Marion Darlington started making her award-winning range of products in the 1980’s and now in her 80’s she still verses all recipe creation in the family business which is now run by her daughter, Sarah. Paul Andrews went to meet Sarah to find out more.
This is a family business that literally started around the kitchen table. A surplus of eggs from the family farm led Marion to use them up by making batches of Lemon Curd. As Sarah explains, “At that time 100 jars was a typical level of production and the jars were then sold on the egg round in local towns and villages with empty jars being collected by the Brownies and we labelled the jars after school for which we were paid a halfpenny per jar.”
That was how it all started. A simple concept that took off as increasingly more people wanted to purchase jars of the now world-renowned Lemon Curd. Such was the demand that Tom Darlington converted some of his farm buildings into a large kitchen area to enable production to increase.
As Sarah continues, “This was when they took on their first employee, a lady called Janet, and to help pay the wages, Marion and Janet also began making cheesecakes to sell to local pubs and restaurants. Marion extended the range of products available too, adding Lime and Orange Curds, Orange Marmalade and Sweet Apple Chutney, all derived from recipes passed down from my grandmother.”
This is a family firm that clearly has an entrepreneurial spirit at the core, something that has stood them in good stead over the years with relationships with both customers and suppliers key too. As the business grew they used these relationships to help them, not least the assistance of a friendly pickles firm in Manchester who helped by selling them empty jars for all the new products that were being introduced.
In 1983, Marion was approached by Mrs Idien, a fruit farmer from Woore, to see if there was any interest in purchasing their surplus, something that led to them adding jams to the product range. The business grew further when two local garden centres took on the range which was spotted on the shelves by some fine food wholesalers who also decided to take on the products too. The word was spreading and the business began to grow further.
As Sarah continues, “Ladies from the local village who already dropped by the farm to collect their eggs in the morning stayed for longer and helped Marion and Janet meet the growing demand. The range extended further into chutneys and following a stall in the Women’s Farming Union tent at the Cheshire Show, word spread further afield."
"It was at this time that I joined the business for what I thought was a temporary role and had no idea at that time that I would still be here all these years later!”
Sarah was encouraged to get more involved and helped the business to continue to move forward. “It was an exciting time for the business but being a family member did not result in any special treatment. I was treated just like the other staff and learnt a lot from them, working together to grow and one of the biggest decisions that we had ever taken was to relocate to Lancaster Fields in Crewe as we had outgrown the farm. This gave us the opportunity to create and launch even more products and by 2002 we began exporting products to Sweden,” she adds.
Teamwork and a passion to create delicious products is evident throughout the business and their loyal team, many of whom have worked for the business for many years. “We pull together and share the same values,” continues Sarah, “values such as loyalty, fairness and integrity, to each other and the brand."
"Like any business, profit is important but the people are important to us too. From the people that make our products to those working in the farm shops that sell it and especially the customers who buy it and enjoy it, appreciating that everything we do is from the heart.”
Community is an essential ingredient of this family business too. “We started on a farm supplying eggs to the local community and this sense of place and belonging is something very close to us. These bonds remain important today and we remain active in the Young Farmers community and support plenty of charities and causes locally too,” explains Sarah.
Sarah embraces the heritage that comes with this brand, recognising the input of both her parents in creating what has become the business it is today. “They were both up for the challenge and embraced all the opportunities that came their way. Dad was great and finding solutions to make things work and even today his purpose-built wrapping machine is still in use in the warehouse with his name above it. It’s lovely to see it every day and to be able to continue the legacy as he is no longer with us having passed away a number of years back. Marion is still very much involved and continues to be part of the ongoing journey that would not have been possible without the two of them,” she adds.
March 2020 saw the 75th anniversary of VE Day and a special limited edition run of two of their bestselling lines was produced – Legendary Lemon Curd and Strawberry Jam with a donation from every jar sold made to the charity SSAFA, an organisation that provides invaluable support for today’s soldiers and their families.
The pandemic followed and was far from an easy time but the business, as it was helping to feed the nation, stayed open, with changes being made to keep staff safe and the sense of community was reinforced. As Sarah continues, “These were strange times and we needed to keep people safe which was our priority but the whole team were amazing and our values came to the fore with everyone stepping in where they could to keep things moving.”
The past few years have seen plenty of changes with innovations in production and storage. Sarah herself was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2021 for her services to charity, something that she commits plenty of time to alongside running the family business. “It was an extremely proud moment for me, made all the more special to receive the award in front of Mrs Darlington too!” she adds.
As a business, there is no standing still and for a business that was born out of a desire to use up surplus eggs, there is still a desire to be the best that they can and to continue to please the taste buds, in the UK and further afield. Jams, curds, chutneys and preserves continue to be made to long-standing family recipes that have passed down through the generations and are enjoyed around the world daily.
As Sarah concludes, “We have a great team who really are great custodians of our products and who continue to embrace the evolution of the business and the brand. It has been an incredible journey and one that I am delighted to be continuing as a legacy of what was started all those years ago."
"The journey continues but our values very much stay the same – to continue producing products we love, with love, with a team that pull together to make it happen each and every day.”