The entrepreneurial daughter of an Aberdeenshire contractor is harnessing green energy produced on the family farm to power her fledgling tomato and chilli-producing business.
Ellie Sinclair, 23, cultivated a passion for food as she grew up on the family’s dairy farm, just west of Ellon, and spent eight years working in the hospitality industry.
After the decision to sell the dairy cows in 2007, her father Magnus built up a contracting and haulage business and set up a 500kW grass-fed AD plant.
That inspired Ellie’s idea of building an indoor greenhouse in an existing shed, just a stone’s throw from the AD plant, and using surplus energy to power a series of industrial heaters and 45 grow lights.
With ideal growing conditions she started producing a huge variety of vegetables, eventually deciding to focus on two key crops – tomatoes and chillies.
“We grow tomatoes in all shapes, colours, sizes and textures. With our chillies, our range is from sweet peppers to the hottest natural chilli in the world,” Ellie explains.
Thinking about what to do with all her produce, Ellie experimented with a sweet chilli jam recipe using both her tomatoes and chillies.
This zingy jam now sits alongside two cooking sauces – Mango Tango and Pineapple Sauce – both based on her home-grown chillies.
“I took a lot of time to research and trial different recipes and have added and tweaked them to get them just the way I liked,” she says.
“With the branding, we started out with some home-printed stickers, which didn’t look great, but did the job and I stuck with them for about a year before outsourcing some help to make it eye-catching and professional.”
Her VegCø range of products are mostly sold online, but are also on shelves in a range of independent outlets such as farm shops, delis and cafés. There’s also a retail range for restaurants and hotels.
Ellie’s business was a nominated finalist in the North-East Food and Drink Awards and the Scottish Rural Awards 2018, and she already has plans for future expansion, having outgrown the farmhouse kitchen where her products are currently cooked up.
She hopes to install a bespoke professional facility to increase production and enable further development of the range, offering customers some exciting new products to try out.
The makeshift greenhouse is also set to be transformed into a state-of-the-art growing facility with plants grown on waist-high trolleys for easy and clean cropping.
Ellie has even considered the possibility of using hydroponic pods, but set-up costs would be considerably higher, so this might be something for the future, if business growth continues apace.
“Our unique selling point is that almost everything is produced using renewable energy and we pride ourselves on knowing where our ingredients come from. If we aren’t growing it ourselves, we try and source it as locally as we can,” adds Ellie.
How to enjoy the VegCø range
Sweet chilli jam The versatile flagship product can be spread on a bacon butty or added to a Bolognese or lasagne for some extra zing. Customers are also enjoying it with cheese and biscuits, salmon or fresh prawns.
Mango Tango and Pineapple Sauce These two cooking sauces aid creativity in the kitchen and can be used in several ways. Ellie suggests adding cream or yogurt to a full jar of either sauce, then stir in some chilli for heat, before mixing in raw chicken and cooking for 45 minutes. Garnish with crushed almonds and serve with rice.
You can check out the range on the VegCø website.