Ask someone what George Clooney and Johnny Depp have in common, and they’ll probably mention good looks and glittering Hollywood careers.

People are less likely, however, to be aware of the actors’ shared fondness for Yarty. It’s brand of premium cordials and vinegars that counts among its fans not only movie royalty but also some of the world’s best chefs.

That’s an impressive fanbase for a business that continues to make all products by hand from a small production unit in Hampshire.

Yarty is the creation of Jayne and David Mugridge, who develop, manufacture, bottle and label their goods for restaurants and high-end retailers across the UK and overseas.

The brand began when Jayne, a hospital theatre sister, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and invalided out of nursing. This came at a time when David, then a project manager in the construction industry, was looking for a new challenge.

With a long-held passion for cooking, Jayne started supplying Scotch eggs and other snacks to local pubs and restaurants. The couple named their new business after the Yarty Valley, which runs from Devon, where they then lived, to Somerset.

A turning point came when an environmental health inspector visited Yarty and was served a cordial made by Jayne. It was so good, said the inspector, that the Mugridges should forget about the scotch eggs and focus on the cordial.

In the 15 years since, the business has produced the likes of cordials and a black garlic vinegar called, simply, B. It has won multiple prizes, including a gold at the inaugural Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards.

The cordials include lime & chilli, rhubarb & ginger and mango & lime, while Yarty’s full vinegar range features such variants as spiced blackberry, blueberry & basil, and goosegog [slang for gooseberry] & elderflower.

The quality of the products has attracted the attention of some of the world’s best-known chefs, including Heston Blumenthal and Angela Hartnett, while the cordials are supplied to top-end corporate events, film and TV sets, and backstage at Glastonbury.

Black garlic vinegar

Source: Yarty

Black garlic vinegar B won gold at the inaugural Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards

The brand’s expansion into vinegar followed Jayne making some as a favour to chefs, having been disappointed in the quality of vinegars on the market. “We now produce much more vinegar than we do cordials,” says David.

Other suppliers have tried to imitate B, but he no one has hit the mark, he adds. “It’s really simple. There’s only three ingredients, with no added salt and very little sugar, but people try to cut corners, and that’s where it goes wrong.”

The Mugridges are proud to use locally sourced produce. Among its fruit suppliers are Hampshire’s Steve Harris Fruit Farms and Blackmoor Estate, while Yarty’s gooseberries and blackcurrants come from Devon.

“We try and get as local as we can,” says Jayne. “We use lots of little people, that way everybody grows together. Our labels, for example, are done by a one-man band who is an artist, not a graphic designer.”

Yarty uses fruit that is in season, which makes some of its products especially desirable. “We are seasonal so if we run out of something, we run out of something,” explains Jayne. “But people are willing to wait and will put their name on a wating list.”

Using quality ingredients means the business has to be firm when negotiating listings. 

“We can’t sell it cheap because it is all natural. I think if you’re honest and you stick to your guns people respect that,” explains Jayne. “When I go to a shop, I put my stake in the ground: that’s how much it costs; this is your margin. It’s a good margin for you, but we’re happy if you don’t want it.”

‘We can’t sell it cheap because it is all natural. I think if you’re honest and you stick to your guns, people respect that’

Many do want it, of course, with Yarty continuing to grow despite virtually no advertising. Success has largely been driven by word of mouth. The brand also benefited from an appearance on TV show Home Comforts, which resulted in a slew of sales.

Exports play another big role. Yarty’s goods are sold in counties including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Its largest single customer is German distribution giant Market Grounds, which became aware of the brand through the UK’s Finest, a Department for International Trade scheme that connect suppliers with international buyers.

“We sent Market Grounds some samples, but they got stuck at customs,” David says. “So, we drove to Hamburg to meet them and shook hands on the deal.”

The distributor had asked for 50 pallets a week, but the Mugridges had to explain they could supply just three. “We’re gradually building up, and they have just ordered six pallets,” he adds.

Beer, Bacon and FVUK Sauce

Source: Yarty

Yarty’s Beer, Bacon and Fvck It Sauce is helping to support the charity Forgotten Veterans UK

The Market Grounds listing has taken Yarty into fancy European retailers such as Alsterhaus. It’s the “Harrods of Hamburg”, says Jayne. “They’ve got champagne and caviar bars and every designer brand you can think of. And we’ve got our own shelf in the food hall there.”

Through its presence in Europe, Yarty plays a role in promoting the quality of British exports. The brand will travel to Hamburg this month to showcase products at an event attended by King Charles and the Queen Consort. 

Yarty is careful to never lose sight of how important personal relationships are to its development. While it uses distributors overseas, it works directly with customers in the UK.

“We know our customers and that is how I like it to be,” says Jayne. “They can phone me up and say, ’Look, I’ve got an emergency do. Can you get me something?’”

The business is also careful where its products are listed and avoids having too many stockists in the same area.

“I don’t think it’s fair if you’ve got three people selling your product in a little village or town because no one sells enough,” says Jayne.

Looking to the future, the business has two products set for market. One is a brown sauce that will help to support local charity Forgotten Veterans UK.

“We got together and thought everyone likes brown sauce, and squaddies love beer,” says David. The result is the colourfully named Beer, Bacon and Fvck It Sauce, which uses beer from a local brewery and features a picture of Jayne’s father, a Second World War submariner, on the label.

Yarty Violet Cordial

Source: Yarty

Yarty has recreated a violet cordial that was made for King George V

The other launch is a violet cordial that, like many of the recipes used by Yarty, is based on one Jayne’s grandmother, Mabel, used.

Mabel trained at AB Marshall’s cooking school in Mortimer Street, London, before becoming a freelance cook to nobility and royalty. To mark the coronation of King Charles III, Yarty has recreated the violet cordial Mabel made for King George V.

One thing not in the brand’s future, by choice, is a supermarket listing. “We don’t want to do supermarkets,” says Jayne. “They’ve spoken to us and I don’t want to do it. It’s quite liberating when you say no.”

Instead, Yarty’s preferred strategy is slow and steady growth, she adds. “We’ve seen lots of friends get too big too quick and jump into bed with the big boys and then they’re gone.”

Right now, the brand’s biggest problem is one many suppliers would be happy to have. “Everything we make sells. So, we are trying to manage it so it doesn’t go wild.”