Devon mum, Jo Evans, started making Christmas puddings for family and friends while her newborn daughter slept. She’s now celebrating 10 years in business, making thousands of luxury Figgy’s Christmas puddings each year.
Inspired by Julie Pankhurst, who came up with the idea for Friend’s Reunited while on maternity leave, Jo spotted a gap in the market for delicious home-made Christmas puds. The shop-bought equivalent goes against the traditions of making proper puddings, which should be cooked very slowly. Consequently they’re a poor imitation of the real deal – and probably the reason why this festive dessert isn’t everyone’s favourite.
What if she could sell her own lovingly made puddings?
After the birth of her daughter, Jo started small, selling puddings to friends and family. She hired a kitchen for a couple of days each week and set to work while her four-week-old daughter, Katie, slept in her car seat in between feeds. “It was a bit of a juggling act and it took forever!”
That year Jo made 100 puddings. The feedback from family and friends was encouraging.
The time came to return to her marketing job at Exeter university four days a week. Jo hated the constant rushing around. “I was sick of the rat race.”
Behind the scenes, she continued to build her Christmas pudding business.
When she returned to work after the birth of her second baby, a son called Jack, Jo knew something had to give.
So, she took the plunge. Although Jo doesn’t see it as a plunge – she’d been building up Figgy’s for four years. She could see it had become a viable business.
“I didn’t give up work until I was sure it would work.”
Becoming a full-time mum, running a seasonal business, meant a significant lifestyle change for the Evans. Especially when Jo’s husband, Richie, quit his job to join the business.
“It was a trade off. We’ve had to make cut backs but we don’t miss anything.”
Work life balance
“We quickly grew to making about 4,500 puddings each year. We’ve settled on that number and sell puddings direct to our customers.”
Given the popularity of Figgy’s, which has a very loyal customer base, there’s room for expansion. But Jo and Richie don’t want to compromise on the quality of the product.
“We make each pudding with the same care that we did when we were making a handful for our friends and family.
“We have a big mixer we call ‘Grandma’ but otherwise every pudding is made by hand. This gives Figgy’s puddings a better texture.
“We’re a small family business doing things the old fashioned, traditional way. This is what our brand represents.”
But it’s not just about their brand values. Jo started Figgy’s precisely because they wanted a better quality of life. “I don’t want to work 90 hour weeks,” says Jo.
“We’ve got the work life balance that we really love,” adds Jo. “It gives us richness of life in other ways.”
Selling thousands of puddings supports the Evans family for the rest of the year, giving them the opportunity to home educate their children (Katie, 9 and Jack, 6) and concentrate on other things, beyond work, that are important to them.
Of course, during the Christmas pudding season, it’s hard work: “There is no 9-5 in our household but we do manage to fit it all in. We share the childcare, which works for our family.”
Figgy’s Christmas puddings follow a combination of two grandmas’ recipes. “It’s very traditional. Nothing clever or gimmicky. Just classic.
“A truly luxurious Christmas Pudding requires the combination of a hearty real ale and a fine brandy, both of which we have close by. We use Port Stout made by the Devon-based Hanlon’s Brewery, and the warm and rich 10-year-old Somerset Cider Brandy made by the Somerset Distillery.
“Our puds are steamed in ceramic bowls, wrapped in a cotton pudding cloth, allowing the pudding to breathe and the flavours to mature in the traditional way.”
(FYI: I’ve bought a large one this year – and will be reporting back with our verdict!)
Interested in setting up a business?
“Start small and learn lessons gently” is Jo’s advice.
“It’s difficult in the early stages when you juggle building a business with another job and being a parent. But the internet gives you the opportunity to try things out and you can set yourself up really cheaply. You don’t have to take the plunge and give up work – you can have a roll out plan.”
Find out more about Figgy’s: http://www.figgys.co.uk
This is the first in a series of ‘Made in Devon’ posts – keep a look out for my next one on Naturalmat. Get in touch if you’d like to tell me about a Devon business.