In the second of two profiles in this month’s Meet the Makers, in conjunction with Love Irish Food, Maev Martin talks to Laura Sinnott, co-owner of Wexford Home Preserves with her husband Tom, about business highlights in 2023, plans for 2024, and the most important ingredients for a successful food business.
The Wexford Home Preserves business began with Tom’s aunt Ellen O’Leary in her kitchen in Broadway, Co Wexford in 1988.
“Ellen used to grow fruit and sell it at the side of the road,” says Laura.
“When she had a glut or a slow day, she made the most beautiful jams with the surplus berries, so they wouldn’t be wasted.
"Then she would sell the jam too. The jam business grew and the jam was so popular that Ellen built a special kitchen beside her house to keep up with demand.
“Ellen decided to retire in 2007, and in a happy coincidence, Tom and I had been looking for the right business opportunity and this seemed perfect.
"Ellen stayed on and worked with me for the first year. I am so grateful to her because she taught me everything and we stick to the principles she laid down to this day.”
So, what are these principles that are so crucial to the creation of all products in the Wexford Home Preserves portfolio?
“Well, we would not be here today if we didn’t stick to our guns on quality,” she says.
“To us, that means sourcing the very best ingredients, using the right recipes, as handed down from Ellen, and taking the greatest of care in the preparation of fruit by hand, and in the cooking in small batches by open pan boiling.”
Wexford Home Preserves has a dedicated quality control team and continuous quality checks are an important part of the operation.
“We are proud to say that, as a small family business in a small Irish town, we have won many awards, including three stars on three separate occasions in the Great Taste Awards and gold in the World Marmalade Awards,” says Laura.
Apart from quality, the other guiding principle of the business is its approach to ingredients.
“We always look locally first because we know that Ireland produces the best – whether it is strawberries, blackcurrants, apples, onions, or tomatoes, the flavours are amazing,” she says.
“In addition, a great benefit of sourcing locally is that it reduces our carbon footprint. We are Bord Bia Origin Green Gold members and we are on a mission to find more and more ways to be more environmentally friendly.
“We get our blackcurrants, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries and apples from Wexford. We source our red onions from Clonakilty, and our chillies, garlic and beetroot are from Dublin. We even have an Irish salt supplier!
“Unfortunately, there is not enough soft fruits grown in Ireland to keep us supplied to the quantities we need, and when supply on our doorstep runs out we have to look further afield, but even then, we chose our suppliers very carefully.
"Citrus fruits cannot be sourced here, but we work closely with two fantastic family farms in Sicily and Seville to source our oranges and lemons. The quality is exceptional.”
Wexford Home Preserves is constantly making new products. In fact, Tom and Laura have added entire ranges to their collection since they took over Wexford Home Preserves in 2008.
“For example, we introduced a Christmas range, including luxury handmade brandy butter, cranberry sauce, mincemeat, and an orange and honey ham glaze.
"We also introduced a range of chutneys and relishes, an organic range of preserves, and a no added sugar range. Each year, we add something new to our collection of jams, chutneys and relishes.”
2023 has seen the company increase the number of retailers that it supplies nationwide.
“We have a great relationship with groups such as Pettitt’s SuperValu, who provide ongoing support to our business,” says Laura.
“We supply SuperValu, Tesco Ireland and Dunnes Stores with our own Wexford Home Preserves brand.
"However, we also produce own brand products for select customers and tailor our recipes to suit their needs.
"For example, we produce the ‘Simply Better’ ranges of preserves and relishes for Dunnes Stores, which are stocked nationwide.
"In addition, Wexford Home Preserves are delighted to report that our products are now available in Northern Ireland via retailers such as fine foods supplier Sawers in Belfast, Fiveways supermarket in Newry, and Emerson’s and Rice’s supermarkets in Armagh.”
Creating A Food Business
Given the success that Wexford Home Preserves has enjoyed with retailers nationwide, what does Laura believe are the most important ingredients when it comes to creating a food business in Ireland?
“When you know you have a great product and you are so proud of it that you want to share it with others, that is the beginning of becoming a small business owner,” she says.
“A clear business plan is important, not only to use as a tool to promote your business to others but to get clear in your own head what your goals are, who your target market is, and what your unique selling points are.”
She advises budding food entrepreneurs to research the supports that are available through their local enterprise board.
“Here, we found an abundance of help, for example, a start your own business course and mentoring sessions with professionals and consultants in sales, marketing, lean management etc.” she says.
“LEO and Leader offer grants which we availed of, and still avail of, for different projects and expansion plans that we have for our business.
"Also, it is very important to be surrounded by knowledgeable people who will lift you up and encourage you, and who will listen and give you honest feedback.
"Above all, it is about hard work and determination because nothing comes easy. You need to be able to take risks and try new things for your business to grow.
"We found the first five years very hard as we were working very long hours and sacrificing time with family and friends, but the experience so far has been very rewarding.”
Highlights In 2023
2023 has been filled with business highlights for Wexford Home Preserves.
“We won ten gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2023, which we are hugely proud of,” says Laura.
The winning products included Wexford Blackcurrant Jam, Wexford Home Preserves Organic Sicilian Lemon Marmalade, Wexford Home Preserves Seville Orange Marmalade, Wexford Home Preserves Seville Orange Marmalade with Irish Sloe Gin, Simply Better Sticky Fig Relish, Simply Better Seville Orange Marmalade, and Simply Better Blackcurrant Preserve.
In addition to their success at the Great Taste Awards, Wexford Home Preserves are also finalists in this year’s Blás na hEireann Awards in October.
The company also achieved gold member status on the Origin Green sustainability programme.
“We work hard to make our operations and our products as sustainable as possible,” says Laura.
“We have been verified Origin Green members with Bord Bia since 2016.
"Having achieved gold status with Origin Green for the last two years in a row, we are delighted to be making strides each year as we strive to achieve our sustainability targets.
"We invested in solar panels to help us in this regard and this has resulted in 14% of our electricity use being solar generated.
“We have also made two major investments in our production process – we installed a labelling machine and a capping machine.
"When we started trading, all labelling and the application of jar caps was applied by hand, so this technology has made a huge difference to our operations.
“Overall, we are delighted with our progress this year, both in terms of developing our facilities and increasing the number of retailers that we supply nationwide.
"Looking to 2024, further expansion is on the horizon for our kitchens here at Wexford Home Preserves, which will make us more productive.
"We are also implementing a new paperless stock control system, which in turn will help us to make our business even more sustainable.”
Love Irish Food
Wexford Home Preserves joined Love Irish Food in July of this year.
“We were noticing the Love Irish Food brand more and more in the retail space and we were impressed by what they were doing,” says Laura.
“The other brands involved seem to be singing off the same hymn sheet as us, so we thought we would be in good company, and we are!
“The ethos of Love Irish Food fits well with our dedication to supporting local growers, our focus on quality, and our commitment to sustainability.
"We have had a lot of support from Andrea at Love Irish Food.
"There is an energy there that is all about getting the word out about local, authentic Irish food, and we are being given lots of opportunities to be actively involved.
"We love that Love Irish Food is so action-focused – it’s refreshing and exciting and we’re delighted to be on board.”