Small company's hand made jam in big demand

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014
Te Horo Brand jam
KAY BLUNDELL/Fairfax NZ
NATURAL FLAVOUR: Te Horo Brand cook Taloa Tiiti stirs pots of bubbling jam while company co-owner Tim Gibbs holds a pot of jam with a newly-designed labels.

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Sticking to old-fashioned family recipes to produce fresh, sharp, distinctively-flavoured jams from bubbling pots of fruit, Te Horo Foods has launched a new marketing plan to expand over the next ten years.

Tim and Kate Gibbs moved from corporate jobs in Auckland to their 48-hectare acre block in Te Horo in 1994.

They started making blackberry jam for Anathoth in Nelson in 1995.

Anathoth was taken over by Barkers about 13 years later and in 2009 the Gibbs launched Te Horo Jams.

Starting with two people working two days a week using four burners, their production had doubled every year since.

Now they have four full-time cooks, four administrative staff, merchandising contractors around the country and their three children help out in the holidays.

Kate, a viticulturalist, remembers as a child picking raspberries with her grandmother.

"Making jam takes me right back to holidays in Southland," she said.

She also remembers her mother getting boxes of apricots and peaches sent from Hawkes Bay for jam making.

When the Gibbs started making marmalade, they took Kate's mother's advice.

"It is important the chunk of pith is not too big, hard, rubbery or bitter, it has to melt into the jam," Kate said.

Her mother still tests recipes and provides advice on new products being trialled, such as feijoa jelly.

"That is the beauty of having a small family business, you can do things the old-fashioned way," she said.

In their new marketing plan, the Gibbs decided to recapture the colourful old-fashioned labels on boxes of fruit Kate remembers from her childhood, reminiscent of 1930s to 50s, depicting full-bodied, ripe fruit. The labels, by an artist in Wairarapa,are being produced for smaller punnets displaying the origin of the fruit.

"People want to know where the food they buy comes from," Gibbs said.

They use their own blackberries.

Other fruit is sourced from around the country - raspberries from Nelson, strawberries from Auckland, apricots and plums from Hawkes Bay and citrus from Gisborne.

"In the old days people making jam used soft, left-over fruit.

"We only use premium first grade fruit - that comes across in the freshness, sharpness, colour and flavour," he said.

The only ingredients in their jams are fruit and sugar, and a nob of butter to stop the pots boiling over.

There are no plans for bulk production in vats or importing fruit.

Each cook has 10 pans on the go at one time and completes 10 rounds a day.

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About 10,000 pots of jam are produced a week.

Every batch is stirred with large wooden spoons.

"It is done by eye. It is all about the stir, feel, texture and look," Kate said.

The local soil and climate provided ideal growing conditions, producing other top award winning products such as olive and lavender oil.

Cool, slow growing conditions allowed time for fruit to ripen gradually, producing full flavours and high amounts of antioxidants.

Light intensity also contributed to intense flavours found nowhere else in the world, she said

An hour from Wellington, the fertile soil and "totally different weather" had secured the Te Horo area a role as food basket for the city.

Supplying jams to New World and Countdown supermarkets nationwide, Wellington was their biggest market while two top Auckland eateries had them on the menu.

Exporting to Australia, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, last week they sent 200kg of jam to China for moon cakes for Chinese New Year celebrations.

The Gibbs aimed to first boost their national distribution, then boost exports from 10 per cent of their business at present to 50 per cent in five years.

They were also looking at expanding into other products.

They won a New Zealand Food Award in 2010 and a Cuisine Artisan award in 2012. Present turnover is over $1 million a year.

Te Horo Foods general manager Chris Barber said the new plan was not just about marketing: "You can be a family business retaining family values and still be successful."

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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