The historic National Trust properties now list Ann Marie’s handcrafted foods, offering her access to thousands of visitors from many parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Britain and other parts of the world every year.
The deal, the biggest to date for the Co. Antrim sole trader, means her preserves, such as Irish whiskey marmalade, blackberry and apple jam, raspberry jam, rhubarb and ginger jam, lemon curd, lime curd, tomato chilli chutney, chilli jam, pear, apple and apricot chutney, on the shelves of National Trust gift shops here.
Ann Marie’s business has been built around regular participation at food markets especially the successful Causeway Speciality Market in Coleraine on a monthly basis. She also showed her preserves at the recent Balmoral Show in the Food NI Food Pavilion.
“I am really thrilled to have received the order from the National Trust,” says Ann Marie. “The negotiations began many months ago and followed a lead last year from Taste Causeway promotional operation and Naturally North Coast and Glens for producers of preserves to supply the Trust. I decided to pitch some samples for tasting and was delighted recently to secure what will be very important business for my small company.
“Taste Causeway and Naturally North Coast Glens have been immensely supportive over the years.”
Around 90% of her sales largely revolved around trading at markets. She admits to being “devastated“ when the coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of the markets. She didn’t then sell to stores. The setback, however, led Ann Marie to step up contacts with local food stores in particular.
Ann Marie set up Annie’s Delights, a small bakery and producer of jams, relishes and chutneys, in 2016 following suggestions from family and friends who had long enjoyed her home produce. The success of the part-time business subsequently encouraged Ann Marie to quit her day job and to focus on the small artisan enterprise.
She chose the name Annie’s Delights because her family and friends have long called her Annie “all through my childhood and still do”.
Many of her original products are influenced by her upbringing in rural county Antrim.
“My boiled cake, for instance, is from mum’s recipe,” she continues. “And I remember baking this with her as a child. I also started making jams and wheaten bread, as my family love nothing better than bread, butter and jam. People around the town and wider community then started asking me for these and other handcrafted products. I also started doing local food markets including the popular Causeway Speciality Market in Coleraine every month….until the lockdown inevitably led to their closure. It was great, therefore, to see it resume earlier in the year.
“I just love what I do. This is so important to me. Of course it is such hard work being a single handed maker, no one else outside the family is involved in the making or finishing of the products. My parents help out at markets, and without this I couldn’t
do it as I bake everything fresh daily for markets. Customers, therefore, can count on the wholesomeness and quality of everything I make. All the products and ingredients have total traceability. I make them at home in my kitchen in small batches to ensure quality.”
Her original products have won acclaim over the past two years from the influential UK Great Taste and the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards. Ann Marie won two silvers at Blas na hEireann for her pear, apple and apricot chutney and her lemon curd. The latter also gained a UK Great Taste Award.
“I was thrilled to receive the awards because they are a marvellous endorsement of the quality and taste of my handcrafted products,” Ann Marie adds. She also gained an Innovate NI award for innovation during the lockdown for ‘thinking outside the box’ to keep the business trading during the pandemic.
The Innovation award recognised her response to the serious setback to her business by the closure of local farmers’ and food markets due to the pandemic.
“I quickly developed a home delivery service to existing and potential customers from markets. I then decided to invest in my website for online sales, quite a step for me. It’s now generating sales and is proving itself as an immensely important and timely investment in the business.
She was encouraged to contact Innovate NI by the Foodovation team at the North West Regional College in Derry. Foodovation helps smaller food companies with new product and business development.