Christmas can often make people ponder about the perfect balance between family life and work, but one festive focused baker believes she has the right ingredients in place to achieve it.
Jo Evans, alongside husband Richard, set up Devon-based Christmas Pudding-maker Figgy’s in 2007, making 100 traditionally handmade puddings for sale at local festive events. A decade on the couple expect to sell around 5,500 this year to customers across the UK and Europe.
“I was a marketing manager approaching my 30s and I was keen to get a bit more control over my life and get out of the nine to five grind,” Jo explains.
“I wanted to set up my own business but didn’t know what to do. I’d been making Christmas Puddings for years for my friends using a mix of two of my grandmothers’ recipes and everyone told me they were so much nicer than the “much of a muchness” supermarket versions. So, myself and Richard made a first batch of 100 and took them to a Christmas event to test the market. They sold out really quickly!”
Exporting to Europe
Jo set up a website to build orders and demand but remained in full-time employment. “The beauty of the internet is that when you start a business you don’t have to jump in with both feet. It is not a massive risk as you can build your product but also have that full-time wage as a security blanket,” she explains.
“We’ve been very careful in gently building the business up. We have never taken out loans or had any outside investment. We earn and then we re-invest.” It was only after the birth of her second child in 2010 that she gave up her job to fully focus on Figgy’s.
“I found that two kids, a full-time job and a business on the side was too difficult so I took the entrepreneurial plunge,” she recalls. “Richard gave up his civil engineering job two years later to join me.”
The business has grown via appearances at local events, word of mouth and the website with orders steaming in from the UK and Europe.
“It’s all direct to consumer sales so we can maintain quality and maximise our profit margins. We have had approaches from a variety of large retailers to stock our puddings but it can easily become a volumes game and we worry that quality will be affected,” Jo says.
The couple make the puddings – full of local produce such as Devon Port Stout and Somerset Cider Brandy – in their own bakery during the summer to allow the necessary time to mature. They are steamed in traditional ceramic bowls using ambient pressure for up to eight hours rather than the quicker pressure-cooked option favoured by the supermarkets.
In addition, they hand wrap the puddings and their bowls in a cotton pudding cloth. They do hire some casual staff but mainly for helping out at Christmas markets. “We could have mechanised and upscaled and made tens of thousands of puddings and perhaps the time for that will come in the future,” Jo says.
“But at present with our kids aged seven and 10, I believe the work life balance is more important. I want to be there for them while they are young.”
The seasonality of the business makes that easier. “Christmas is obviously our biggest sales season and we manage our cashflow expectations like many seasonal businesses in Devon. In the early months of the year I take stock, plan for the next season and enjoy time with the family,” she explains.
Of course, families are also at the centre of Christmas and Jo believes Figgy’s is playing an important part in keeping the traditions alive. “There are a lot of reinvented versions of Christmas Puddings in the supermarkets these days, but they still have that mass-produced flavour and texture,” she says.
“We are helping people rediscover a lost product and the joys of traditional baking and cooking. It’s not about cheapness and quickness. It is about quality and enjoyment.”