On this episode of Makers of Minnesota, we hear from Angela Comeck and Jessica Ammel, daughters of Janet Birkin, as they share how they turned their family recipe into Janet’s Finest Compote, a successful company.
They discuss the unique flavors of their compotes, the difference between jelly and compote, and how they maintain high standards of quality set by their mother. The guests discuss their unexpected success during the pandemic, their direct-to-consumer growth, and how cheeseboard preferences have changed. Tune in to hear their journey and learn how they became the premier jam brand for cheeseboards on Instagram.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS:
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota podcast, where we talk to cool people doing cool things. Today we have Angela comeck, and we have Jessica AMMEL, and they are the daughters of janet birkin, and the name of their product is janet’s compotes. And I have to hear how you guys decided that janet’s product was so worthy that you wanted to start a company behind it, because this has been like, a family recipe for a long time. So let’s see how you guys got started.
Angela Kmeck [00:00:50]:
First of all, thanks for having us on. This is really she actually created the products in forever ago when we were teenagers, so we were her kind of little guinea pigs when she was just kind of, like, playing around in the kitchen. She just loved to cook. She’s still around. She’s still our best friend. That was real interesting. She kind of struck on gold in the 90s when spicy wasn’t really that popular in the midwest, so kind of getting this sweet and spicy combination was unique and pretty cool at the time. Angel, I don’t know if you want to give a little couple of minutes.
Jessica Amel [00:01:44]:
Yes. Hi. Thank you so much for having me. So she actually grew her business in a commercial kitchen. She moved out of our house, the one that we were growing up in. She lived in the house, but she moved the production out, obviously. And she really grew the business out of her commercial kitchen, which was just a few blocks away from our house. And she was shipping all over the country to gift shops and specialty food shops until she retired in 2017. And she said, if you want the recipes, you can have them. There’s no pressure. Jessica and I were both doing different things at the time, and we both had kids, but we were like, yeah, we’ll do it. Of course, knowing nothing about how much work was going to go into it. So we actually renamed the company after her because why not? We had the opportunity, the time to change. And we always say she’s the finest. So janet’s finest compotes makes sense, and it also not just sort of honoring our mom, but also being able to honor her legacy of what she had built, that she always did things the right way to the finest. And so even now, when we’re doing things, it’s like, that’s not Janet’s finest. We really make sure that our quality is high and kind of everything we do, we sort of set this bar from our mom.
A compote is different than a jam or a jelly in what way?
Angela Kmeck [00:03:20]:
I’ll describe, a jelly really is made from fruit juices. The bulk of the fruit is strained out, and you’re left with the juices, which are then processed with pectin, and it’s delicious. A compo, however, is started with whole fruit, and it remains as a part of the ingredients the whole way through so what you end up with are the textural elements, like the seeds and parts of the fruit in there that kind of give it a little bit.
More oomph, if you will, and your current flavors. I know the Blueberry Jalapeno is a big seller, but you also have is it Raspberry Habanero?
Jessica Amel [00:04:11]:
Actually, all of our this is my sisters. We talk over each other. All of our compotes are just Jalapeno. We don’t use any other kinds of peppers. We are still using just our mom’s recipes. So that’s what she used. Raspberry Jalapeno is our best seller. And then Cranberry Jalapeno is actually our second bestseller, which is something that a lot of people don’t think about. We think it’s super unique, but especially for the holidays and entertaining in the fall, it’s just a really unique flavor that she came up with, which, of course, we always ask, how did you do this? And she’s like, I don’t know. Typical Midwestern woman. So humble, so true.
Now, as we’ve matured in our palate, since the Food Network came on board, we are having boards and cheese and Shakuta platters. But in the day, how were people using the compuls? Were they using it in the same way, or has it changed over time?
Angela Kmeck [00:05:15]:
It’s funny how things have evolved. She always said it’s best over a block of cream cheese. And so that was sort of the easy Midwest kind of cheese board back then, like in the she still loves it. A lot of people love it. We’ve kind of moved forward and we think that goat cheese and Gouda and some of the other cheeses that are more available now than back in the day are also really great pairings and what we see a lot more on the cheese board these days.
Were you able to retain a lot of Janet’s original accounts? And then how did you build on that? Or how are you building on that moving forward?
Jessica Amel [00:06:07]:
Yeah, we have I mean, it took us a little bit of time to get back to her level. We did retain a lot of her accounts because it was so relational. She had so many amazing relationships with her customers. And for us, customer service is really high on importance. So the quality of our ingredients, the quality of our product, and then paired with just good old fashioned good customer service, we actually have retained a lot of her customers, wouldn’t you say, Jessica? And then this crazy thing happened during COVID We had made this grand plan that we were going to grow, and here’s how we were going to grow. And then COVID hit. And so, like everybody else, you take a few weeks to go, let’s go watch Netflix for a little bit, and then now let’s go assess how we’re going to do this. I think we made plan B-C-D-E-F that year and what ended up happening. And I have to give a little bit of credit to Jessica here on this one, is that we sent samples to, I think, like, eight cheese board makers on Instagram. And we were pretty new to Instagram at the time. We’re both in our 40s, full disclosure. So we hadn’t been on Instagram before. That not a lot, at least. But anyway, so we met, for example, Kelsey from the board Loon locally, and then several others nationwide. And then out of nowhere, we became kind of the premier jam brand for cheeseboards on Instagram. And so we had built a website out, and we started selling wholesale off our website to these cheeseboard makers all over the country. And, I mean, that first year we sold I don’t even know what percentage, like, so much more than we thought we would ever do. In fact, they asked, can you make smaller jars? Can you make mini jars? We need some for our small cheese boards. We need some for our medium size. And so our jar size actually changed. Our product changed because of this, which was such a shock. So, anyway, your long answer to your question of how are we growing, that was the next step, and it was not the plan. But it has been incredible, actually, because now we’re doing kind of backwards where we’re getting on shelves after having an explosive growth via straight to direct to consumer.
That is a pretty cool story. That probably couldn’t have happened without the pandemic because cheese boards in general sort of branched out during the pandemic because it was one thing that you could buy or arrange or have or deliver to feel like you’re having this communal experience because we were all having these weird food experiences, for sure. Can you guys talk about were you nominated or did you apply for a Good Food Award?
Angela Kmeck [00:09:11]:
We have not. We recently became a Good Food member just a few months ago. So we did miss the window for the Good Food Awards. Definitely one of our goals.
Yeah, because I can see your product is really a premium flavor and it’s unique, and I can see that being a good next step for you.
Jessica Amel [00:09:34]:
We did attend the Good Food Awards, though, in April, and that was super fun just to be around that community and the people who care, really passionate about quality food. That was awesome.
Were there any products that you encountered there that you’ve just not been able to get out of your mind or you thought were excellent?
Jessica Amel [00:09:54]:
My gosh, they had the smorgasborg the first night for all of us. Yeah, we’re both like remembering it. I mean, it was unbelievable. Like, the cheeses and just the chocolates and the way things all interconnected. It was overwhelming.
Stephanie, to be honest, I love it. That sounds amazing.
Angela Kmeck [00:10:11]:
It was. You should come with us next time.
Yeah, I think I’m angling for an invite here. Okay, so your mom is still around and are you guys making your own products in a commercial kitchen, or do you make them through a distributor at this point? Or a copacker?
Angela Kmeck [00:10:29]:
Yeah, right now we’re using a copacker in Minneapolis northeast, and that has been a wonderful experience for us. We’ve been with them for about a year and a half. It feels really nice to contribute to the Minnesota community in that way. Sure. Long term goals are to have our own facility. We would love to have that. We’re just not quite there yet. Yeah.
And I’m happy to hear you say you’ve had a good experience with your copacker, because in a product setting, some people don’t have such a great experience right away. It takes them a long time to get their product refined in exactly the right way. But it sounds like your experience was pretty good.
Angela Kmeck [00:11:14]:
Yeah, knock on wood. Thankfully, right?
Besides the Internet, where can people find your products in Minnesota?
Angela Kmeck [00:11:25]:
Angela, want to take that one?
Jessica Amel [00:11:27]:
Yeah. So we recently joined the Kowalski’s cheese counters. So every Kowalski’s location has our compotes, and we are blown away by their support. A lot of times they’re right up front. We keep seeing the displays when we’re delivering. It’s like, oh, my gosh. So we’re having so much fun getting to know their cheesemongers because they are awesome. And it’s not me, actually. It’s Jessica who’s doing that, who’s been delivering. So I can’t take any credit for that. And we’re at cruise market also and looking forward to getting on some other shelves in the city.
Yeah, and selling wholesale to all these people making boards, which there is a lot of them. I just interviewed the greater good at Minnesota. I don’t know if you guys work with her yet, but have we worked with greater?
Jessica Amel [00:12:17]:
I can’t remember.
Yeah. She’s cute.
Jessica Amel [00:12:20]:
Cool. We’ll have to meet her. That’s our people.
All right, well, it has been super fun to talk to you. Thanks for reaching out. I’m a big canner, and I like making my own stuff, so I think it’s really cool that you’re taking your mom’s recipe and not even changing it. Just kind of helping spread the word. And also Janet’s finest. I don’t know that I’m going to get that out of my head. Like, what would Janet do? How you think about quality and just thinking about doing the right thing, because sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself to do the right thing when there’s shortcuts that you could take. My mom has died a while ago, so I think I might just adopt Janet for a while.
Jessica Amel [00:13:09]:
She’s everybody’s mom. Yeah, I love that idea.
Yeah. We all need a mom too, right?
Angela Kmeck [00:13:15]:
I love it. Guys, thanks for joining me today. It’s been super on.
Jessica Amel [00:13:20]:
Thanks so much for having us.
All right, we’ll talk soon.
Angela Kmeck [00:13:23]:
Jessica Amel [00:13:31]: