WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – LAURA SINNOTT, ARTISAN PRESERVE MAKER
Do you know Laura Sinnott? She is not a name I’ve heard much off before and yet, you will have seen the fruits of her work on selective shelves in Ireland. Wexford Preserves tread that fine line between being a household name and still retaining their artisanal ways.
Laura runs the company with her husband and I’m in awe of a couple of who can work together. More importantly, their Wexford rhubarb and ginger jam is a constant presence at my house. It is absolutely stunning on warm buttered soda bread.
Worth mentioning that 50 cents of the sale of each jar of their pink grapefruit marmalade goes to the Marie Keating foundation. I like a company with a conscience.
So once you’ve read this, I don’t know how often you will hear about Laura, but I know you will taste her work time and time again. That much I know.
How did your career path bring you here?
I have always had a great love of food, my mam was a fantastic cook and baker so from a very early age I could make family dinners. I come from a household like a lot of people my age where you went to town once a week where there was a big shop done and that was it, if you wanted something ‘nice’ during the week then you had to get creative in the kitchen. Every Saturday we made bread, tarts, scones and buns, which probably lasted until Monday if we were lucky!We had blackcurrant bushes in the garden so we often made jam that rarely got a chance to set because we ate it steaming hot. I loved home economics and biology in secondary school and I went on to study Hotel & Catering with Business, and then Tourism and Hospitality in WIT. These courses led me to working in hotels and restaurants both in Ireland and abroad in all roles, from waiting tables in the Lime Tree Restaurant in Kenmare, housekeeping on Jersey Island to operating a bar at the Sydney Olympics.
When I returned to Ireland I worked in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan for a number of years before I decided to move home to Wexford for good. It wasn’t long before I met Tom who I had gone to primary school with and before we both knew it we were married and plotting what type of business we could set up together.
We bought Wexford Home Preserves from Tom’s Aunt Ellen in 2008 and the rest as they say is history.
How does your career fulfill you?
I love what I do, and what I do is not my career, it’s my life. I work with my husband Tom, most people question how can we work together, and, does it cause arguments?, but we are a great team and I enjoy working with him.
Ingredients and sourcing the best ingredients excite me. We get to work with great people, growers of beautiful Irish ingredients from all over the country from fruits such as Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackcurrants to chillies and fresh garlic. We cannot grow citrus fruits here in Ireland obviously so we get to travel to places like Seville and Sicily to source the very best organic citrus from family run farms.
We like to get to know our suppliers and visit growers’ farms, our children Lila and Robbie travel with us wherever we go. They know and understand what we do which I think is a very important learning experience for them also.
What are your professional ambitions? What is next for Laura Sinnott.
It is important to me that our business continues to grow but at a steady pace. I want to keep the important things that make Wexford Home Preserves what we are today, like traditional methods of cooking in open saucepans and gathering the most amazing local ingredients to make our preserves. It’s an absolute must that we stay true to our values. My aim is not to be the biggest preserves producer in Ireland but to be the very best.
In your opinion, what challenges face women in the food industry?
I do think things are changing for the better. I own and run Wexford Home Preserves with my husband Tom. Both of our skill sets are very different but equally valuable. We share equally in the care of our children and if we are both needed in work when Robbie and Lila are off school, we just bring them to work with us.
I have often been in the situation where I answer the door to our business and the person standing in front of me will ask is the boss around! I actually get a little laugh when they realise it’s me they need to win around to sell their services to. I would never let any patronising comments get me down, life is too short!
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspires you and why?
I know so many great women in the food industry so this is a very hard one. I really admire Miena Rust of Miena’s Nougat, because of her strength of character. She is such a positive person with a true passion for what she does. She is a doer and just a lovely person.
Another very inspiring and passionate woman in the food industry is Paula Ronan. Paula has been our marketing consultant and one of the founding members of the Wexford Food Family which we have been involved with for the past 10 years. She is truly dedicated to promoting local food producers and growers and has encouraged and helped us to move our business forward while maintaining our values.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
It’s down to all of us to help with that, by calling out the achievements of other women. Encouraging and supporting each other will only make us stronger. Words of praise and support cost nothing. We should be more generous with them.
Writers like you Katia are instrumental in helping to highlight women in the food industry.
As the saying goes, we all have to be the change we want to see.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I don’t think there is any one thing. I feel very proud of the route we have taken with our business remaining true to our values. I feel proud when I think of how far we have come and excited to think of what is next for us as a business.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say celebrate the now. I am so happy that I travelled as much as I did when I was younger and did those slightly mad things like white water rafting and parachute jumping, things I would never have the nerve to do now.
Don’t be afraid, take that chance. Don’t be worried what other people think. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Being brave enough to put yourself out there is so important. In my role I need to listen to what people want and what our customers want from us by listening to customer feedback.
Curiosity is key, discovering new flavours and trends. Keeping your products interesting for your customers is
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell me about a real treat.
I definitely have and always have had a very sweet tooth, but surprisingly enough my favourite treat is a plate of cheese [love brie or reblochon] crackers, fruit and some onion marmalade or cranberry sauce. Heaven!