El Cajon, California
Industry: Food & Beverage
Owners Risa and David Baron make artisan jams from natural ingredients, with an eye towards scaling the operation.
The Barons first met founder Jackie Anderson while she was selling her jams at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego. "My son loved these jams and jellies so much, he would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with them," says Risa, current president and co-owner of Jackie's Jams. "We became friends with Jackie and a couple of years later, she wanted to retire. At that time my husband wanted a career change, so he went to work for Jackie and eventually we purchased the business."
The Barons took the original recipes from Anderson and began making larger batches, but using only three natural ingredients. "We use fruit, pure cane sugar, and pectin," says Risa. "Everything is still made by hand with the same process Jackie used. We started with an 80-pound kettle in a commercial kitchen to ensure everything was according to health permits and state regulations."
The market surge for natural foods, along with a growing need for customers wanting to know where their food comes from, has helped Jackie's Jams grow under the Barons' ownership. "More people are interested in knowing where their food comes from," says Risa. "Add to the fact that there's a nostalgic feeling about jam. It reminds you of home, mother, aunt, and your grandmother. For many, these are the flavors they grew up with. It's helped our natural products take hold and grow."
It didn't take long for retailers like Whole Foods to recognize the popularity of Jackie's Jams and helped to take it from the farmers markets to wholesale distribution. "Whole Foods has local programs that help small artisan businesses like ours," says Risa. "We went from being in five local stores to more than 30. Whole Foods has been a tremendous partner for us and brought us on very early. Adhering to their standards gives you instant reputation early on, and that has also helped build the reputation of our business."
The company is now in more retailers and specialty stores, and the wholesale side of the business is also growing. "We're now in restaurants and coffee shops, as well as hotel chains like Marriott, Hyatt, and La Jolla Shores here in San Diego," says Risa. "Most take large one-gallon containers of our jams and list us on their menus a local provider. We also work with farmers and co-pack with them. Any excess produce they have, we let them sell jams under their own label. Farmers are our partners and we have a great relationship with them."
As the company grows, Risa finds new hurdles in manufacturing and distribution. "We're ready for our next round of growth," she says. "We're purchasing equipment and designing the space for extending operations. We were in a smaller kitchen for 10 years, and now we need more space for our economy of scale. A second kettle will expand operations on the retail and wholesale sides and allow us to keep up with orders."
To do this, the company has utilized California tax credits for purchasing equipment, as well as taking advantage of small business programs. "This is a labor-intensive business and we've utilized everything that has been available to us. At some point, we also want to find some form of automation for packaging. We still want to make everything by hand but we'll want to find more ways of being more efficient at it as we grow."
Now with more than 30 flavors and some uniquely specific to the San Diego area, Jackie's Jams is gaining momentum, but Risa wants to maintain the brand's artisan and natural appeal. "We've had orders from New York City, from people who wanted our guava jam," she explains. "We reached out to them and they told us we were the only natural manufacturer of guava jam that they could find, anywhere. That gives us a great feeling of accomplishment."
Challenges: "Moving into a larger kitchen and a new space will be challenging," says Risa. "We learned a lot about logistics and shipping and we have to figure out the design and how to use the space effectively to be able to ship in larger quantities effectively in a new space. We can't grow until we can learn how to ship effectively."
Opportunities: "With a new kitchen, we won't be scared to go after bigger customers and fulfill orders," says Risa. "We can now go after new and larger customers."
Needs: "We need operational efficiencies," says Risa. "We inventory everything manually and would like a digital or automated inventory system to maximize logistics. We learned this with FedEx, who helped us with our packaging. They came up with a solution that was a game-changer from me driving to Los Angeles at 3 a.m. every day for two years. Once we figured this out with FedEx, we made more money."