Annie Shaw is the sixth generation of Shaw family to work in the Huddersfield pickling business . Catherine Scott reports.
Annie Shaw has pickles in her blood. She is the sixth generation of the Shaws family to work in the Shaw’s pickles business, which is celebrating 130 years in business.
Annie has been coming to the mill since childhood and after graduating from Huddersfield University with a degree in Business Studies with Environmental Management, joined the company as a graduate trainee, learning not just the ropes, but every fibre of the business.
“I remember spending time at the mill playing in my grandfather’s office and even being allowed to use the Tanoy on reception when I was a little girl,” explains Annie, 24.
“I didn’t set out to get a job here when I did my degree, although I suppose at the back of my mind it was something I always wanted to do. I have always been fascinated with production lines and how they operate.”
Annie was actually working elsewhere when she was contacted by Shaw’s managing director Jan Docker, who asked if she wanted to join the family firm.
“She said there was some exciting things happening and that it would be great to have a sixth generation of Shaws on board. It came as a complete surprise and I was very excited to be asked.”
That was 18 months ago and Annie has spent that time getting to know all aspects of the busiess from the ground up.
“I wanted people to see that I got the job on merit, not just because I am a Shaw.”
Annie is about to embark on a food technology course to allow her to understand fully the business created by her ancestor George Shaw in 1889.
George founded Shaws Relish Works in Fitzwilliam Street, Huddersfield as a general merchants and chemists. With his two sons, Walter and Vincent, they built up the family business through an array of products including relishes, jams and pickles, marrowfat peas and baking powder.
In 1913, they moved into the larger premises of Storths Mill, a former Victorian wool mill on Wakefield Road, where they remain today.
Walter’s sons, Norman and Malcolm, joined the business after the First World War and developed the pickle manufacturing operation, followed by Norman’s son Martin in 1953, who was a master vinegar brewer.
In 1967, with his father and uncle nearing retirement, Martin spotted a news story about Terence Peace, a local lad who had just passed his chartered company secretary exams with flying colours.
Terence joined Shaws as company secretary and within two years was a director, marking the start of a wonderful friendship that continues today.
The two families remain united by pickle when Martin’s sons, Matthew and Daniel – the fifth Shaw generation – joined the business in the 1980s, and were joined by Terence’s son, Jim Peace.
Chairman Matthew Shaw was joined in 2011 by Terence Peace’s niece, managing director Jan Docker. She is supported by her fellow director (and cousin) Jim Peace, by commercial category manager Michelle Heaney Firth, by Lesley Atkins, sales and brand manager and by operations manager, Alex Woodcock.
And the family extends beyond blood: several members of the Shaws loyal team have been with the company for between 10 and 15 years. “It does really feel like one big happy family,” says Annie.
“But there is also a big responsibility that comes with entering a family business like this – you don’t want to get it wrong!”
In 2013, Jan began honing the Shaws unwieldy retail offer from 26 products to two targeted ranges – the Everyday Range of four classic lines and the five gourmet combinations of the Heritage Collection. All Shaws products are gluten-free, suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and use only British sugar and vinegar. They are developed in the NPD kitchen at Storths Mill by food technologist Kate Pearson, and join original recipes created by Annie’s father, Daniel, and grandfather, Martin.
Until October 1 Morrisons will be offering both the Devilish Chili Relish and Mighty American Style Relish in a price crunched ‘£1 jar’ promotion.
The Shaws Everyday Range is available variously in Yorkshire branches of Asda, Co-op and Tesco and in most Booths stores, and has a nationwide listing with Morrisons. Shaws also supply food service via distributors The FoodFellas and export as far as Australia, New Zealand and Barbados; as well as supplying products to sandwich, ready meal and pie producers.
The Heritage Range is available in delis, farm shops and independents across Yorkshire.
Annie’s grandfather may be 88 but he is still very interested in the business.
“He asks me all the time what we are working on and how things have changed since he was running the business,” says Annie.
“He told me how they used to go into the storeroom and see what stock they had and then make it that day.
“I think one of our main strengths is our ability to listen to what people want, spot the change in eating habits and adapt accordingly.”
As a thank you to the town that has been home for 130 years, Shaws will be handing out a free jar of their famous piccalilli to the first 130 people to come to their Old Market Hall Gates from noon on September 6. It is part of an afternoon of anniversary games, quizzes and celebrations, hosted by the Shaws team, in the courtyard of the former Victorian wool mill that they have occupied since 1913.