Mercers of Yorkshire award-winning preserves by Paul and Lizzie

How has a small family business transformed itself into an award-winning preserves brand in just five years?

The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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No one knows jam like the Women’s Institute. Winning its members’ official seal of approval is like getting the preserves Pulitzer, so Paul and Lizzie Mercer can be forgiven for feeling a bit jammy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Their story began in 2007, when Paul was running an import business, but looking for a new challenge. He heard the owner of local jam-making business York Preserves was retiring, offering him and his wife the perfect opportunity for a new venture.

Since then they have proved a great team; Paul is a passionate foodie, while Lizzie keeps a steady hand on quality control and finances. Even the couple’s three children get involved in taste-testing the products, with chocolate dessert sauce the firm favourite.

York Preserves had been manufacturing a range of luxury preserves and condiments based on traditional recipes for 25 years. Paul and Lizzie, who live in Bilbrough, retained this premium label but also wanted to develop a lower-priced quality brand to bring a taste of luxury to the mass market – and so Mercers of Yorkshire was born.

Mercers’ jam is soft-set like its popular French counterparts, but has a higher fruit content, making it one of the fruitiest jams thaat are available on supermarket shelves.

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‘When we started I got such a buzz from the feedback we received,’ said Paul. ‘Whenever people tasted the jam they wanted to buy it, simple as that. People are also now concerned about exactly what goes into the food they eat, and we are able to supply them with very accurate information.’

The majority of ingredients used in their products are locally sourced. Their strawberries and blackberries are from Yorkshire and their carrots come from a field in the next village. Inevitably, however, some are imported, such as lemons from Sicily, oranges from Seville and ginger from Australia, to ensure quality isn’t compromised.

Mercers Apple Chutney scooped a two-star gold award at the recent Great Taste Awards, and their Strawberry Conserve was crowned best sweet preserve at the Deliciouslyorkshire Awards. However, the icing on the cake (Victoria sponge – no cream) came when Mercers was chosen by the Women’s Institute to produce preserves for its new line of products.

The company was put through a rigorous series of taste tests and site visits by WI representatives before being selected as one of only three producers in the country deemed worthy of the WI moniker.

But this shouldn’t really come as any surprise as many of Mercers’ products are actually made using recipes from a WI cook book called Preserves & Preserving passed on by the previous owner of York Preserves.

The company is now producing three jams, two chutneys and a marmalade for the WI, with a further 25 products launching in 2012.

‘Our jams and chutneys are just like those you might make in your own kitchen,’ said Paul. ‘And that’s what the WI is all about.’

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