Successful food pioneer Jayne Paget, the founding managing director of multi-award winning Erin Grove Preserves in Fermanagh, and husband Mark are investing to continue the growth of their market leading small business and also offering opportunities to other artisan enterprises here.
The expansion features The Croft, a smart farm shop for her 40-strong range of outstanding jams, marmalades, relishes and chutneys along with hundreds products from dozens of other local artisans.
“Owning my own farm shop has been a dream of mine for many years,” Jayne says. “There’s long been a need for such a shop with local food and soft drinks in this rural part of Fermanagh.”
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Based deep in picturesque farming country near the Enniskillen to Tempo road, The Croft recently opened its doors in an attractively renovated milking parlour on the family farm and is now a thriving venture with an attractive outdoor patio with tables for coffee, scones and other home baked goods.
“While The Croft was established primarily as a showcase for our award winning preserves and cheese accompaniments for customers to purchase right on the site where they are produced, I saw it as an opportunity to embrace dozens of other excellent foods from local artisans. We’ve seen a virtual revolution in quality artisan foods here over the past decade, and I wanted to provide an attractive hub for them too,” adds Jayne.
In addition to The Croft’s emphasis on the freshest produce from local suppliers, including several which have yet to be seen outside the area, the menu in the coffee shop is largely based on items baked in-house and locally sourced coffee. There’s also fresh produce especially meat, vegetables, fruits and potatoes from neighbouring farms.
“The shop is proving to be an important investment for us in so many respects. Our products and those from other local suppliers have been selling well since we opened the doors to shoppers,” continues Jayne.
The Croft is now part of an exciting growth in farm shops, delis, family butchers and greengrocers across Northern Ireland aided by the remarkable expansion in artisan food and drink and the strengthening trend among shoppers that became especially apparent among during the pandemic towards locally produced food with integrity, quality, wholesomeness, heritage and total traceability.
Jayne grew up on the family farm and drew knowledge and inspiration from her mother and grandmother, the latter a keen gardener who grew a wide range of fruit and vegetables. She looks back fondly on picking strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and rhubarb in the garden during the summer.
“We’d make jam together virtually every weekend,” she continues. “This inspired me to create something truly delicious using just the basic, but the best quality ingredients in the development of what was to become Erin Grove Preserves.”
Jayne subsequently qualified at university as a Home Economics teacher and taught before a stint in catering management. Developing a jam business was always at the back of her mind. “In 2001, an opportunity came along via funding from the Women in Agriculture programme to encourage farming families to diversify into other businesses to generate additional income streams for the farm. Erin Grove was born,” she continues.
The funding enabled farm outbuildings to be renovated into a purpose-designed commercial kitchen for preserves. The small enterprise, a Food NI member, was focused on “top quality products that were simply bursting with colour and flavour from the best quality local ingredients from trusted suppliers”.
“To set our products apart from massed produced preserves, we still make them all by hand and in small batches in the same way my grandmother did on the kitchen stove. Indeed, we are still using her recipes,” she adds.
A measure of the quality and natural flavours of the preserves is the 10 Great Taste Awards on the wall in the office.
“These prove that our products can compete with the very best in the country especially in taste. All our products continue to be made without any artificial colours, preservatives or setting agents, just fruit and sugar. They are also gluten-free,” she explains.
The first products were introduced successfully to shoppers at the RUAS show at Balmoral. Excellent initial sales and positive feedback encouraged Jayne and Mark in their endeavours. Extensive and highly professional marketing is resulting increasingly in the preserves being on the shelves of specialist retailers throughout the island.
The progressive local company has been growing at an annual rate of up to 30% and has been positioned by Jayne and Mark to maintain this outstanding progress. As a result, Erin Grove has developed into a market leader in preserves.
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