My life in the grocery trade

Alice McIlhagger, Owner, Brambleberry Jams

WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

I am the founder and owner of the Northern Ireland artisan food brand Brambleberry Jams, making my own recipe sauces, jams and chutney.

BRIEFLY OUTLINE YOUR EMPLOYMENT HISTORY TO DATE

I was a geography teacher and then a DoE town planner before starting my own food business. My current work relates more to my student jobs where I waitressed in five-star hotels, (The Hotel Du Palais in Biarritz, France and the Old Course Hotel, St Andrews) than it does to my professional positions. Working in those incredible kitchens triggered an interest in cooking and the food industry that has been with me ever since.

WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?

I do everything in my own business from developing the recipes, to designing the packaging, running the daily social media, sourcing all the ingredients as locally as possible, to the sales and distribution, and then of course all the cooking and cleaning in the kitchen.

WHEN DID YOU TAKE UP THIS POST?

I started selling my homemade jams and sauces in June 2013. It became a business with a name in October 2013 with the help of Lisburn and Castlereagh Council business team’s Inspire Program and LEO Go For It putting me on the right track.

WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?

The best part is getting to collaborate with other artisan food producers, independent retailers, café owners and ingredients suppliers. I also enjoy the creative process of building my brand by working with artists, graphic designers and photographers.

The worst part has been having to learn how to prioritise my work as a sole trader and learning that working from home, it can be hard to strike the right balance between family and work time.

BRIEFLY OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY

It always begins around 6.30am with my husband and children, then I set out my cooking plans for the day ahead when they will be away to school and work. During school term-time, I try and cook at least one flavour during the day and then the late afternoons and early evenings are family time. After 8pm, I get the kitchen back to myself, the radio goes on, and I work through until around midnight.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER?

There have been many career highlights already, such as my own recipes getting four Great Taste awards, winning gold at Blas Na hEireann 2017 but by far and away the proudest was when Brambleberry Jams Sea Salted Caramel Sauce was on Top of the Shop with Tom Kerridge on BBC2 in April 2018 and then reviewed on C4 Gogglebox that weekend. Seeing those famous families talking about my product and packaging that I have created was undoubtedly the weirdest, most unexpected and proudest moment of my working life.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED WITH THE LOCAL RETAIL INDUSTRY?

The best thing about being involved in the local retail industry over the last six years has been to be both witness to, and part of, the rise in artisan-produced food available in shops. Previously foods like mine were only available at craft fairs and markets. It has been a big change in attitude and confidence from retail owners to take on very small, not previously known brands like mine.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?

I try to take off one weekend a month, but this doesn’t always happen. I like to get away to Donegal with family and friends to an old cottage that’s off-line with no wifi and not do any cooking if I can get away with it. I love watching the sea and walking on the empty beaches

Share this Post:

Also in this section