Jan Hogrewe is the mastermind behind Just Jan’s, a line of all-natural, preservative-free fruit spreads. Her delicious, homemade jams range from familiar flavors such as raspberry, fig, and mango, to really interesting flavor combinations such as mango/chipotle and apricot/pepper. Her product can be found at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, the Queen Mary in Los Angeles, as well as various specialty shops. For our Life & Thyme Dinner in Santa Monica earlier this year, we paired the jams with a variety of cheeses and they were quite the crowd pleaser. Here is her story.
How was Just Jan’s born?
I use to run a film production company but, over time, I started feeling like it wasn’t creative enough for me, so I started looking for other outlets.
I had a kadota fig tree in the backyard and, one year, it had a very busy season and it was dropping so many figs that I decided had to do something with them. So, I thought maybe I could find a recipe for some kind of fig preserve, jar it, and give it away as gifts. And that’s what I did. But I didn’t like the recipe I had found, so I started tweaking it. I eventually gave one to a friend who loved it and ended up introducing me to a guy in the food business. It turned out to be a four-hour taste test at a Starbucks. It was hilarious. The guy in the food business liked mine way more than what was on the market and asked if I would be interested in doing it for a living. I said sure—I didn’t even hesitate.
I started thinking about it and I couldn’t just do one recipe. And I couldn’t just do figs because figs were going out of season. So I was in the market one day and saw pomegranate and decided to try pomegranate, then kiwi… I just wanted to create different, interesting flavors. My kids ate so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while I experimented with all of these different flavors.
It took about a year, going through manufacturers and learning the business from the ground up. I didn’t know the food business at all.
How do you find manufacturers?
That was the hardest part. No one wants to give you names because they are very protective of that information, so I looked at jars and sauces to see where they were manufactured and made a lot of calls. I had to do my research to make sure I knew which sizes each manufacturer could make and what they could do. I wanted to find a place that could do it all. Finally, I was introduced to a manufacturer in Arkansas and now they produce my product.
What does the process of providing the manufacturer with a recipe look like?
I literally measure to the gram so the recipe is basically a formula. Then I send them two jars of my product along with the formula and a non-disclosure agreement and meet with their chef so he can get an idea of what I am looking for and understand my palette. They then send back samples. I was so nervous when I got my first box because I had been waiting at least a year. I pulled out my stuff from the refrigerator to do side-by-side taste tests. I tasted mine and tasted theirs. Six of the eight were spot on. I was so excited!
How does a quality purveyor like yourself stand out from other mass produced, highly processed jams?
I am not trying to be the next Smuckers. I’m targeting the wineries, the gourmet shops, the higher-end hotels. I’ve been cherry picking the places I want to get into and I’m not in a hurry. I’m just creating brand awareness right now and not rushing to see how fast I can get this carried everywhere. I don’t see myself as anyone’s competitor, I’m just trying to move something I love doing forward. I don’t have a national brand, but when people taste it, they say, “Wow, I want to have this instead.” It’s all natural, pure cane sugar, and no preservatives. It really is just like having someone’s homemade jam.
Has food always played a big role for you growing up?
Oh, yeah. I always liked being in the kitchen. I liked to bake as a kid. I have more cookbooks than I probably should have. My mom would always cook, but had a limited menu. Fried chicken, spaghetti, and stuffed peppers—all dishes she thought were great, but that I wasn’t too keen on. We ate dinner together every night. I think my love of cooking as a kid or experimenting in the kitchen as a young girl has flourished over the last 25 years. I’m not afraid to eat anything, or to cook anything.
Where can people find Jan’s Jams?
I do have an online store. It is also available, sporadically, in some Home Goods stores. The Cosmopolitan in Vegas, the Queen Mary [in Los Angeles], and a few other stores. Also, Romancing the Bean, a great coffeehouse in Burbank.