The Mango Girls – aka Fiona Thorne and Fleur Kentish – have enjoyed great success since they launched their purée and juice business, based in Goudhurst. Here they tell Sarah Bond how they bottled a winning fruity formula and have set their sights on the global market…
When her father Roderick passed away Fiona Thorne was living in New Zealand. That was six years ago, and as a result she decided to return home and carry on his business of importing tropical fruit purées for commercial usage.
Roderick was one of the first to introduce the Alphonso mango as pulp in tins in the UK and his company, Thorne Produce, grew from there.
But as a single mum with a new baby, and a child about to start primary school, it wasn’t going to be easy for Fiona to run the business alone, so she got in touch with her old West Kent College friend and fellow single mum Fleur Kentish, and asked her to join the enterprise.
“My father, Roderick, started the company in 1981,” Fiona explains. “As a child I used to help him with deliveries and meeting customers, so when I took it over I asked Fleur to come and help me. I said: ‘Let’s just get this going and see if we can do it’.”
Fleur continues: “I’m an avid cook. I watch nearly every single cookery show there is and read as much about food as I possibly can. It’s a passion! So I said: ‘Let’s give it 150 per cent, and if after two years it hasn’t worked then we have had a really good try. If it does work, then brilliant’.”
It was a magical pairing, and one that led them to literally bottle Thorne Produce’s exotic ingredients, and therefore massively expand the company’s prospects.
Now trading as The Mango Girls, the products include locally-sourced fruit juices, purées and crystallised ginger.
They are also the sole UK distributor for a Finnish rose petal confiture and their products are used by some of the area’s highly respected chocolatiers, cocktail bars, ice cream makers, bakeries and pubs, as well as Michelin-star chefs such as Ben Spalding, who regularly appears at the Old Fire Station in Tonbridge.
You’ll often see Fiona and Fleur browsing around our local markets, too – such as last weekend’s Pantiles Harvest Food Festival – because despite the fact they are rapidly growing, they still try to source as many of their traditional English ingredients from regional suppliers.
“Mango and apple juice is our hero product,” reveals Fiona. “We import Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri in India – which is the best place in the world to get them – but we use apple juice from Biddenden and Moor’s in Teynham, so we try to stay as local as possible.”
Obviously their more tropical ingredients have to be sourced from elsewhere, and it certainly helps to have connections.
“At the beginning of all this we went to the biggest food trade exhibition in the world, in Cologne,” adds Fiona. “We met up with our Indian mango supplier Pratik there and said we were looking for passion fruit, and because he knew my father he took us under his wing.”
Fleur takes up the story: “He took us to meet a supplier from Ecuador and said: ‘Ricardo, I want you to meet The Mango Girls’ – and that’s how we got our name!
“Pratik was very kind and quite parental because he knew Rod, and both men were so proud that the family company was still going and that we were so enthusiastic.
“So Ricardo is now our passion fruit supplier, and we went out to Ecuador to visit the farms and plantations and learn as much as we could. We import the yellow maracuyá fruit, which is a lot hardier than the purple one.
“That enabled us to supply restaurants and other new clients, such as Ceviche’s Martin Morales, who has four Peruvian restaurants in London. They make cocktails like passion fruit pisco sours. Our juices and purées are a really good size for mixologists, so we are getting more and more into cocktails, and we will be working with Anno Distillers of Marden to create some more in the near future.”
Locally, you can find The Mango Girls’ products at The Poet in Matfield, the Rose & Crown in Mayfield, the Kino cinema at Hawkhurst and most recently The Vine at Goudhurst.
They also supply Taywell Ice Creams, Marshmallow Heaven and Simply Ice Cream as well as Brighton’s Boho Gelato.
And as the ladies look to a bright future – they’ve already increased their turnover by 50 per cent in the past year – they don’t bat an eyelid about their desire to aim for global success or worry about Brexit.
“Nobody forgets us because we refuse to be boring and stuffy. You should enjoy business and we are very passionate about it, too,” says Fleur.
“Small businesses, and women, are the backbone of the British economy and we are very proud to be part of that,” adds Fiona. “We do plan to start exporting, but it’ll be to places like Dubai and China, so Brexit is not worrying us!”
POET’S RASPBERRY MANGO
What you need:
75ml The Mango Girls Apple and Alphonso Mango Juice
For that raspberry layer:
10ml Simple syrup
4 Fresh raspberries
What you do:
Put the Apple and Alphonso juice and vodka in a Boston Glass Shake and strain into an iced highball glass (only fill to 3/4 full). To make the raspberry layer, muddle raspberries in a Boston glass, add the Chambord, and syrup. Shake and fine strain through a tea strainer over your mango mix in the glass. Use a spoon to get all the juices through the strainer. Garnish with fresh raspberry. It’s Naughty but Healthy!
Photographs by The Poet at Matfield