Scotland's Larder: Laura Sutherland of The Glasgow Pickle Co

We chat to Laura Sutherland of The Glasgow Pickle Co about her business, reducing waste and her Christmas chutney called "Christmas Cheer"

Published 1st Dec 2021
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

We could all do with a bit of Christmas cheer and someone who produces that very thing – in the form of a chutney – is Laura Sutherland of The Glasgow Pickle Co.

She set up her part-time food business, in addition to her own public relations consultancy, during lockdown. "I had spare time, and, when you have spare time, you have time to dream, don't you?" she said.

Cook school

She added: "When I was at school. I wanted to own a restaurant by the time I was thirty, I even had a name for it, Chubby's" .

"All her family are big foodies, particularly my dad. He was absolutely obsessed by pickles and I inherited that love. "

It was no surprise that she liked home economics at school, and left to study hospitality at Clydebank college.

It was there that she learned the basics in a kitchen; how to make stocks and sauces, and basic recipes, learned how to prepare vegetables and cook/serve fish. She said, "it is all you really need to start off, and get a passion for it."

Food focused

Next she studied hospitality management at Glasgow College Of Food Technology "where things really went up a level, in terms of finance, menu costing, stock management."

They ran a college restaurant to give students real cooking experience, and allowed her to practise her skills on the college dignitaries. She said: "College was brilliant, a dream come true. I got to work with food as well as doing front of house."

She went on to become a restaurant manager for Big Beat aged only 19. Sadly, the company folded and she felt it was time for a change and ended up working in public relations.

Coincidentally, she ended up working with restaurant clients which married her interest in hospitality with her public relations experience. She said: "I thoroughly enjoyed it."

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She then founded Aura PR with business partner Flora Martin, and bought her out to go solo in 2012.

I have a dream

 But, when she turned 40, her entrepreneurial friend encouraged her to think about her long-standing dream of opening a restaurant.

She quickly decided that would be a mistake, "I knew exactly what would be involved."

However, it did make her think about why she wanted to run a restaurant in the first place. "It was to make people happy with food."

So, she decided to investigate the possibility of opening another food business and asked herself the question: What is my passion? The answer: 100 per cent pickles. “You should see my condiment cupboard, it is crazy," she said

Last Christmas

 Laura had always made jars of chutney to give friends and family as gifts at Christmas, and last year she decided to ask if any of her neighbours wanted some.

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She said: "Before I knew it, I had requests from all over my local area and 150 jars went out the door in two weeks, so Wonky Pickles was born." (She has since renamed the company The Glasgow Pickle Co)

Since then it has been a bit of whirlwind. First ,she had to find out what the legalities of running a food business from home were.

She spoke to her friendly environment health officer "to make sure everything is above board. If someone thinks they can just do it, they can't". She had planned to offer an incentive for people to reuse jars, but that wasn't allowed. She said: "It does feel a bit wasteful."

As sustainability and food waste was a big issue for her, "that is where the wonky bit came in."

Waste not want not

Picture: John Devlin

She actively seeks out non-perfect ingredients to make her pickles and chutneys. "The stuff that is left that nobody wanted because they didn't know what to do with it.

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"Where possible I will try and use wonky and I keep it seasonal and support local growers and nobody knows because it tastes blooming good at the end of it."

Every Halloween, 12 million pumpkins go to waste, she said,. "I mean come on that is just ridiculous."

This autumn she got in touch with some local gardeners to see if she could make use of their unwanted apples pears and plums.

"I was happy to collect or pick, I didn't really want stuff going to waste. I ended up getting a bumper harvest of plums, rhubarb and apples to make the products for autumn and winter."

She was able to make pumpkin with spiced apples and spiced plums, rhubarb and ginger compote, and because she is using the canning process they stay safe for a year in the jar.

One of the obstacles she faced was sourcing jars. At the time Brexit had just happened and they were all getting bought up by the big companies and they weren't available.

"There were some challenges to get round and find some new suppliers."

Down the market

Luckily, as she runs her own public relations firm, she can juggle the time demands of both businesses, which has allowed her to set up a market stall at weekends.

She sells at Patrick and Southside markets. She said: "It’s a bit like an episode of EastEnders. It takes planning but it is an absolute joy to be doing it and it is so nice to be able to speak to people at the market."

Laura is in her element selling direct to customers and getting their valuable feedback as well as trialling new products.

She said: "People like that exclusivity factor when there is only maybe 30 or 50 jars made and people are quite keen to snap that up."

Listen and learn

She has learned that you have to listen to your audience. "People kept asking for chilli jam but I didn't make it, so now make my own version of a chilli jam and it sells out every time it is out there."

She has learned some important lessons along the way, including fine-tuning her label design.

They feature her funny pickle name with 'Made in Glasgow' underneath, but she said: "I kind of missed a trick by not adding a description like red onion chutney."

But she is thoroughly enjoying doing everything from sourcing to selling, but she has been able to use her public relations skills to get her customers "engaged with the brand when they are not necessarily buying." She blogs and posts a weekly recipe and tips on how to re-purpose the jars.

In a bit of a pickle

She began initially making more pickles than chutneys using her own unique recipes. "I'm not the sort of person who needs a recipe book, I look to see what I have got in the fridge and will come up with something pretty creative."

Tangy tom is her best seller. She said: "People salivate when they hear about it." It is made from tomatoes with a lot of garlic and white onion and thyme and drizzle of olive oil which are roasted in the oven for 1 1/2 hours so they are nicely bubbled and have started to reduce slightly.

At that point, It is transferred to a pot and reduced slightly again, and then I grate in carrots into it. I use a tiny bit of cinnamon and mustard seeds and a bit of chilli as well, but that is not to add heat, it is there to add a warmth to bring it together.

Condiments of the season

Christmas cheer is her newest product on the stall, and she named it that mainly because last year was so bad for everyone.

She said: "There are good days and bad days. I think my first-ever market where I took a ton of money and I came back and thought if I do that every week I could do this full time, but there have been other weeks where I have taken a quarter of that amount and I have felt very deflated.

"It can be scary. I put my heart and soul into this."

However, she feels that it is vitally important that farmers markets exist "because people can buy amazing quality Scottish produce direct from the people that make it."

Shout about it

She says, overall, the pros of running a small enterprise outweigh the cons. She said: "There is always a way around a problem, and if you are entrepreneurial and if you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you'll be able to overturn those challenges and turn them into opportunities."

She has spoken about Wonky Pickles (now called The Glasgow Pickle Co) at Business Women in Scotland and Business Gateway events and she is delighted if her story can be part of inspiring others.

You can buy her products, online or from her in in person at Partick Farmers Market first Saturday of the month and Southside on the third Saturday of the month market; or get in touch on social media. She said: "I'm on all the channels."

It is not what you know...

A chance meeting can mean a lot to a small company. Laura heard that Nick and Julia Nairn were at the market one day, so she quickly put a bag of pickles together and went in search of them.

She wasn't looking for a celebrity endorsement just some honest feedback, but she was overjoyed to receive a call the same day to say they were blown away by her Tangy Tom Tomato relish and they placed an order for four products for Lake of Monteith. Laura said even a chance meeting " can make a huge difference to a small company."

She is in the process of making plans for next year, but, for now, her sole ambition is to make sure Christmas Cheer sells out because "after Christmas there is no point in having it."

She added: "Then, maybe, I’ll take a bit of a break in January to recharge the batteries and go forth and conquer."

The Glasgow Pickle Co

Partick Farmers Market is on second and fourth Saturday of the month Southside on the third Saturday of the month

Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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