SpruceRoots Magazine - September, 1999

Recipe for Success

by Brigid Cumming

Six years ago Tlell resident Karen Ronnenkamp turned her talent for making delicious jams and jellies into a thriving cottage industry. "It really was a local product from start to finish," she explains. Maureen Benoit designed the "Beary Bush" label, first printed by Observer Publishing in Queen Charlotte, then by Excel Printers in Prince Rupert. Karen and her husband, Bill, picked and froze the berries, and then Karen made the jam in 50-jar batches. "The biggest problem here was the jars," she says. "I ordered them through a wholesaler in Vancouver and they're very, very heavy." She estimates her jars cost 60-70 cents each, explaining "I went for a fancier jar; you could get plainer jars, but then your product doesn't look as good."

"I concentrated more on doing a quality product," Karen said, "more quality than quantity." This focus on quality and on presentation translated into steady sales of salal, blackberry, tayberry, rosehip and crabapple jams and jellies. "Basically, every year I sold as much as I made," she says. "I was making about 400 jars a year, 8 to 12 ounce jars and I had small 4 ounce ones for the tourist trade." She figures her jam-making made her more than the minimum wage, and a lot more than making crafts. "Maybe $10 an hour, although my husband Bill, might disagree with that."
One concern for jam-making entrepreneurs is inspection. "You have to have a foodsafe kitchen," she said, "a separate kitchen and you have to list the ingredients on (the label). So there are rules. Nobody ever came and asked me, but if I'd gotten bigger, I think they might."

She might still be making and selling quantities of jam, but starting work at the Queen Charlotte Islands General Hospital pharmacy has left her with much less free time. Her last hundred jars are going to supply guests in her Bed and Breakfast. "As a commercial venture right now it's at a standstill, but it's a niche waiting to be filled," she says. "I didn't really even fill the local market."


SpruceRoots Magazine - September, 1999