Martin Grant reveals how he and his father admired the preserves and chutney brand from afar before taking it on themselves.
Mrs Bridges is all about the best of British – we add a few twists, but the flavours are classic.” Martin Grant, Managing Director of Mrs Bridges
Martin Grant, MD of the premium conserve and chutney producer Mrs Bridges, is mulling over the benefits of working with family. “Hmm, it’s a bit of a loaded question,” he laughs. “It’s a freer working relationship than you’d normally have, for sure.” It was Martin’s father, Paul – now chairman of the business – who bought Mrs Bridges from its previous owner back in 2000. “Our factory supplied some of the conserves, so we knew the brand,” explains Martin. “We’d admired Mrs Bridges since way back – it’s always been the best looking jar on the shelf – but it had a complicated supply chain with several different jam and chutney makers, and we felt that by bringing all the manufacturing under one roof we could really improve the taste in those lovely jars.”
Preserving what’s important
It was a big undertaking, more than doubling the size of the Grants’ existing jam and marmalade business, requiring new premises and quickly getting up to speed with making chutneys, but they took on a lot of skilled people along with the business and that helped. “You could say she was a very complicated lady to bring on board,” reflects Martin. “All the finishing of the jars, the mop caps and bows, is done by hand and that alone takes a lot of people to complete in the right style. But there’s no doubt it was worth it.”
The Grant’s philosophy is to allow the ingredients and methods of manufacture to shine, keeping those as consistently high in standard as possible. It’s certainly worked – today, Mrs Bridges products are available in more than 150 different flavours and varieties (a good selection of them available in Dobbies foodhalls), and is exported to 86 countries. All the jams and preserves are made by hand on site in Arbroath, stirred by hand in vast steam-heated copper pans on the ‘shop floor’, which is literally just a few steps away from Martin’s office. Copper is used because it’s the best metal for conducting heat, and steam provides the most even temperature, producing the best flavours. In fact, the copper pans are made just down the road in Dundee. The Grants use local suppliers wherever possible and this, of course, includes produce. With a climate that produces world-class soft fruit, Scotland’s preserve-manufacturing heritage should come as no surprise. “We’ve been lucky to find people who still have those skill sets, and those two things – the raw materials combined with highly skilled confectioners, to use their technical title – are intrinsic to Mrs Bridges.”
A taste of luxury
Not that Mrs Bridges sticks to the classic flavours, of course. Banoffee curd and sweet beetroot relish are among the delicious flavours on offer. “Our large export market provides an amazing insight into what’s going on around the world and that gives us a good steer about where food tastes are going. But there’s always been one very clear strategy – Mrs Bridges is about the best of British, so you won’t find mango jam or anything like that among our products. We like to add a few twists, but the flavours always have to be British at heart.”
While flavours and new varieties are regularly reviewed, the jars have just had their first makeover in 16 years. “We’ve added a bit more colour and we’ve changed the bow to copper, to reflect the way the products are made,” explains Martin. The new jars will be in Dobbies now. One thing that hasn’t changed is the shape of the jar itself. “Oh no, we wouldn’t change that, says Martin, sounding quite horrified. “It’s the most beautiful jar in the world.”
His genuine affection for the brand is obvious, and he talks about it with almost paternal pride. In fact, you get the feeling that Mrs Bridges is almost part of the family.
Photo Credit: Chris Scott