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Fakenham sloe gin company attracts national recognition

PUBLISHED: 10:18 12 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:10 12 August 2015

Business Feature on Norfolk Sloe Company based in Fakenham - From left, Zoe Emmerson, Nicola Kershaw, Keith Emmerson, Pat Saunders, Will Kershaw, Leanne Kershaw and Sarah Saunders. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Business Feature on Norfolk Sloe Company based in Fakenham - From left, Zoe Emmerson, Nicola Kershaw, Keith Emmerson, Pat Saunders, Will Kershaw, Leanne Kershaw and Sarah Saunders. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2015

Patrick Saunders, 50, has turned his grandmother’s secret recipe for sloe gin into an unlikely business success story that has started to win national recognition.

The Norfolk County Council footpaths officer and his family are now blazing their own trail after seeing their enterprise, the Norfolk Sloe Company, singled out as one of 50 new food stars in a national awards scheme organised by Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

His wife Sara, 47, a teacher at Springwood High School, King’s Lynn, said: “It all began during the summer holidays in 2011 when we were talking about how we could supplement our pensions by starting a business. We thought it would be an interesting process to go through for the children as well.

“Patrick came home one evening with a bucketful of sloes and we decided that instead of just turning them into sloe gin as Christmas presents for family members, as we had always done, we would see if we could make a business out of it.”

Starting out with the recipe of Patrick’s grandmother, they conducted trials with different sweeteners and refined the product to sell.

All 300 bottles of the first year’s production of the traditional winter liqueur sold out inside three months and the couple found retailers, including Walsingham Farm Shops, were approaching them.

Mrs Saunders said: “The next year we wanted to increase production but unfortunately the sloe harvest was poor. So we added to our range and began producing liqueurs with plums, raspberries, damsons and blackcurrants as well.”

Using a converted garage at their home in Highfield Road, Fakenham, they produce the liqueurs using 60pc proof gin, sloes, sugar and “magic ingredients”.

She said: “It has to be shaken and allowed to infuse for three to four months. We taste test it until it is spot on. The finished product is 27pc proof.”

The business had been profitable from day one and had been doubling in turnover each year, she said.

She said: “It has become a real family affair involving our children Leanne, 21, Nicola, 18, and Will, 16.”

Leanne created the brand logo of the legendary Norfolk hound, Black Shuck, Nicola prepares financial forecasts, while Will has used his IT skills on the company website.

Mrs Saunders’ nephew Keith Emmerson and his wife Zoe have come on board, using the gin-soaked sloes as the base for chocolate truffles that have become a popular addition to the range.

Annual production has now reached 2,000 bottles and the family is preparing for the day when one or more of them works for the business full-time.

The products, which are set to be added to with strawberry and blackcurrant liqueurs, can now be bought at more than 10 outlets across Norfolk and Suffolk.

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