Since launching in 1999, the demand for Huntly Herbs’ handmade organic preserves – and the contents of its trophy cabinet – have grown at an exponential rate
As one of the few genuinely organic preserve suppliers, with Soil Association certification as both a processor (which covers the preserve-making side of the business) and a grower (which covers the fruit, veg and herb production), and an extensive portfolio of carefully developed jams, jellies, relishes and chutneys under its belt, it’s easy to understand why.
What started out as a side-line to tide over the family farm during quiet season has become a multi award-winning business – most recently shortlisted as a finalist in both the BOOM and UK Organic Awards.
“Huntly Herbs was launched as a farm diversification by my mum, Fiona, who mainly grew and sold herb plants for the garden, with the preserves as a side-line,” explains Anna Wilson, who now runs the family business with her father, Fraser, with help from her partner, Calum, and one-year-old daughter Roisin.
“Gradually, the preserves were becoming more and more popular and we realised there was a niche for good quality, organic preserves.
“There are many preserve makers in Scotland who describe their products as natural or chemical-free, but very few which are genuinely organic.”
After growing up on the family farm, Anna went to Edinburgh University and worked at a plant nursery before returning North to join the business in 2001.
“Growing up on a small family farm, I was always used to the idea of self-employment,” she says.
“I enjoyed my childhood freedom and wanted to create a similar life-work situation for my own children.
“I think it’s really valuable to grow up experiencing work taking place around you, and to learn how to operate in a family team.”
As a small family business, the Wilsons do as much as they possibly can in-house, from erecting polytunnels and sowing and harvesting to developing recipes and designing the products.
They grow many of the vegetables, fruit and herbs which go into the preserves.
They also manage their own website, do their own book-keeping and even built the kitchen which is now at the heart of the operation.
“We really are making handmade preserves,” says Anna. “We operate from a small, commercial kitchen attached to the family farmhouse – which isn’t very different from a domestic kitchen.
“We chop the ingredients by hand, stir the pans by hand and pour the jams and chutneys by hand. We even label the jars by hand.
“So when we describe our preserves as handmade, it’s not just a gimmick – and we believe you can taste the difference.”
“One of the features of hand-chopped and hand-poured preserves is that they can be chunkier than preserves which have to be jarred by machine, so some of our chutneys have a chunky, homemade texture and our jams contain whole fruit.”
But, like many Scottish businesses, Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions have had a major effect on Huntly Herbs and its customer base.
“The pandemic has had a great impact on our business,” explains Anna.
“Initially, a huge chunk of our customer base disappeared because we supplied shops and restaurants which stayed closed.
“Our kitchen premises are so small that there was no reasonable way of allowing staff to work safely together, so we furloughed and eventually had to lay off our four part-time staff.
“We’re now operating on a much smaller scale and selling everything through our website direct to retail customers.
“Until last year, we were wholesaling our preserves throughout Scotland and beyond, but the restructuring brought about by covid means we’re now selling entirely online.”
Anna also has her hands full elsewhere.
“My partner and I have a one-year-old daughter and are building a house – so juggling is the operative word!
“The last couple of years have been challenging, to put it mildly. My mum died just before I became pregnant, which had a huge impact on both the business and family – and then coronavirus emerged and we found ourselves with a lockdown baby and a covid-hit business, while trying to finish a house.
“I look forward to getting back to hobbies again one day!”
To shop Huntly Herbs’ fantastic range of organic jams, jellies, chutneys, relishes and herb plants, such as feverfew, horseradish, wasabi and wild garlic, visit the website here.