The Opie family owes much to the Babycham generation.

Twenties flappers may have helped put Opies' cocktail cherries behind every bar in Britain, but their rediscovery by the Babycham babes of the 1960s was the making of what is today a £15.3m import, export and manufacturing empire.

"By the 1970s and 1980s, cocktail cherries were 80% of our business," says William Opie, joint head of this family-owned company, which has grown sales by nearly a quarter over the past year. But the growth was not down to the flappers' favourite.

While the recent discovery of a 70-year-old jar of cocktail cherries at Opies' Sittingbourne plant was a timely reminder of the past, as the business approaches its 130th anniversary, its future lies elsewhere.

"Exports are growing in China especially," says Opie, who notes an insatiable demand for capers and cocktail onions. "The Chinese buy retail packs for catering don't ask me why, they don't know how to use them. You find little jars of capers with salmon in hotels."

Most of their caper output is exported, explains Opie. In Britain it is Opies' sweeter lines that take centre stage coffee syrups in particular have driven growth in recent years. "The founder of the AMT coffee chain phoned me as he wanted to put the syrups in his coffee," recalls Opie. "I thought I had a fruitcake on the line, but he'd seen it in Seattle and the business suddenly took a completely different direction. Now we supply Costa and Caffè Nero with Monin syrups and we're placing brand ambassadors in that area."

More serendipity than strategy, the story nevertheless illustrates how important it is to grasp opportunities when they come your way, he says.

"You need the confidence to follow it up, and it can seriously screw up the five-year plan, but suddenly an exciting sector can develop," he says.

Despite the company's success with the coffee chains, 70% of Opies' overall UK business much of it own label is with the multiples, theoretically putting the company in a vulnerable negotiating position. Nevertheless, Opies' premium branded lines have been winning over retailers this year, says Opie, with one multiple delisting its own-label lines in its favour.

"Our brand is now strong in three multiples," says Opie. "It adds value. No one wants a sea of own-label products in the supermarket, anyway."

Opie puts the continued success of the family business down to its proven ability to stay at the top of niche categories while cocktail cherry sales have fallen, Opies still dominates the market. The company is the UK's only significant pickled walnut producer and is a leading player in alcohol-preserved fruit and peppercorns in brine, two exports Opie plans to grow. "We're happy with our lot," says Opie. "We're doing a good job, making products that people enjoy and flying the flag abroad."

Given Opies' gloom-defying growth, there's plenty of reason for the 100-strong workforce to crack open a bottle or two of bubbly. Babycham of course.