Having grown up on the family’s homemade cucumber relish, chef Emma Macdonald had the simple idea to make full-flavoured, quality chutneys and preserves available in the speciality sector. More than 23-years later, her award-winning, Wincanton-based company now produces more than 150 products. And whilst The Bay Tree may have grown, Emma’s philosophy remains the same – to produce delicious products just like you would make at home.
Emma: "As with many foodie start-ups, I initially began developing preserving recipes on my mother’s Aga, creating batches of dried tomatoes and cucumber relish in the family kitchen. I was, in hindsight very fortunate; within days of launching, Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols were keen to place orders and the kitchen was quickly outgrown. The market is much more competitive these days, however at the time, the artisan food movement in the UK was very much in its infancy so what The Bay Tree offered was something quite different. As sales grew we moved to our first manufacturing unit, where I continued developing new ranges and exploring new flavour profiles."
From the very beginning, Emma wanted to "make the ordinary extraordinary", a motto that is still at the heart of the company today. She believes that the sensation of taste can transform our mood in an instant, and is "a privilege" that should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
Emma: "With our recipe development and production, it has always been a case of marrying traditional cooking methods with innovative flavours. We have a real passion for tradition but our sense of adventure continues to push us to try new things. Prior to setting up The Bay Tree, I worked as a chef. This gave me the opportunity to travel the world and cook in lots of different restaurant kitchens. Coming into contact with different cuisine and cultures has always been a huge inspiration. I often introduce tastes that I’ve experienced and adapt classic recipes with a contemporary and sometimes unexpected twist. After all, taste is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Quite simply, food that tastes great makes life feel better. Our goal is simple – to make nature’s finest flavours a part of everyday life."
This pioneering spirit can be seen in some of The Bay Tree’s latest product launches. Last year saw the introduction of a new category to the market – Marmajam. Available in Blueberry & Lemon and Strawberry & Orange, these preserves combine the sweet taste of jam with the citrusy after-bite of marmalade. And this summer, the company launched Lemon & Elderflower Curd and, “the deliciously naughty”, Lemon with Gin & Lime Marmalade.
Emma: "We want people to get the most out of our products. It’s quite common to have a range of half-eaten jars of jam or chutney in the fridge that never get used up. There’s a bit of a contradiction going on. The word ‘preserve’ means to make something last longer. My family hates waste which is why we turned all our surplus fruit and veg into a variety of wonderful concoctions. Now, we want to help and inspire our customers to get to the bottom of the jar with our ‘five-day favourite’ recipes. Nearly all our products avoid using artificial preservatives; once opened they do need to be eaten relatively quickly. They’re not going to last forever so we want to be able to give people simple, clever ideas that will help finish them off in style."
Emma proudly states that The Bay Tree has enjoyed consistent growth, based on their firm adherence to the two defining principles of taste and quality. The company has also recently installed a new £250,000 production line, and has undergone a brand update and packaging redesign. Despite the changes, Emma says The Bay Tree team remains on a mission to "make the wonder and joy of nature’s finest flavours a part of everyday life".
Emma: "That’s why all of our products are made with a sense of adventure, a passion for tradition, an obsession with extracting everything out of the finest natural ingredients and a deep, deep love of food. International flavours are proving incredibly popular and on the savoury side our Glorious Garlic Pickle has received a number of awards. We’ve also developed Spicy Jerk Sauce, Smokey Chipotle Sauce, and Sticky Chinese Barbecue Sauce – again these all make great marinades, as well as being perfect condiments for the table."
Emma’s passion for quality produce is clear, but why does she love Somerset?
Emma: "There are countless artisan food producers in the area. It’s really inspiring to know that there are so many passionate foodies nearby; from suppliers, home-growers and cooks, through to other business owners. People that work with food tend to be quite open to sharing their knowledge, it’s very collaborative. That and you’re always only ever two-minutes away from a beautiful view – another great source of inspiration."