When Camilla Lywood began making tomato chilli jam for her children in 2007, she took the first step on a journey to national listings, multiple awards and the recent acquisition of another business

Although her professional background is in marketing and sales – she studied agricultural marketing and worked in national sales for a fashion company – her love of food led her to create chutney and sauce brand What a Pickle.

“I’ve always been very much into creative cooking and flavours,” she explains. “I had been making tomato chilli jam at home and wanted my children to like unusual flavours.”

The kids weren’t the only fans of the jam. Following encouragement from friends and family, Lywood began selling it to shops near her Shropshire home. Demand rapidly outstripped the quantity she could produce from her kitchen, so she found a local manufacturer.

What A Pickle group

While her origin story is fairly typical of independent producers, what followed was far from.

Out of the blue, Lywood received an email in 2009 from Asda, showing interest in her chilli jam.

“I thought it was one of my friends having a joke with me but decided I had better reply to it in case it was genuine,” she says.

It was, and it resulted in a deal to supply 450 Asda stores with not only the chilli jam but also an exclusive red onion marmalade jam.

“Coming in the very early days of the business this was a great experience and Asda were incredibly supportive,” says Lywood. “We had very good payment terms with them and that worked really, really well.”

The arrangement lasted five years, until What a Pickle needed to raise its prices. “Ultimately, the issue we had with it was that things in Asda aren’t very expensive and we needed to put our prices up. I couldn’t see how Asda could put their price up and still sell the same volume, so we agreed to retreat.

“Working with them and learning how they operated was a great learning curve but really our company is better in terms of margins from working with the independent sector.”

Today, 17 years since What a Pickle started, it sells chutneys, egg-free mayonnaises and sauces – primarily to farm shops, delis and specialist retailers. Products include carrot & coriander relish, fig & mustard sauce, blue cheese sauce and ranch dressing.

Spearheading the brand’s sales to the independents is Emma Hallett, who came on board in 2018. “Emma is incredibly diligent at speaking on a regular basis to the stockists to make sure that are happy with their deliveries and ensure they never run our products,” Lywood says.

Hallett’s involvement has enabled Lywood to concentrate on developing new products. “I won’t do something unless I feel it’s sufficiently different or better than what else is out there because we don’t want to be doing the same as everybody else.”

This is particularly important in a category as competitive as pickles and sauces, where a host of small suppliers fight for the attention of retailers.

What A Pickle mayo

“Having been in the category for a long time, we have seen a lot of people come and go,” Lywood adds. “There are a lot of people that are similar to What a Pickle out there but I think that if you stand your ground and continually come up with innovative products and provide a good service, you can succeed.”

All the brand’s products are manufactured by third parties and delivered to What a Pickle’s HQ in Ludlow. From there, they are dispatched by Lywood to retailers and distributors.

“An order came in late yesterday and the customer said they understood that we wouldn’t be able to get it to them until the following week, but we were able to get it delivered the next day. It is lovely being able to do that and I think customers really appreciate it,” she says. “At the moment we do all around dispatch but I’m very near the point where I can’t keep up with all of that myself.”

In fact, a fulfilment house has already been lined up for when demand exceeds capacity.


That day was brought closer by What a Pickle’s acquisition of cheese sablés business Cheese Nibbles last year.

Lywood has known Cheese Nibbles founder Ed Potter for many years. He developed the sablés for his catering business and had come to sell them as a retail product.

“They are an amazing product,” she says. “They are crunchy, cheesy and buttery and are perfect with a glass of wine or whatever your favorite drink might be in the evening. They can also be used in so many different ways: they’re great canapé bases, and I’ve even used them crumbled up as a savoury topping on a casserole.”

Potter also operates a catering business and a small farm shop that sells What a Pickle products. It was while picking up stock from Lywood that he told her he was selling Cheese Nibbles and wanted her to have it.

“I’d watched Cheese Nibbles for some time. We’re both Shropshire companies have had stands next to each other at shows,” she says, adding that, despite being a big fan of the brand, she was initially cautious. “Buying another company is quite a big thing and it wasn’t until I was chatting with a friend I realised it’s a complete no-brainer.”

The decision is already paying dividends and has resulted in sales of Cheese Nibbles and What a Pickle products increasing through distribution gains.

What a Pickle Nibbles

Just six weeks after the acquisition, a deal was struck to supply Cheese Nibbles to 95 stores operated by frozen food chain Cook.

“They have a few ambient items in their dedicated shops, and the person who was supplying them with their cheese straws couldn’t do it any more,” says Lywood. “They came to us and we have started suppling them with sablés.”

The deal has highlighted the opportunity to grow the customer base for Cheese Nibbles. “At the moment we’re just working with independent farm shops, delis, butchers and those sorts of outlets, but there’s a huge amount of potential with bars and the snack market and that’s something we’ve not particularly dived into yet.”

The potential of Cheese Nibbles was reinforced last month when one of its variants, Pistachio Sablés, was awarded a gold in the 2024 Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards at last month’s Farm Shop & Deli Show.

What a pickle winner

Emma Hallett and Camilla Lywood of What a Pickle with Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards chair of judges Nigel Barden

Lywood is confident Cheese Nibbles will become a bigger part of What a Pickle than chutneys and the mayonnaise: “There is such an amazing potential. We’ve not even scraped the surface of who we can sell into.”

And, having made her first acquisition, she doesn’t rule out further brand expansions. “Taking on another business has been a very interesting process and I would definitely look at other things that would then sit alongside them, but it would have to be a completely different category to what we currently do.”