“I never get sick of the sight of pudding, I love it,” says George Hollywood, founder of Georgie Porgie’s Puddings. This is lucky, as it’s his own taste buds he relies on when perfecting a recipe.
“I made a new Chocolate and Baileys recipe last year and ate an entire medium one to myself over a day. That’s my point of reference – if I can eat an entire pudding, cold, over the course of a day and keep coming back to it I know I’ve got it right.”
The Devon-based food company, who recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, certainly know how to get it right. George explains “Lots of people say they hate Christmas pudding, then I’ll get them on our Chocolate and Baileys or Orange and Cointreau, and 95% of the time they’ll then say ‘I love Christmas pudding!’ Most people think they don’t like it because they’ve only eaten the heavy stodgy stuff that’s mass-produced.”
Georgie Porgie’s Puddings pride themselves on being entirely handmade, and though George is busy getting out this year’s carefully crafted batch, he managed to squeeze in some time to talk with us about the company’s fascinating journey…
Georgie Porgie’s Past
“I never intended to be a pudding maker’ says George. “When I was 13 I worked cleaning the kitchen floor at a factory for pâtes and chutneys. They taught me how to cook their chutneys and by A Level I was in their kitchen doing their telesales. I asked some customers if they’d like a Christmas pudding because Christmas was coming, and basically ended up selling 2000 puddings in advance. I made them, sold them and established Georgie Porgie’s Puddings.
I was incredibly lucky because a lady in her 90s from my local town taught me her secrets of making cakes. She knew I made the Christmas puddings, and she liked what I did so she invited me into her house and told me she wanted to pass on her secrets to somebody. I still implement them today.”
So why the name Georgie Porgie’s? “It was a no-brainer. I’m George and I was going to be Georgina if I was a girl, so I think I was destined for the Christmas pudding world.”
With the name and the recipes in place, George now needed funding, eventually securing it through the Prince’s Trust. And the royal connection has given the company some memorable moments. George says ‘I’ve met Prince Charles a few times. Once he thought of a great new game called pudding bowling and he chucked one of my puddings at a young farmer and it all made the news. It’s nice to have that connection, and retain it.”
Georgie Porgie’s Present
The company currently has 3 full-time pudding makers – including George – and together they produce over 100,000 puddings a year, each one handmade. “When something is properly handmade you limit your numbers” admits George, “[But] I know for a fact you couldn’t mass-produce a pudding and make it taste the way I make my Christmas puddings taste – as light, or as fruity. We ball them all by hand, so nothing ever squeezes it too hard or crushes it, and we use a soft paddle mixer – it’s like your gran with a big wooden spoon mixing it in a bowl and folding it in on itself. We use atmospheric steamers, so straight up 100 degrees boiling water. There are things that can be done to speed these processes up artificially but we’re not interested in them.”
The Christmas pudding making business begins early, with production for December’s puddings beginning as early as January. “We cook our Christmas puddings from January through to May” explains George. “We’re traditionalists, and don’t cook them after then, so they all have time to sit and mature.”
So what does he and his team do for the rest of the year? “We make our other puddings and sponges the whole year round. The restaurants and farm shops we supply tend to buy a lot of the traditional puddings because they understand a traditional Christmas pudding, but our 2 most popular flavours are Orange and Cointreau, and Chocolate and Baileys. My personal favourite is Cider and Apple – that one’s actually picking up pace because we now dehydrate our apples in Scrumpy cider which boosts the cider flavour. It’s all about getting as much flavour in there naturally as you can – we don’t use any flavourings so we’re always trying to find new ways to do that. Our puddings are half fresh fruit and half dried fruit rather than all dried fruit.”
In fact, Georgie Porgie’s biggest challenges have come not from the product itself, but from the logistics of running a growing company. George explains, “My dad was actually my first full-time employee and I learned that when someone works for you, they work at a completely different pace than you do. Obviously my dad’s not going to slack off, but it’s still not the same as a ‘work for yourself pace’. And I looked at the prices that I was going wholesale out and thought god if I try to scale myself up and I have to stay at those prices we won’t make a bean with the amount of labour it would cost me. I realised I’d undervalued my time hugely, so that was probably the biggest lesson. But my biggest challenge has been reinventing the business so that it’s structurally sound to employ people to make puddings by hand and become profitable. But I think we’re quite well placed [in the industry]. I’d say most handmade producers are 50% dearer [than Georgie Porgie’s Puddings] so I try and sit between mass-produced prices and an artisan who is only making a few. We could make twice as many puddings as we do again and sell them, if we had the time and the storage capacity. But I don’t want to over-extend.”
Georgie Porgie’s Future
In a fairytale twist, next year Georgie Porgie’s will come full circle. George says “The great thing about my working in the chutney factory as a kid is that I’ve now bought that building. I’m rebuilding it and putting in a 1400 square foot pudding parlour where you can come and have hot pudding and custard and see us cooking.’
The capacity in the new kitchens will make us 50% bigger and I’ll get new staff to do front of house and hopefully the growth that will come from all of that will allow me to bring in more pairs of hands to cook. I want to grow through being hand-made, but I have to try and create the demand first – my business is all about cash flow, we sell 70-80% of our product in 6-8 weeks of the year.
I’d also like to keep our old site as a gluten-free kitchen. In the past 4 years people have constantly asked for gluten-free, but I don’t see how you can make it in the same building [as gluten products] and I like the idea that if we achieve our goal the facilities will be a mile apart so there’s no risk of cross-contamination. However, I don’t want to diversify too much – to me it’s more important to keep your core products really good. That’s why over 25 years I’ve only got 5 Christmas pudding recipes, because the more you have the more confusing it is for customers and for your kitchens too – every time you do a new product you’ve got new ingredients so you need more storage. We’ll stick to building what we’ve got.”
George also hopes to work more with caterers, and develop Georgie Porgie’s presence in that market, as well as linking up with other local artisan brands so they can cross-promote. “We teamed up with Exeter Gin and we’re using their 46% gin in our gin pudding and it’s a really nice collaboration between us 2 companies to promote small artisan businesses. They’ve also teamed up with Otter Vale, who make a gin marmalade and we’re all going to do a gift-pack later on. So it’ll be 3 small brands collaborating together to create a product.”
Ultimately, Georgie Porgie’s future looks bright. “I’ve loved the journey of selling a car for £500 and buying a mixer and an oven and starting that way” says George, “and then going back to that very same building and owning it. We’re starting a new chapter where Georgie Porgie’s Puddings has a headquarters with a front of house – something I’ve always dreamt of doing.”