Jamnation is an organic jam business based in California that is curating meticulous and bold jams with simple, but rich, fruits and ingredients. The founder of Jamnation, Gillian Reynolds, comes from a long line of chefs and was inspired by the complex flavors of the fruit she encountered while traveling to Brazil. Before Jamnation, Gillian was an economic policy analysis for two years at a think tank in DC — “I didn’t feel like I had much of a direct impact so I wanted to get involved in socially good company.” Jamnation was part of her dream to make a direct impact. Today, Jamnation has not only successfully replicated the wonderful flavors Gillian fell in love with during her travels, but does so in a sustainable, globally conscious way.
See below for a Q&A with the founder of Jamnation, Gillian Reynolds.
What got you interested in the “jam-making” business and inspired you to create your company, Jamnation?
About three and a half years ago I went on a family trip to Brazil. I ate the most amazing papaya and mango of my life every morning in Brazil from small, local farms and thought “if I could keep eating fruit like this, I would never eat another cupcake again!” (that has since proved untrue). I had just moved to SF and when I returned home I searched for the same intensity of flavor from local farms. I went to every farmers’ market in SF and to find the best varietals of fruits from the best farms (not just the big farmers’ market — I mean ALL of them!). I found that amazing flavor — the best apricots, nectarines, and raspberries — and wanted to share these fruits with my family in NYC but realized I couldn’t ship them a carton of raspberries, so I decided to make them jams as a gift (never made it before).
Coming from a family of foodies and a chef brother I realized I had to step it up a notch so I created my own recipes, infusing them with herbs and florals. Forty batches in thirty days later my friends from college said I should be selling them. I had learned about what was happening to sugar farmers while I was studying at the London School of Economics during a year abroad in college and realized I could do something about it because sugar is a major component in jam so from the beginning I wanted to use Fairtrade sugar in our jams. We’re now two years old.
Tell us about the types of fruits and ingredients you use in your Jamnation products!
I’ve searched high and low for the best varietals of fruits. All our fruit is from local, family farms that use organic, sustainable practices. Everything except our Meyer lemons are from within 200 miles (the Meyers are so good I’m willing to go a little farther — it’s about 350 miles). I know our farmers — that means I’m on the phone with them or see them at the farmers’ market. If it’s a rainy week, we don’t do strawberries. If there’s a heat wave, we have our fruit delivered early and work late to get it done before they are overripe and the flavor changes.
I’ve tasted 15 types of peaches for my To Peach His Own jam alone. I look for the best varietal because I believe exquisite fruit is worth preserving. We only do one type of raspberry, one type of apricot ever so when you open a jar you always get the same flavor and you don’t have to do the work — we’ve done it for you. You know when you buy a jar with Jamnation on the label you’re getting exceptional fruit. For instance we use Royal Blenheim apricots: they are going extinct because they ripen within a couple days of being harvested and bruise during transport. Therefore, traditional grocery stores don’t want them because of their short shelf life. However, they have the most intense flavor: tangy and sweet all at once. They are only the size of golf balls so it’s a lot of work but we think it’s worth it. We also use Josephine raspberries because they are tarter — they aren’t as good for eating out of hand — but they make a amazing jam and blend perfectly with basil. I tested four other kinds of raspberry and they were terrible with basil!
For sugar and spices we use organic and Fairtrade certified. We are very transparent and disclose the origins of all our ingredients on our website. Our vanilla is from Madagascar, our cinnamon is from Sri Lanka, the list goes on. It’s actually very hard to source all the Fairtrade spices and find organic too because we’re small too. When you’re bigger it’s easier because you’re buying a larger quantity.
I love the design of your Jam labels! Can you tell us about some of the decisions you made regarding the Jamnation packaging?
Our labels are an ode to the French influence on our jam flavors and cooking process. I’ve attached the original labels I hand drew for the original gifts to my family. I always wanted a black background with white text and graphics — it make me thing of the beautiful canopies in Paris (like this or this). I have traveled a lot but have always been amazed by the quality of food of France. There is a respect for quality ingredients, especially the simple things like fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread — that is remarkable. I admire the simple preparation of food that highlights these ingredients and like to think that Jamnation draws upon this inspiration. We use French copper jam pots because they have better heat conduction so that the fruit is cooked for less time and therefore taste fresher. We don’t add pectin — only a few ingredients so they are bright and bold.
The illustrations on each jar of its ingredients are black and white in keeping which this theme that harkens back to a simpler time. They are also hand drawn which is meant to reflect that it was made by hand. I direct the art with a great designer/illustration and my brother and I work on all the copy.
Can you tell us about the Fair-trade system Jamnation uses?
We work with Fairtrade USA which is part of Fairtrade International. I wanted to be part of this larger organization since we are trying to support farmers from developing countries. Each and every one of our jams is Fairtrade certified; this means that 20% or more of the ingredients in our jams are Fairtrade (the rest is local fruit — we call this “Local Fruits with Global Pursuits”). We buy the ingredients from Fairtrade certified suppliers and the supply chain is certified through Fairtrade International (we get checked too). We also give 1% of all our revenues from every jar to Fairtrade International to help support this system in addition to paying a premium for our ingredients. That means that every jar you buy allows us to give back to these farmers. Fair-trade International insures that the money goes to the farmers, not the CEO of the corporation, so that they get better wages and support things like environmental protection, better housing, and eduction.
What future aspirations do you have for Jamnation?
Our sugar comes from Paraguay right now. Since we are still small we can’t decide which country to support but as we grow I’d love to be able to choose a country whose population is most in need or change it annually. I’d also love to visit some of the farmers we work with. I would love for more people to try our jam because once they do, they won’t look back. The reaction we get when people taste our jams is unbelievable. It’s better for you because it has more fruit and less sugar and it tastes better. What’s not to like? So we need to “spread the word.”
I also want to expand into other products and we will — if I tell you I’d have to kill you though, Grant 😉