You Have to Trust Your Instinct with Jan Hogrewe

Jan Hogrewe started Just Jan’s with a little fig tree growing in her backyard that produced so many figs, she started making Kadota fig fruit spread for her family and friends. Just Jan’s is her second career, and she thought it would be fun to try something new. She was in the film business with her own production company and jumped in with both feet designing labels, experimenting with recipes, and turned into a mad scientist in her kitchen.

In this episode you’ll learn:

    • Why Jan just HAD to make her business work
    • What Jan’s advice is to an entrepreneur just starting out
    • How Jan became a finalist of the Emmy’s of Specialty Food business
    • How Jan got her products into HomeGoods + Williams Sonoma

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Tell us a little bit about you, Jan Hogrewe, and what you do.

As you mentioned, I was in the film industry for 25 years. It was a transition for me because the film company was losing its creativity for me. I didn’t feel like staying there. My twin daughters were starting college. I was caring of my mother with Alzheimer’s and getting a divorce. There was so much going on and starting a business was insane for me to do in an industry I knew nothing about. I can’t say that it saved me but it was my happy place.

I made fig spread for family and friends. It started when I randomly met someone in the food industry, in the local Starbucks. He was my friend’s friend. It happened that I was bringing my fig spread for my friend. He said the he liked my product better than what was on the market. He asked me if I would do this for a living. I didn’t even hesitate and said, “Sure.” I ended up making eight recipes. I was just experimenting, and I always sent my daughters to school with a lot of jam samples, all different flavors. My current business now is nothing but making fruit spreads, marmalade, and curds. I love it, and it is a passionate lifestyle for me. It was also frustrating, but amazing.

You mentioned earlier that your first customer was an international brand. Can you share that experience and acquiring that international account?

That gave me the justification to go ahead and look for a co-packer vs. doing it in a commercial kitchen. I decided very early on that I didn’t want to source my own fruit. I thought I couldn’t run a business and make my product at the same time. I would never survive a final day. The meeting that you were talking about was serendipitous. I was with the consultant that was working with me and was helping me figure out what was I doing in my life growing this business. I was just listening, observing the lingo. I was trying to hear what I could. In the next table, there was a woman with her daughters and mother. She stopped at our table and said, “I heard you were in the food industry. I buy non-perishable goods. Do you have any perishables that you want to talk about?” My friend told her, “Yes, Jan has food spreads and jams.” This time, I had no co-packer and was literally doing it in my kitchen. She then said, “Give me her card, and let’s sent out a meeting.”

Two weeks later, we had a five hour lunch that turned into cocktail hour. I brought her other samples and everything I had already made. She asked if I had a co-packer and I said I am for a look-out. She said, “I will wait for you and I will distribute your products.” I was so overwhelmed by the idea that my products were going to be distributed nationwide. This continues to happen. I am always in the right time and at the right place stories.


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Can you share a little bit about how you work with Williams Sonoma?

I was introduced to the director of the New Product Development at Williams Sonoma. I sent him an email and told him I had products. I said I would be interested if they could taste my product and see if they were interested in it. He said I should follow up him months after and I did what he said.  I contacted him six months later. I sent him an email and he responded in a minute. He said I should call him. He said, “We were just setting up a meeting about the lemon curds. Send me samples of your lemon curds.” I sent my products and two weeks later, my phone rang. He said, “Your lemon curd is the best lemon curd I ever tasted. How would you think about doing three flavors for us, and what do you do?” I almost fell out in my chair. I said “Of course!” That is how it started. It was a year and a half ago, almost two years having this business.

I thought I had hit the gold and grabbed the brass right in the beginning which was insane. This was not an easy thing to do because working with Williams Sonoma is very challenging and you don’t want to miss steps because they are the top gourmet store in the country. It started July and launched it on January next year. It took that long to get the flavors down. They designed their labels and packaging. It was me working with my co-packer to get them the formulas and recipe that I was doing. There is a co-branding as my name was actually on the label, privately. Now we are five curds in their stores, and I am actually making another three more flavors because they asked for more flavors for 2017.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs starting out?

My biggest piece of advice when asked about how do I do this is to trust your instincts and your guts.

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Can you share about being a finalist of the Sophie Award for best new product?

It is like the Academy Award for the food industry. This special food association is the one of the largest food organizations. They did their two shows, one on San Francisco and New York. I know there’s a lot of food shows but these are the ones that you need to be at, to be seen, to be taken seriously. They do their Sophie Award yearly. They have 23 categories, I believe. Some of these are the best new product, best new condiment, best in candy, spreads, etc. We submitted a little bit departure of my spread products, which are my tangerine sriracha and submitted that for an award. We got notifications a few weeks ago and they said, “Congratulations, you are a finalist.” But that means we get a silver trophy in our hands. This Friday, when I got to New York, we get to display our product and that, for me, was a pat on the back for the company. The idea of our quality being recognized in the industry by our peers and other culinary people is so much overwhelming. They bring in top people to taste all the products. It was really an honor to have the award and to be recognized. I hope this will continue my trajectory going in this business.

Can you just share your mental process in submitting? A lot of us have that kind of negative idea that we are not good enough or somebody is actually better than us. How did you actually decide to submit your product for the award?

This is another state of the mind thing and it is actually trusting your guts. I think I submitted my fig a couple of years into the business, and I didn’t hear anything back then. By the way, my fig is my no.1 seller in my company. I did submit it, but I felt that way. I felt it was not good enough but I thought I just had to give it try. I thought, what do I have to lose? However, there was always that doubt. This is a big industry, a big category, and there are lot of good products out there. It is tough to compete. In doing this, I had to give Chris, the guy that works for me. what he deserves. He is more of a partner in all levels. He was actually the one who did the mixing of my tangerine, marmalade, and sriracha. He’s the one who said that we should submit this for an award, and I agreed. We truly pushed each other into doing this. We knew it was good, and it was different. There was nothing like this that we have seen in the market. We had a little bit of a leg up or an advantage when I submitted my fig because there are a lot of fig spreads out there. There was actually more determination than self-doubt in doing this and no self-doubt when I finally submitted it.

Jan HogreweJan Hogrewe is the founder of Just Jan’s, a line of spreads and curds that are all natural, preservative free. Today Just Jan’s features 13 flavors, from sweet to savory, to spicy. Jan is guided by her love of food and ingredients, refusing to compromise on quality or flavor.

Find Jan!
Website: justjans.com
Instagram: @justjansspreads
Twitter: @justjansspreads
Facebook: Just Jan’s

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