Wilkin & Sons was founded in 1885 by Arthur Charles Wilkin as the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company, producing jams and preserves under the now-famous ‘Tiptree’ label. The company quickly expanded to encompass around 800 acres of farmland by 1906. Today, Wilkin & Sons is still a family-owned business operating out of its factory in Tiptree, Essex and has since diversified – as well as jams, the company also makes sweets and cakes as well as other spreads and preserves. The site of the factory also hosts a visitor’s centre and museum, a tearoom and a village shop selling a wide range of ‘Tiptree’ branded goods.
Our tour began in the museum where we browsed the history of the company. I was surprised to find out that Peter Wilkin, the great-grandson of the founder remains a director of the company – a truly family owned business! We then split off into four groups and moved off for the first part of the factory tour.
We visited the freezers with towering rows of frozen fruit – the company grows hundreds of tons of it each year from its own farms in the area, which is then frozen immediatey after picking to keep it fresh. We saw a sample of the little scarlet – a much smaller species of strawberry with a unique flavour, of which Wilkins & Sons are the only commercial growers in the world. From there we moved on to the next area – and judging by the smells of dried fruit, cinnamon and allspice, it didn’t take long to realise what was in store next – Christmas puddings!
Wilkin & Sons make all of their Christmas puddings on-site and are wrapped by hand thanks to the dedication and skill of their team of workers. I even had the chance to wrap one myself, although I’m not sure how well it went! We observed the peeling of oranges, where they are lightly cooked to loosen the skin and then peeled by hand and used in a range of products and preserves, of course including marmalade.
From the huge hand-loaded and stirred boiling vats, we made out way through to the packaging area where we saw the automated part of the factory in action. It surprised me how much of the process is still operated and maintained by hand, however, with a small army of employees constantly buzzing around to make sure that the machines are operating properly. From here, we moved into the storage area where the huge containers of products wait to be shipped all over the world – and even snuck a peek at the products being wrapped and prepared for sale in Harrods in London!
After a good two hours round the site, we reconvened at the shop – saving the best until last! And I’m not ashamed to say that I purchased my fair share of goods. If anyone is ever in the area – the tearoom is definitely recommended!