Joosed up and super fruity!
IT'S been a year of firsts and new innovations for Benson's Totally Fruity.
In September the Sherborne-based company won the non-alcoholic drinks section of the inaugural Taste of Gloucestershire Food and Farming Awards.
A few months later it was given the accolade of being the first and only UK apple juice producer to receive Red Tractor accreditation, an assurance mark designed to build confidence in the quality and provenance of British food.
In the meantime owner Jeremy Benson has been busy developing a new product – a spring water flavoured with juice – in response to an approach by fellow Taste of Gloucestershire Food and Farming Awards winner The Soho Coffee Co.
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The Cheltenham-based coffee shop chain, which won the awards' best food business category, is the first to sell Benson's new Joosed! range, which is available in four flavours.
"We introduced it a couple of months ago," says Jeremy. "It's 70 per cent Blenheim spring water and 30 per cent juice and comes in apple and blackcurrant, lemon and lime, orange and apple and apple and raspberry flavours.
"It's one of only two flavoured waters on the market made from pure juice – others are made from concentrate. There's a lot of interest in it and we're putting in a new bottling line for it before we make it more widely available."
All in all it's been a busy and at times challenging year for Benson's Totally Fruity, especially given the depressed economic climate and the long periods of wet weather, which have somewhat dented sales of the company's popular Chilly Billy ice lolly range.
Yet Jeremy remains buoyant and says that public recognition in the form of accolades such as the Taste of Gloucestershire Food and Farming Awards certainly help to keep up the spirits of his 14 staff.
"They really give our guys in production a massive boost," he says.
"They live in the village here, come to work and make juice and it's really nice for them to hear that they do a fantastic job.
"The quality of our products is down to them.
"In addition, awards give us an edge over our competitors and, above all else, they really do make us feel good."
It's now more than 12 years since Jeremy and his wife Alexia first saw the business potential in selling juice made from pressed English apples after sampling some made from fruit picked from the orchard at his father's Northumberland farm.
The couple went on to produce a few barrels of their own and soon realised they were on to a winner when their initial batch sold out during a WOMAD music festival.
Since then they have been busy coming up with a series of enticing flavour combinations for their juices, such as apple and raspberry and apple and rhubarb, and have developed a number of other products including Archie's Cider, Paddy's Punch and Chilly Billy fruity ice lollies.
Jeremy continues to source his apples from growers in Broadway and Sussex, who have been supplying him for many years, while almost all of the seasonal fruit he uses comes from farms just a few miles away.
Only fruits such as mangoes and oranges, which aren't grown in the UK, are imported from abroad.
Benson's delicious products and ethical sourcing policy has already attracted a number of prestigious customers, including the National Trust, Tate Modern, The Eden Project and Blenheim Palace and Jeremy says the Red Tractor Award has already attracted a lot of interest, although he says that, to him, it's more than just a unique selling point.
"I was a farmer before I started this business and I'm passionate about supporting British farmers, which is why we only use British apples," he explains.
"It's amazing how much interest we have had from it. For me it feels good that people know we are supporting British agriculture."