Traditional firm has plenty of fizz

ONE of the region’s best known soft drinks firms is expanding its business and its range of pop with comfortingly old fashioned flavours.

Eldon Robson of Fentimans

ONE of the region’s best known soft drinks firms is expanding its business and its range of pop with comfortingly old fashioned flavours.

Northumberland-based Fentimans, famous for its traditional products including ginger ale and dandelion and burdock, is currently putting the finishing touches to a number of new flavours, including a range of organic drinks.

It is part of a wider investment programme which will also see it convert its basement into a laboratory, which will allow it to undergo in-house product development for the first time since it relaunched in 1988.

The £190,000 investment will also see the company launch a smaller 125ml sized bottle to appeal to supermarkets as it looks at ways of continuing its growth over the next 12 months.

Last year saw it increase its turnover by 20% to almost £4m and it is now expecting similar growth this year as a result of the investment and is also expecting to add to its 14-strong workforce over the next two years.

Despite a difficult year for the drinks trade in 2008, the Hexham-based business was able to establish a presence in the US, where its drinks are now brewed and distributed from Lion Brewery in Pennsylvania.

Although managing director Eldon Robson said the business had lost some of its trade as a result of the pub closures, he said its products were still popular in gastro-pubs.

He said: “We have a number of developments that are planned for this year which should allow us to keep growing. To be honest, I was expecting last year’s figures to be worse than they were, in light of all the negative stories about the economy, but was pleased that our niche drinks remained popular with the public.”

The firm was originally founded in 1905 by Thomas Fentiman, an iron worker from West Yorkshire, and grew into a successful door-to-door ginger beer sales company.

However, the company fell on hard times as supermarkets invaded the soft drinks market. As a result, sales of the Grey Hens – the stone jars in which the ginger beer was sold door-to-door – slumped and the company closed down in the mid 1960s.

But in 1988, Mr Robson, great-grandson of Mr Fentiman, re-established the business with a mission to produce drinks in the time-honoured way, using the original ginger beer recipe and 100% natural ingredients.

Mr Robson said: “Fentimans has a long heritage and that’s one of the things we are keen to maintain, from the design of our bottles to the new flavours we are developing.

“This is what sets us apart from mainstream soft drinks companies and is something that appeals to many of our customers.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer