Entrepreneur Alice Lane could never have envisioned the success of her prized product which started life as an idea in Australia.
There are some products which sell well, and there are others which sell incredibly well, and Alice Lane of Kintore-based From Bakery Lane is sitting on one which continues to flourish, more so since the global coronavirus pandemic arrived in the UK.
Her chilli onion jam has been her best-selling product since she launched her catering company, which specialises in baked goods, jams, chutneys and granola, six years ago this September.
And Alice has her time in Australia to thank for that.
Moving Down Under for a year when she left school, Alice worked as an au pair and helped the mother of the family develop a recipe for chilli jam which they would sell at the local school fete.
Alice said: “I first got the recipe when I was working as an au pair in Australia. I was there for around a year when I had left school. The mum of the kids I used to au pair for used to organise the school fete and we used to make jams and chutneys for it – we made around 200 jars for it usually.
“We’d spend our weekends and any time we didn’t have the kids making this chilli jam and that’s where I got the recipe from.
“When I started the business six years ago, I was going into it thinking I was just going to do traybakes and cakes and that sort of thing. When I launched it was around the time of the Christmas market sort of season so I decided to make the chilli onion jam as I thought it would be nice around that time and it has just took off from there. It is still the same recipe I got 10 years ago. It hasn’t changed at all, I’ve just upped the quantities.
“I’ve had someone stop me in the street asking ‘are you the chilli jam lady?’. It is crazy.”
‘Never been so busy’
Working on From Bakery Lane full-time for the past three-and-a-half to four years, Alice says the business has been booming since the start of lockdown, although she was concerned she would have to furlough herself when things first initially locked down.
She added: “Since the first lockdown the business just went crazy. I’ve never been so busy. I got lots of new stockists, the website took off and I just haven’t really stopped since then.
“At the start I was really unsure. I wasn’t sure if I’d have to furlough myself and was thinking ‘what am I going to do?’. I thought it was going to be quiet, but it has been busy and it just hasn’t really stopped.
“Because I can work from my home I can just get out of bed and start the day quite quickly.”
Chilli onion jam demand
Ordering a pallet’s worth of glass jars (3,500) at a time now to keep up with demand, the entrepreneur can’t quite believe the success of her beloved product which is a staple in many shops, cafes and delicatessens across the north-east and further afield.
“I probably make a batch around every two weeks or every week and a half. Every time I make it I make around 200 to 250 jars, said Alice.
“In the run up to Christmas I probably make up thousands of jars each month and every time I make a batch I end up having to make more. I didn’t think it would be as busy this time of the year but it is still as busy as ever. I used to make it once a month but the demand for it is really big.
“I used to order jars in boxes and maybe get 1,400 at a time. I got so many deliveries of jars recently and told my supplier I thought I needed to up my order and they just sent me a full pallet. I used to go through a few boxes twice a year, now I’m ordering pallets.”
A versatile condiment, the chilli onion jam can be used in a number of different dishes, and Alice says it makes for a great ingredient when cooking, as well as holding its own on an artisan cheese board.
“When I lived in Australia we would always have cheeseboards for when people visited and we’d always have the chilli jam out. We’d only have it with cheese over there.
“Since I’ve been back, I’ve used it in stir-fries and my customers always tell me what they use it in. Some have used it in gravy, shepherd’s pie, sausage pasta – people keep coming up with different recipes and I’ve been trying it out with loads of different things, too. It is lovely with cheese, but is also really nice for cooking. You get that sweet onion flavour with the chilli through it and it is really versatile.”
Boasting a range of other jams and chutneys on her website, including raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb and ginger jams and mango and spiced apple chutneys, she launched a super-size jar four times the size of the original 200g jar for chilli onion jam super fans and hospitality customers.
She said: “I have a few local cafes and businesses like Parx Cafe, Hammerton Store and Gourmet Cheese Co. who buy the big jars just to give customers a bigger selection and to be able to make it last a little longer when using it in their dishes. I have a few customers who buy a big jar every month, and every month they come back for another.
“I kind of just come up with jams or chutney flavours I would use in my cooking or for breakfast and think of things I can easily make instead of going out to buy them. I’ve developed the recipes and I think I got the mango chutney recipe when I was in Australia, too.
“It is just really fruity and there’s chilli, ginger and garlic in it and it is totally different to any mango chutney you’d get in a takeaway. Everything is homemade and it hasn’t got all the additives or preservatives in it. I buy all the fruit I use in my jams locally. You can tell the difference between Barra Berries produce in comparison to supermarket fruit.”
And when it comes to the local food scene, she says the local producers in the area are tight-knit group, with everyone working to support one another.
“There’s a really good community of food producers in the north-east and we all help each other. We support one another and are always giving each other advice on what farmers’ markets are the best, and there’s never really any competition.”