By Steve Downes
Monday, January 7, 2013
The wide range of innovative small businesses and the prospect of a boom generated by offshore windfarms are making north Norfolk’s business bosses confident about the coming months.
If you could bottle the recipe for success, then a pair of north Norfolk people would have some ingredients to add to the mix.
For John McFarlane and Georgie Rodwell have turned a good idea into a brilliant business – and grown its turnover by 400pc in a year.
They officially launched Norfolk Cordial at Houghton Horse Trials in March 2011, and are already supplying their fruit drinks to Fortnum and Mason and Morston Hall.
The business partners are very much rooted in Norfolk. One of the straplines on the bottles is “love life, love Norfolk – love the little bit of Norfolk in this bottle”.
But Norfolk Cordial, which is based at Roughton, has an influence and reach that is growing across the UK.
The Norfolk touch includes apples and raspberries all grown in the county.
Mr McFarlane said: “We only use fresh, real fruit. We don’t buy concentrates. We believe that the combination of fresh, slightly salty sea air, rich soils and summer sun make the fruits and flavours of Norfolk some of the best in the country.”
The business, which achieved turnover of £80,000 last year – up from £19,000 in 2011 – produces a number of flavours, including:
rhubarb, orange and ginger
strawberry and lime
redcurrant and grapefruit.
Mr McFarlane, who hails from Cape Town in South Africa, said the business began “in Georgie’s mother’s kitchen”, adding: “She made cordial for the Walpole Arms at Itteringham, which she worked in. I saw a gap in the market.
“I took the elderflower recipe and Georgie showed me what a flower was. She went sailing for five weeks and I made 3,000 bottles. I sold it to as many pubs as possible.”
Mr McFarlane said: “We made another four flavours and reinvested. All of the money for the business has been self-generated.
“We launched at Houghton with a retail size and a catering size, then at the end of 2011 we brought out mini packs. On our first birthday in March 2012 we launched ourselves in Fortnum and Mason.”
At the beginning, Mr McFarlane was running the King’s Head at Holt. While the cordial business bedded in, he began to work three days a week as a waiter, plus for a catering company at weekends.
Ms Rodwell was an accountant, but the pair have now both been able to dedicate themselves full time to Norfolk Cordial.
The business now has almost 200 clients, and Mr McFarlane said it was all about “finding a niche”.
He said: “The drinks are meant to be ones that you pour for yourself in the evening and enjoy like a glass of wine.”
The last six months saw the district’s key tourist trade hit by an income downturn as visitor numbers remained high but people kept their hands in their pockets.
And there was a low point when Cromer Crab Company closed down after almost a year of uncertainty for a workforce that at one point numbered 230.
But, despite the double disappointment, the signs are good for the coming year, according to Ian Doughty, chairman of North Norfolk Business Forum.
He said: “There was quite a lot of footfall this summer, even though the weather didn’t help. The footfall created buoyancy in the accommodation sector but people were not keen to spend money.
“Nonetheless I think there’s a confidence that the tourism offer is strong. And I think the mixture of smaller businesses produces a resilience that you don’t get in intensely urban or industrial areas.
“These things always have an impact on individuals and families, but in terms of the wider economy, the resilience of the north Norfolk economy has been demonstrated.
“The general level of employment has remained relatively stable.”
Robin Smith, economic development manager at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), said: “We saw between 20,000 and 25,000 fewer copies of our north Norfolk tourism guides called for this year.
“Tourism accounts for between 17-19pc of our total employment. But it looks as though spend was down from £390m to £343m.”
In recent months, Sheringham Shoal offshore windfarm has begun to operate, with Dudgeon windfarm set to follow in the future.
There is hope that the renewable energy industry will attract skilled workers to the area - and linked businesses.
Tom FitzPatrick, deputy leader of NNDC, said: “We are using offshore as a way to kickstart inward investment. Norfolk and Suffolk lost out in the 1960s and 1970s when most of the offshore gas and oil development went to Aberdeen. We are determined to not miss out this time.”
Mr Smith said: “We’ve long been regarded by regional and national players as a remote, inaccessible place to do business, but it’s quite the reverse.
“We’ve become one of the most important investment and development areas for wind energy. Hopefully aspiration will centre around an industry that requires a higher level of skills in engineering and development. For the first time, north Norfolk can say there’s something truly new to its economy.
“Young people no longer need to think only about low-waged, low-value added work. It could be a beacon for north Norfolk.”
Mr Fitzpatrick highlighted as a positive the arrival of Waitrose at North Walsham, with the store opening on November 29 and providing 125 full-time equivalent jobs.
He added that the closure of Cromer Crab Company was a “big blow”, but said a good number of its workers had been taken on elsewhere, and that work was at an advanced stage to support a local seafood producer to absorb the crab and lobster production locally.
Mr FitzPatrick was also hopeful about the future of two largely redundant former industrial sites at North Walsham - HL Foods and Crane Fruehauf.
Crane’s would soon be the site of Roy Davenport’s Magic Kingdom, while NNDC was “closer than ever” to a solution for HL Foods, with the aim of a mixed development of homes, shops and light industry.
Mr Smith said there were “many reasons to be positive” about the next six months.
Around 2,000 Tesco workers discovered their jobs were at risk after the supermarket giant disclosed the locations of 43 store closures including two in Essex - a Homeplus store at Chelmsford and a smaller store in Heybridge.