Local conserve makers success spreads throughout Forth Valley

When Jennifer McEwan decided to try her hand at making chilli ‘jam’ little did she realise it would lead to the establishment of her own business which has just secured its first five stockists.

The 39-year-old, from Stirling, launched The Wee Kitchen Company in March last year after seeking advice from her local Business Gateway office.

Having perfected the recipes for 14 homemade chilli ‘jams’ and ‘jellies’, which she sells via Facebook and at Boquhan Estates Farmer’s market every Thursday, Jennifer will now see her condiments sold in five independent retailers based throughout Forth Valley.

Over the coming months Falleninch Farm, in Stirling, Hogan’s Fine Foods, in Falkirk, The Cardboard Box Play Café, in Stirling, Aberfoyle Deli & Butchers shop and Brown & Co Delicatessen in Bridge of Allan will add a selection of her products to their shelves.

She said: “A number of businesses approached me at Christmas events I attended and I took the plunge in January to follow up their interest. I also went into some stores unannounced with samples which was quite frightening. My aim has always been to have my range in small outlets where the quality and taste of food is appreciated so being stocked in these four shops is amazing.”

The idea for the business came after Jennifer decided one morning to make chilli conserve. She headed to the local supermarket to buy ingredients and spotted a Maslin Pan heavily discounted. She bought it and produced a Red Pepper & Chilli ‘jam’. Friends and family loved it and requests came flooding in. The Wee Kitchen Company was born.

Jennifer, who juggles running her business with raising five children, said: “Everything is made in small batches in my kitchen. All the ingredients are fresh and sourced as locally as possible so every batch and jar has a unique taste; sometimes the chillies are hotter, the garlic stronger, the ginger more fiery or the mangoes and pineapples sweeter. The consistency of each batch can be different too depending on the fresh produce I use. I could use dried ingredients and the results would be exactly the same every batch, and it would be cheaper, but I want my products to be different and flavoursome. I have eaten some chilli condiments that are just ‘hot’ to taste but what I aim to do is produce a version where the flavours of every piece of fruit and vegetable contained in that jar can be appreciated.

“I went to Business Gateway to see if I had a viable idea – and because I am hopeless with paperwork! The start-up workshops gave me a good foundation in business, and the social media course was invaluable as I presently get the majority of my orders through Facebook. I know I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now as quickly without that help. My adviser’s ideas have been fantastic. He even visited me at home so I could put my toddler down for a nap and give him my undivided attention. All these little things help when you are trying to juggle a business with family.”

Sandy Slater, Adviser, Business Gateway said: “Jennifer’s talent in the kitchen, her hard work and her determination have helped her establish a thriving business that has rapidly grown; and will continue to do so as she plans to make her own chutney, tomato ketchup, relishes, chilli sauces and marinades! Her passion for what she does is truly inspiring and we are glad our advice has helped her set up a business she gets great joy from running. Our continued support will help her create a website this year which will showcase her products to a wider market.”

To date, Jennifer’s biggest seller is her Caramelised Onion & Chilli, closely followed by her Mango & Lime Chilli flavour. All her condiments are made at night, take two hours to produce from start to finish and batches are usually ready by 1 a.m.!

People have been so positive about my products. Although the late nights are hard – and I detest cleaning sticky pots in the early hours – what makes it all worthwhile is the fact my kids are very proud of me, and I love it when someone who says they hate chilli ‘jam’ tastes mine and buys some, I had never been career orientated but I knew I would need something to do as the children grew. I would really encourage other mums to try and find something that they love to do in the hope that they can make a business out of it too. The help and advice is out there. If I can do it anyone can!

For more information on The Wee Kitchen Company visit bit.ly/The-Wee-Kitchen-Company or email theweekitchencompany@gmail.com

For more information on how Business Gateway can help your business grow and prosper visit www.bgateway.com/Stirling or call 0845 609 6611. Alternatively contact your local office on 01786 498496.

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