When did you first fall in love with food and drink?
All through my childhood, I spent summer holidays with my grandparents in Italy. It was there that I first fell in love with food and drink, learning that the best recipes had only very few ingredients but of excellent quality. I’ve always applied this learning to all our Folkington’s recipes.
I didn’t go straight into a food and drink career, however. While I would have liked to be a classical musician, I first went into the business world - training as a chartered accountant, and then going into banking for a few years. I went on to become the CEO of a greeting card publishing company.
It was in 1998, when I was yet again on holiday in Italy, that I made a decision to start importing Italian food and water. Thirteen years later, I launched the Folkington’s brand.
How did Folkington’s come about?
In 2011, the notion of provenance was almost non-existent in the world of fruit juice, which came from a commodity background.
So I reckoned that if the entire wine industry was built upon the pillars of variety and terroir to determine taste and quality, then it followed that fruit juice should too.
My ambition was to seek out specific varieties of fruit from carefully chosen locations and let consumers enjoy the most amazing and interesting tastes that can come from really high quality fruit.
I also wanted to ensure that everything we made was the result of minimum processing, minimum food miles and the minimum number of ingredients in each drink. I decided to say NO to any concentrated juices and NO to any artificial additives, sweeteners and preservatives.
So our strap-line "Passionately Sourced, Lovingly Created” is the essence of Folkington’s, which we want to convey to consumers.
What were the major challenges you faced in meeting those ambitions?
We don’t ever want to compromise, so if we can’t find a really interesting high quality fruit variety we won’t have that juice.
For example, it took us over two years to find a pineapple variety that we wanted, and we tasted five varieties of blackcurrant before we found the one that made our Summer Berries drink taste perfect.
How have things changed since the early days?
Keeping to the same principles of high quality, and no additives or preservatives, we have now added a range of fruit pressés and a range of mixers.
Anyone who tastes Folkington’s drinks comments that they taste clean, distinctive and have just the right amount of sweetness – and, as an example, we have gradually reduced the sugar in the pressés to match the public's taste.
Have the number of quality local fruit producers changed much?
As so much of our fruit is English, we have to be aware that weather can have an impact on availability, so this is something we have to deal with each year.
But because we maintain long term relationships with the growing community, we are fortunate in being recognised as an important part of their businesses.
We use apple varieties from orchards in the south east for our Cloudy Apple Juice and wild elderflowers hand-picked from hedgerows in Sussex’s Cuckmere Valley for our Elderflower pressé, to give just two examples.
How have you tackled sustainability?
We return to the same growers every year, which keeps our fruit juice taste consistent – and, just as importantly, gives the growers a sustainable income that they can rely on.
When sourcing our fruit we are mindful of food miles. Our apples, pears and elderflowers are grown in Sussex and Kent. And overall, 51% of our fruit is grown in the UK, 46% in Europe and 3% in the Americas.
We care about the environment and are working to reduce our carbon footprint (we have just offset ALL of our emissions plus an extra 10% for good measure), to reduce food miles and to reduce food waste.
In respect of packaging, 99% of our packaging is 100% recyclable - being mainly paper, cardboard, glass, metal; and less than 2% as plastic. Fifty per cent of the plastic we use is PET, which is the most easily recycled of the plastics. We aim to achieve 100% easily recyclable packaging.
What are your proudest achievements with Folkington’s?
As well as building a sustainable brand, it's also good to be an employer of really good, talented people - we have eight Sussex people working in our office and an additional seven sales people around the UK.
I’m also proud of how we work, with values of respecting all our stakeholders and with honesty and kindness at our core.
Are there any other Sussex producers or food and drink businesses you’d particularly recommend?
It is difficult to single out any one company as we enjoy working closely with many Sussex businesses (distributors, printers, packaging, warehousing, recruitment, labelling, couriering etc) and, of course, the Sussex gin producers.
What are you most looking forward to about the year ahead with Folkington’s?
There are a lot of people who still haven’t discovered Folkington’s, particularly our mixers, so we’ll continue to spread the word. And I will be working hard to make us a company that truly values the environment.