Blake Hill Preserves owners Vicky Allard and Joe Hanglin are honored by the US Small Business Administration as 2022’s Vermont Small Business Persons of the Year.
Vicky and Joe were nominated for the award by Marie Dussault, Vermont Economic Development Authority, and Patricia Putnam, Mascoma Bank: “The past 6 years the company has experienced tremendous growth and have placed their products and the State of Vermont on the national stage with all their awards and accolades. They embody the spirit and commitment a small business should have in Vermont.” Says Vicky, “It is such an honor to receive this amazing award from the SBA, and to be nominated for it by VEDA and Mascoma Bank. We are truly thankful to all our Vermont State supporters, our customers, suppliers, and amazing team, who have all been such an important part of our business’ success”.
While working an intensely busy schedule at their office jobs in New York City, Vicky started weekend jam making at her and husband Joe’s Vermont home, using wild berries growing on the hillsides surrounding their farmhouse. A friend introduced her homemade creations to a local store, they quickly sold out, and Blake Hill Preserves was born. Constantly innovating to offer market leading products, Blake Hill is now one of the most awarded jam makers in the US today with awards across their entire collection of sweet, savory and spicy jams, marmalades, condiments and cocktail shrubs.
Blake Hill has a diverse, nationwide customer base including over 2,000 specialty retail stores; dining establishments; meal service delivery kit companies; and other specialty manufacturers who use their jams in baked goods, cheeses, and ice cream. 2022 has started out to be another record-breaking year for the company, and this follows a very impressive previous five years for Blake Hill, making 300,000 jars of jam in 2016, increasing to 1,040,000 jars in 2021. Including food service offerings, Blake Hill’s overall jam making increased from 176,000lbs. in 2016, to 1,200,000lbs. in 2021 – a lot of jam making growth.
Decisions related to quality, capacity and pricing can be defining in shaping a company’s growth, culture, brand and, ultimately, success. Early rapid growth can lead companies to spend all their time trying to keep up with demand, sacrificing quality to meet output demands. Says Vicky, “we had three options as we grew - evolve to become another ubiquitous jam business similar to all the other large companies; maintain our artisan quality by staying small batch and likely significantly increasing pricing simply to cover overheads; or be a differentiator by achieving the same award-winning, artisan quality whether making 100 or 10,000 jars of jam or more a day. While the most challenging as it requires one to simultaneously be an artisan and logistical specialist, we chose the latter approach as it embodies our commitment to meet our customers’ increasing demand for our jams while ensuring every single jar remains the same quality that launched our business and has driven our success.”
Key creative decisions can also impact the ability to achieve a strong and consistent brand image. “There were moments when market experts suggested a change to our packaging to reflect a market trend, or to reduce our offerings and focus exclusively on manufacture and not product innovation. While the weight of expertise behind these suggestions could have made them persuasive, we nevertheless decided to maintain our own unique path because that was what made us special, what our customers were enjoying, and to solely follow market trends is not a sustainable way to do business, destroys brand consistency, and curtails creativity” says Vicky. Blake Hill also decided early on to focus exclusively on internal creativity and not get distracted by what other companies were producing or posting on social media. “By staying pure to our brand and continuously following our own unique creative path, we became more and more distinctive, and this has enabled us to be at the forefront of market developments.”
While many companies may become operationally challenged due to rapid growth, Blake Hill’s focus on proactive investment has meant their growth is actually supporting greater and greater success. “While our growth means we are very busy, we have always appreciated the importance of continuous proactive investment to ensure we stay ahead of our business’ needs and continue to provide our customers with the very best products and customer service irrespective of the increasing size of their collective orders. With continuing investment in talent at all levels of our business up to our most senior Executive Director - Lindsay Obar, we believe we offer our very best products and customer experience right now, even though we continue to enjoy significant levels of growth” says Vicky.
Accompanying Blake Hill’s business focus is their philosophy that a responsible business should make a notable, positive difference within its community. “We believe in sharing Blake Hill’s success with our community by continuously increasing local sourcing of products and services; supporting nonprofit community organizations through donations of product and resources; providing valuable, remunerated, work experience to members of our community for whom it may provide helpful social or career development support; and enhancing our net zero waste philosophy so to be a sustainable member of our business community”.
Growing a business in a very competitive market with tight margins; inexpensively priced, highly commercialized national brands; and resource intensive production with continuous capital investment needs takes boldness and resilience to succeed. Vicky and Joe’s professional background in banking and risk management, tackling tough new assignments such as Vicky’s investigation of triad-linked fraud in Asia, or Joe’s oil industry work in Caracas that required the accompaniment of an armed bodyguard, certainly provides plenty of life experience as to how to succeed in highly challenging environments. Combining this with their passion for great food, belief in integrity and doing the right thing, and investing in the very best talent to support the quality and capacity needs of rapidly growing Blake Hill, has created a very unique business that continues to thrive even during these unusual times, and contributes to the well-being and success of their team, their customers, suppliers, and their community.
About Blake Hill Preserves: Blake Hill is an English fruit preservatory in Vermont creating innovative sweet, savory and spicy jams, marmalades, condiments, pie fillings and shrubs for the modern pantry. They combine three generations of preserve-making skills with innovative yet super elegant flavors and the finest ingredients for health-conscious customers. Blake Hill has garnered multiple wins at the US Good Food Awards, the Specialty Food Association's SOFIs and the World Marmalade Awards, and are available nationwide at specialty food stores, and served on the plate and cheese board at restaurants and other fine establishments. Blakehillpreserves.com