Jennifer Meredith interviews Keeley Bennett, founder of Mrs Bennett’s Pickles & Chutneys
There’s a certain sense of pride that comes from seeing the words ‘Made in Suffolk’ in bold type across the label of a food product in stores nationwide. It is as if we, as a county, are sharing a little piece of our gourmet goodness with the rest of the country – and that is certainly something to be proud of. Especially when the product tastes as delicious as Keeley Bennett’s fruity Pear & Walnut Chutney, or her savoury Onion Marmalade, both of which have been chosen by Marks & Spencer to feature in stores all over the UK.
Keeley founded Mrs Bennett’s Pickles and Chutneys at her home in Polstead after her brother, who owns popular local deli, Wright’s of Frinton, asked her to make a batch of her great-grandmother’s secret piccalilli recipe for his shop: ‘The good people of Frinton couldn’t get enough of the piccalilli’s zingy taste and the business snowballed from there’, Keeley says. Two years on, Mrs Bennett’s is now a popular artisan brand with sell-out products; however, Keeley retains the honest and traditional values that her family has stuck to through generations of pickle and chutney making: supporting the community and the environment by collaborating with local produce suppliers in order to create a higher quality finished product. But don’t be fooled by the name – Mrs Bennett’s doesn’t just produce pickles and chutneys, they also create preserves, relishes and condiments.
Originally working in the financial district of the City as an underwriter for insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, Keeley was eight months pregnant with her third child before she quit her job and decided to give more time to her family: ‘Initially I could run the business around the children, and now they are all at school I manage my time between them and the business’. Until recently, she produced all of the pickles and chutneys herself, as well as carrying out the packaging and labelling of the products, but now she receives help from her trusty family team: ‘since landing the Marks & Spencer contract it has definitely been all hands on deck, but we remain a family run business’.
She began introducing her brand to the public by attending Suffolk’s famous food markets, learning along the way about the range of produce available in the county: ‘the produce available in Suffolk is amazing, and is a great inspiration for our range’. Each of Mrs Bennett’s products come with a recommendation of what to pair them with, for example the Plum and Port Chutney works well with crusty bread and strong cheddar, or as an accompaniment to slow roast pork belly.
Where available, Mrs Bennett’s prefers to use locally sourced ingredients to keep the food miles to a minimum, ‘for example, we only use Aspalls Cyder Vinegar, and the inspiration for our Pear & Walnut Chutney came from the walnuts grown in our own garden’. These ingredients are guaranteed to provide a fresher and richer taste as the produce has had less time to perish and therefore keeps its flavour; it must be the secret to Keeley’s great tasting condiments!
In the past, Mrs Bennett’s bestsellers have included their Chilli Jam, which received a Great Taste award, and their Festive Chutney, which outstripped the sales of any other product in the lead up to Christmas last year. Keeley’s personal favourite is the Apple and Ginger Chutney, ‘as it’s great with all cheeses, and pâté too’. However, the team are not going to slow down any time soon; there are new flavours in the pipeline which are to be fine tuned in their new kitchen at the Suffolk Food Hall over the next few months, and Keeley aims to have her products stocked far and wide as well as keeping local farmshops and delis well supplied with the products that all the locals love.
Marks & Spencer will stock Mrs Bennett’s Pickles and Chutneys at £4 per 220g jar; the wider range is available to purchase from a variety of independent retailers across East Anglia.
To find out more about Mrs Bennett’s, please visit www.mrsbennetts.com