kitchen's shelf-life extension dilemma.
Splitting her time between the Canterbury shop and University of Greenwich laboratories, Julie looked at different natural ingredients that might help prolong the life of the fudge but she had a strict brief to follow.
Sian says: "We didn't want the appearance, taste or texture of the fudge to change as they are our unique selling points. The great part of having Julie work with us was she was able to be part of our team on site and learn about how a commercial enterprise works while at the same time putting her scientific expertise into practice to our benefit."
After extensive research, Julie recommended a change to the sugar levels in the product, which didn't affect its overall quality or taste but did allow it have a shelf-life of more than three weeks. Julie has now been teaching Fudge Kitchen staff across the country how to make the new recipe.
Sian can now wholesale her products to other retail outlets and restaurants and, if all goes to plan, within two years she should add more than £200,000 worth of turnover to Fudge Kitchen's bottom line.