Motherhood puts Rachel on a Jam Horse-back journey to success

She's probably not the first mum to worry about how she was going to juggle motherhood with work.

Tuesday, 3rd April 2018, 9:11 am
Updated Tuesday, 3rd April 2018, 10:36 am
Rachel Whittaker, pictured at The Jam Horse, in Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Jam Horse MC 1

But for Rachel Whitaker, the solution was to launch a range of foods which she is now hoping will be an international operation within the next few years.

The 43-year-old from Cantley had worked as a pharmaceutical rep before she had her son, Benjamin, three years ago.

Rachel Whittaker, pictured at The Jam Horse, in Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Jam Horse MC 1

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But she could not see how she could juggle her job with caring for her second child.

The result was a business which now produces preserves for shops all across the UK and is on Morrison's list of approved suppliers.

Rachel said: "I needed to do something I could do in the evening, and that I could do while Benjamin was sleeping. Jam was something that I had always done with my mum and my gran.

"Generally speaking, my skills had been business, horses, and making jam. To do something in business I would have had to have been working during the day, and you can't really train horses in the evenings.

Rachel Whittaker, pictured at The Jam Horse, in Doncaster. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Jam Horse MC 1

"So initially, I started making baby food. It made sense, because at the time Benjamin was just coming up to weaning as my maternity leave was coming to an end, and I was realising I couldn't juggle looking after him with me previous job.

"I initially started up as WBaby, using the initials of Benjamin and William, my oldest, and making baby food. It was fruit and veg based purees, because I thought meat and dairy would be a health and safety nightmare. I sold it at farmers markets and summer fairs.

"But people started suggesting I did products for adults too - so I started making apple sauce, horseradish sauce and jam. That took off, and was outselling the baby food, so I decided in September 2015 to move to jams and chutneys."

With the change made, she set up her brand, The Jam Horse, with a logo based on horses she had seen in children's books and cartoons. Her first event was a Yorkshire Wildlife Park Christmas Fair, which saw her sell out of her products, and helped land her an arrangement to sell her product at the park's shop.

She continued to make her projects from her home, initially using hand written labels, until July 2017.

Last July she made a big change.

After having talks with supermarkets, when she was trying to arrange for them to stock her products, she realised that she would need to have a factory to meet some of the big companies' rules and regulations.

So she moved to an industrial unit on Wharf Road near the town centre. After the switch, she took advice from the food safety experts at Doncaster Council to make sure she would fit in with the supermarkets' requirements. That led to The Jam Horse being put on Morrisons' approved suppliers list. She has also received support from Handmade in Doncaster, an organisation which operates under Business Doncaster to help small producers.

The move to an industrial kitchen also brought other benefits. The new industrial kitchen means she can produce six times more jam, because of the greater number of space for jam pans, up from two pans to 12. The industrial dishwasher she now has takes two minutes to clean items, compared to 90 minutes with the domestic version she used in her home kitchen. It also means she does not have to ask her dad to clean jars for her!

She is now approaching other firms with her products. Recently she was sending samples to Selfridges.

For all the success of her products, she is not allowed to call it jam. Officially, jam has to have at least 60 per cent sugar. Low sugar jam has to have less than 50 per cent. With her product falling in between, she has to call it 'preserve'.

But it is has been sold around the country. Reading-based company Bayer used it to fill hampers.

Rachel has big plans. She wants to expand The Jam Horse, and is keen to open a production site in France in the next couple of years.

"I love France, and it is the first place I want to go," she said. "I've been speaking to the DTI about exporting.

"But I will always put the local delis and shops in Doncaster that I supply first."

Business awards

This year has seen The Jam Horse notch up its first awards.

Rachel was was recognised by lingerie tycoon Jacqueline Gold CBE, for her success as a female entrepreneur, and awarded with a #WOW badge.

Rachel was one of three winners selected by Jacqueline after she entered ‘Women on Wednesday’ – a competition launched by Jacqueline in 2011 to celebrate the growing number of UK female entrepreneurs and businesswomen.

Women on Wednesday (#WOW) takes place every week and is run through Jacqueline’s Twitter page.

Jacqueline said: "The Jam Horse really stood out for me as a #WOW winner because of Rachel’s passion for producing fresh locally sourced products. Initially starting her own business so she could work from home when her children were young, it is amazing to see how this company has developed into a well-established local brand loved by all. I admire Rachel’s determination to pursue her passion at the same time as raising her family."

She has also handed a Small Business Sunday award by Theo Pathitis.