Local Business Interview: Shlizzy

‘Pick your Own’ fruit farms were once the highlight of the summer season. The chance to wander though strawberry fields picking your own produce, maybe sneaking the odd one into your mouth as you went along, was a childhood delight. However, the popularity has declined in recent years, maybe due to the over abundance of fruit all year round in the supermarkets. So for the owners of these fruit farms, what next? Well for Shlizzy, the answer wasn’t to give up and move on but to use the fruit for another purpose. While ‘Pick your Own’ maybe in decline, the market for flavoured alcoholic drinks and spirits is booming, so put the two together and Shlizzy’s fruit infused spirits were born.

What motivated you to start Shlizzy?

Our family moved to our farm when I was about 6 and soon after, my parents turned it into a pick your own strawberry farm. They then started growing other fruit. A few years ago, I started making fruit vodka as presents for friends which went down VERY well. When Dad tried the tayberry vodka I made, he said it was the nicest drink he’d ever had. With hindsight, I realise he was probably just being encouraging and nice to his “little” girl and didn’t for a moment think that his comment might spark the idea to try and make a business out of it. Pick your own is nowhere near as popular now as it was in the 80s and 90s. Shlizzy seemed like a viable way to keep growing the fruit that had been there throughout my childhood and that Mum and Dad had worked so hard to set up. Doing so feels like a nice way to honour Dad’s memory.

What are the main challenges of running a small artisan business in North Wales?

I’d say one of the main challenges to running a small artisan business is time. I doubt this is a problem specific to me. Eventually, I hope Shlizzy will be my main source of income. Until then, it is necessary to obtain income from other jobs thereby taking time away from being able to fully concentrate on the business. The saying about having time OR money but never both springs to mind. I have to give credit to the amount of help there is in the form of courses, loans and grants for small businesses. I feel there is a lot of support from the Welsh government and EU for new businesses in Wales to succeed.

Being a business in North Wales has it’s challenges, mainly due to the rural location. My farm is somewhat off the beaten track meaning there is no point having the shop open all day every day. As such, I currently do most of my sales at fairs or through people calling or messaging me. A lot of small local fairs I have done have been amazing. The cost of their stalls is not prohibitive and the support for the producers and traders by locals has been phenomenal. When it comes to bigger events, it really is necessary to think if it is financially going to work. Some cost upwards of £200, and although I appreciate that there is a large amount of organisation involved, it is an awful lot £3 bottles of gin to sell just to break even. Sometimes it hasn’t been worth the gamble.

Fruit production is obviously very dependent on a lot of factors such as the weather. Can you rely with any kind of certainty on the crop you will yield or does your product line have to change and adapt quite regularly?

The weather is a massive factor in what I do. Last year it rained for a week just after spending 3 days dawn until dusk netting 300 cherry trees. This meant all hands on deck picking as many cherries as we could because rain splits them almost immediately and then they go mouldy. The rest of the fruit flourished in the rain. This year, the cherries did fantastically well due to the lack of rain, but everything else was small and bullet like as a result. The raspberries were barely worth picking, taking over an hour to pick a basket that takes 10 minutes most summers. Fingers crossed for the autumn raspberries this year because raspberry Shlizzy is one of the most popular.

Birds are also a problem. Having spent about 25 years ignoring the gooseberries, it seems like the entire North Wales population of collared doves and wood pigeons have discovered our patch of over 300 bushes and developed quite a taste for them.

If someone was trying your products for the first time, which would you recommend and why?

If someone was trying Shlizzy for the first time. I would recommend they try the gooseberry gin liqueur. Mainly because it’s quite a novel flavour and has even made some people who spent their lives thinking they hated gooseberries realise that actually they’re great.

And finally, are they are other local food producers in the area that you would recommend?

I’ve met some great producers whilst doing fairs and through being part of the Clwydian Range Food and Drink Committee. All of them are super hard working and have great produce. Mostyn Kitchen Gardens produce wonderful jams and chutneys from fruit and veg they grow in the kitchen gardens. Their chilli tomato chutney is spectacular (I think my sister may be addicted to it). Mug Run, a coffee roaster in Rhyl, definitely deserves recognition for the wide range of fabulous coffees and a thank you for keeping me and other stall holders topped up with coffee. Particularly appreciated at the cold winter fairs.

Thank you to Lizzy for sparing the time to answer my questions. The spirits produced by Shlizzy make great presents all year round, but are particularly good for the festive season!

You can find out more about Shlizzy and the products they offer on their website www.shlizzy.co.uk or follow their Facebook page for regular updates on which events they will be attending.

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