It’s fair to say that if you conjured up a mental image of a jam-maker, it probably wouldn't look much like brothers Graham and Martin Colombotti. But at their kitchen in the heart of Sussex, you’ll find the two of them, plus dad Dennis, mum Christine and sister Corina, creating Deerview Fine Sussex Foods – a range of jams, chutneys and other condiments that you’ve almost certainly seen if not tasted. Their list of stockists reads like an A-Z of fine food purveyors of the South East, so it’s hardly surprising that the family is preparing for a move to bigger premises to cope with demand for their products. But how did the two strapping siblings end up making jam in the first place?
Five years ago, Graham was running his own online farm shop – working with small suppliers and championing local produce, including Deerview jams and chutneys. When he heard that the lady running the Deerview business was thinking of retiring, he grasped the opportunity to take it over, and hasn’t looked back.
“It was something a bit different,” explains Graham. “As a family, we’d never considered going into production; my brother and I had always cooked growing up, but this was really a leap of faith. We’d worked in other industries, and we thought we could bring the skills we’d developed in other areas into food production and local produce.”
Clearly taking the risk has paid off. Not only have Graham and Martin increased the range of condiments, but in the two and a half years since they took over the business, it has grown to the point that they now employ all of their immediate family members. “It’s good to be in that position, to be able work as a family,” Graham notes. “We’re doing much more business now than when we took it on, and although some of that could be put down to the country coming out of recession, it’s mostly down to our hard work.”
That notion of looking after the people closest to you also extends to Deerview’s customers and stockists. They support local producers where possible – although Graham admits he’d have a hard job finding English strawberries in December – but they are especially invested in supporting the network of farm shops, garden centres, delis and others who stock their condiments. This year, they’ve introduced new display crates to help retailers promote the products, and they regularly pop up with tasting days to show food fans what they’re all about.
Although the business is growing all the time, it’s still small enough to be flexible in reacting to demand. “If someone asks for something, a certain flavour that we don’t already make, we’ll always look into it,” says Graham. “One of our distributors, The Cheese Man, really wanted a tomato chutney so we made one. Now it’s only available from them, in catering quantities. Sometimes we make the decision not to do something, but most of the time we try to.”
Supplying to the catering trade is a big part of Deerview’s business: as well as the tomato chutney created for The Cheese Man, they also supply Chichester-based bakery More Food with jam for their cakes – between half a ton and a whole ton each fortnight – amongst others. Their jams also mix in royal circles, being served at both Hampton Court Palace’s and Kensington Palace’s tea rooms.
Given how far they’ve come already, what’s next for the Colombotti family and Deerview? “Well, we’re already planning for Christmas,” Graham laughs. “We’re also looking at the idea of introducing gift packs and hampers, and we may bring out a new flavour – we haven’t decided yet. At the moment, we’re talking to our retailers about tastings around Easter.” Sounds good to us! If you’re keen to try some of the 35-strong range, follow Deerview on Twitter or Facebook to find out where the next tasting event will be.
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