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How have things been for you during this unprecedented time?

We entered lockdown with mixed feelings; little did we know what was to come! When the lockdown was announced we were initially disappointed that we would not be able to meet our regular customers at markets and fairs. This disappointment did not last long and we soon began to look forward to having a bit of "down time" and were planning to make the most of the opportunity to get busy in the kitchen and make some stock. Well, that's what we thought, but it turns out that what everyone wants during a pandemic is good jam!

One thing that I feel proud of is how we were able to provide excellent customer service on behalf of distant friends and relatives in lockdown by proxy. As their own personal avatar, we went the extra mile to ensure same day local delivery on behalf of customers, delivering gifts on many special occasions; some joyous (births and special birthdays and Easter) and some sad (bereavement). I always made sure to include an appropriate hand-written card from my own personal collection bearing the message from the sender. It gave us a warm feeling to know that we had gone above and beyond to help, and it was lovely to receive the many messages of thanks from those who had sent the gifts.

What I will remember most of all though is the look of surprise on all of the recipients' faces to see me standing a socially appropriate distance away, wearing gloves, having deposited a small purple paper gift bag containing the goodies on their doorstep. It's often the little things that make a difference.

What has been the secret of your success in getting through it?

Throughout the whole period of lockdown, we have been keeping incredibly busy. We are delighted that our local stockists, many of whom are farm shops or other local independents, have been able to remain open and supplying their local community. This is a sector that has grown for us since March and we have actively been working to increase the number of outlets listing our range. There have been a number of new online food delivery businesses that have sprung up as well and we have been able to respond to their calls for quality, locally produced food. With this upturn in business for our stockists, we have been kept busy keeping them supplied with our produce.

Despite the challenges, have you found yourself in any humorous situations?

We keep bees in our back garden. Bees naturally want to swarm at certain times of year - it's a way of the colony dividing and reproducing. As apiarists we do everything we can to prevent this, especially during the main swarm season of April to June. This year was no exception and one of our hives decided to swarm, in spite of our best efforts, but we couldn't exactly go and knock on a neighbour's door, if that's where they had decided to cluster, and say "Can we have our bees back please?" this year. When they started to swarm, Mr Jam Packed had to climb out of our bathroom window onto a flat roof with a box and a swarm attractant and wave it in the path of the oncoming bees. It may be an unconventional approach, but it worked and the bees decided not to leave our boundary and to settle in the box. Phew!

What advice would you have for other local businesses?

Make connections - we are stronger together. There are plenty of amazing foodies in Surrey and surrounding counties, and we can support each other during good times and bad. Support our local markets, network with other producers and get social. Social media is a great way to connect with others and look for opportunities to partner and collaborate, pivot our ways of working and continue to deliver great food to our customers. They are still there - we just have to find new ways to reach them.

Any new initiatives that you are planning for this summer?

We are always looking to innovate. This summer we have a new chilli jam being added to the range - for those who chase the heat, this is one for you! We have been working with a Moruga Brainstrain chilli, a cross between the Trinidad Scorpion and Carolina Reaper chillies, which is hotter than the Reaper at 1.75 million Scovilles but has a much more mellow flavour.  We hope to launch in more retail outlets, online platforms and will be growing our food service industry offer for caterers, restaurants, pubs and cafes. We will be launching a new marmalade in July and working on other new product development for later in the year. Look out for Christmas in July as we launch our 2020 range of Christmas Crackers, including two totally recyclable designs! We are passionate about doing our best to reduce our impact on the planet and work more sustainably. This year we have already moved to paper labels and completely plastic free packaging for shipping of orders. Now we have applied these principles to our crackers, which have had quite a bad press for their environmental impact recently, so look out for these.

Why is it important that people ‘Stay Loyal to Local’ going forward?

It has been really noticeable that people have "discovered" or perhaps "rediscovered" the joy of shopping locally as well as online for locally produced food. I was shocked recently when having a conversation with some of my daughter's 25-year-old friends who did not know what a greengrocer was. When I explained that's how we used to shop and that we were served by people we got to know well, the butcher, baker, grocer, fishmonger, they said "that sounds so nice; like a real sense of community."  Many of us have forgotten what an enjoyable way of food shopping that was. We hope that people will remember the local suppliers who have been there for them throughout the pandemic once life begins to return to a new normal and stay loyal to local. Let's face it, who wants to queue for three hours to shop at a supermarket?   

Lastly, what is your own favourite thing about the local area?

This is probably the easiest question to answer - I would have to say the people. Surrey is full of passionate foodies all working to bring the best that the county has to offer to our customers and our customers are an equally passionate and loyal breed. Thank you to all of you for your continued support.

Tags: jam preserves Stay Loyal to Local campaign