Success in a basket for artisan jam maker

MargaretCooperMargaret Cooper recently landed a sizeable contract to supply products to a leading hamper business. And the deal with Baskets Galore in nearby Bangor has led Margaret to move from her home into a small production unit in Bangor that will enable her to meet the growing demand for her highly rated jams and chutneys.

You’ll still find Margaret pitching for business at farmers’ markets around the province. This is because she loves the direct contact with shoppers that provides useful feedback about her product range. It’s an interest that has been influenced by a lengthy and successful career in sales especially in the intensely competitive insurance business. “I love meeting people and talking to them about my jams, relishes and chutneys. I have found that shoppers are increasingly seeking to know what goes into the jams and who makes them. Provenance is now a very big thing with shoppers,” she says.

“It’s important to me to hear what they think and their ideas for other products. I wouldn’t want to lose this engagement. I really don’t mind manning my stall when the weather is awful as it has been over the past month. The banter with shoppers is great fun. Sales have also been good at country markets such as the monthly one in Comber. I find that shoppers are really keen to talk about their favourite food and to hear how I make my jams and chutneys.

“There’s also great camaraderie with other stall holders at markets. We exchange ideas and pass on customers,” she says.

All Margaret’s products are hand crafted, the fruit and other ingredients cut by hand. “The order from Baskets Galore meant I needed more space and led me to find a small unit at Balloo in Bangor. It’s given me more room for handcrafting the products,” she adds. “I just couldn’t continue working from home in Donaghadee. There just wasn’t enough space. The new unit will also give me more scope to grow the business and to meet the increasing demand from retailers as well as market shoppers.”

She moved into the unit on the outskirts of Bangor in August and began kitting out the premises with the necessary cooking and packaging machinery. The products remain handcrafted.

She’s caught the eye of buyers at Hastings Hotels Group, a longstanding supporter of local food and drink, and now supplies her unique breakfast marmalade to the leading hospitality business. Other high-end clients include the award winning Pier 36 restaurant in her hometown.

A native of Ayrshire in Scotland, Margaret has been resident in Northern Ireland for 30 years. Marriage brought her here and to a career in sales. She started making fudge as “a bit of a hobby”, she says. “It was a Scottish-style tablet fudge and was popular with family and friends.”

This led Margaret to look at other products in her home kitchen. “I had grown up in Scotland watching my mother and grandmother making their own jams and fruit jellies. I decided to explore opportunities and to develop my own recipes. Family and friends were again supportive and suggested I should start selling them at local fairs and markets,” she adds. Which she did successfully.

She set up her small artisan business in 2012 and settled on the “Made with Love” brand to reflect her own commitment to quality and richly flavoured jams and chutneys.

“I’ve always loved cooking and entertaining,” she continues. “I enjoy making the products and take great care to ensure the very best ingredients. It’s a genuine labour of love,” Margaret says. “I know it’s an intensely competitive part of the business but I believe that my products have what it takes for success. It’s because they are different.

“What I am doing is to develop a unique product range that now stretches to 22 including chilli jam, which is proving very popular with shoppers, along with a plum and vanilla jam. In addition, I’ve launched ‘Christmas in a Jar’, a quite different blend of tasty ingredients for the festive season. I am also using my experience in sales over 30 years to help me in developing the business.”

She’s also being assisted by second husband Tony and grandson Finlay at markets around Northern Ireland. Tony also helps with delivering the products to customers around the province. “It’s a real family business,” Margaret adds.

What does the future hold for Made with Love? “The contract with Baskets Galore is a marvellous boost for me and a great endorsement of the business. I want to build on this and grow sales especially in Northern Ireland. The business from Baskets Galore will see our products going throughout the UK and further afield. I’d hope that this will lead to approaches from customers both here and abroad.”