We chat with Karen Sharman and Dom Mason from Gingerbread Folk
From humble beginnings, Gingerbread Folk has grown into a thriving enterprise. We sat down with Karen Sharman and Dom Mason to learn more about their business, and discovered they’ve taken the company in a vegan direction to reflect their strong ethical beliefs.
The Gingerbread Folk bake traditional, chocolate and gluten-free gingerbread made from the finest-quality ingredients. With a hint of ginger and a delicate balance of sweet spices, cookies and gingerbread house kits are thoughtfully packed in compostable wrappers. All products are vegan, nut-free and palm oil-free, with no colours, flavours or preservatives added.
When did the Gingerbread Folk first begin?
The story of Gingerbread Folk has always been about baking cookies with a conscience. In 2000, we left behind a corporate lifestyle to experience the beauty of the Australian outback. With the freedom to visualise a new direction, a small baking business was born. Fast forward 17 years and together with our two children, we live in the beautiful Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, where the natural environment continues to inspire an ethical philosophy that guides Gingerbread Folk today.
Memories of my early years in the NSW northern tablelands are of unconfined spaces, fruit trees and the Australian bush. When I relocated to Sydney in 1985, life became more structured. I spent many afternoons at my grandmother’s house, where her delicious homemade cakes and cookies were a highlight.
Dom grew up in the English countryside enjoying forest walks and bird life. When his family moved to Australia in 1980, this love for nature grew into a passion for all things oceanic and a degree in marine biology. A stop-gap job at BridgeClimb in Sydney turned into six years of intense education on customer service and business acumen. In 2008, Dom decided to join the Gingerbread Folk family full-time.
What is the philosophy that sits at the core of the Gingerbread Folk?
We strive to conduct our business in the most environmentally responsible and compassionate way possible. This approach initially saw the introduction of compostable film for wrapping and the creation of an egg-free royal icing. Personal growth and an evolving desire to live kindly have seen us take the next step in realising the business’ vision by becoming a vegan producer.
John Mackey, the founder of (US) Whole Foods Market, speaks about business ethics and “conscious capitalism”. He explains that every business has the potential for a higher purpose aside from just making a profit. This resonated for both of us. We recognised that by matching the business with our own ethical direction, we could talk to a wider audience about what was important to us.
For us both, we have fond childhood memories of spicy delicious gingerbread. For me, with a background in design, it was drawing with icing and the cookie as an artistic medium that was the attraction.
Why did you decided to go vegan?
As the business expanded, we noticed a discord with our personal desire to live kindly and responsibly. There we were calling ourselves an ‘environmental’ company, using compostable film, but we were ordering pallet loads of butter! It didn’t equate. We were living our lives in alignment with our personal values and knew we had to do the same in our business.
The three driving forces behind Gingerbread Folk’s vegan shift were the environment, health and animal cruelty. The dairy industry produces large amounts of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, promotes land clearing and degrades waterways. We were living among magnificent bush and turning a blind eye to other places that were being degraded and this felt wrong.
From a health perspective, we noticed an increasing demand for dairy-free products, possibly due to a rise in allergies. Gingerbread Folk knew that a vegan recipe could meet this need.
The unethical treatment of animals used in food manufacturing has always been on my mind. Supporting battery hen farms was simply not an option, so from the outset I created Gingerbread Folk’s unique egg-free royal icing. As we learned more about the impact of the dairy industry, Gingerbread Folk pledged to create a gingerbread recipe free from milk products. Whichever angle we viewed it from, vegan was the way to go.
What non-vegan products were you using previously and how have you replaced them?
Butter and honey are now gone. We started using a ‘sustainable palm oil’, however when we worked closer with a food technologist, a better solution was achieved. We now use a blend of coconut oil and Australian-grown GMO-free canola. Australian golden syrup is used in place of honey.
How does Gingerbread Folk give back to the community?
We support various initiatives and also donate to Edgar’s Mission, Soi Dog, and a range of other children and animal charities when requested in the lead-up to Christmas. You can find more about our initiatives on our website.
The spices used in your cookies are delicious. What process is used to refine them?
Our highly prized spice recipe took many years of tinkering and taste-testing. The aim was to find the perfect balance to suit adult and children’s palates. Eventually we found a delicate balance of sweet spice with a hint of ginger that works perfectly for everyone.
What’s next for the Gingerbread Folk?
We will continue to look for ways to reduce our footprint and maintain our ethical business philosophy. This year, the Gingerbread Folk proudly chose to become a vegan business and to reduce our impact on the earth and the creatures we share it with.
We are so pleased that the momentum is building for the vegan movement and people are beginning to understand the many benefits of plant-based foods. There has been so much support and positive feedback about the company’s vegan move. With gluten-free options available, many allergies and diets are catered for, which means no-one has to miss out. This is especially important at Christmas, when families, friends and communities unite to share food.
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