A legendary Lowcountry condiment company isn’t a “casualty” of the coronavirus pandemic, as its owner last week announced online to the dismay of devoted fans, but it’s been “battered and beaten” by the mandated closure of gift shops where its products are sold.
“Casualty was maybe a bit too harsh,” said Allen Sassard of Mrs. Sassard’s, the 103-year-old Mount Pleasant producer of strawberry preserves and Jerusalem artichoke relish, among other popular items. “We’re able to keep going. It’s just a matter of refocusing so I can start thinking more positively.”
Sassard on Facebook shared the news that his family business, which “made it through the Great Depression and World War II,” wasn’t up to weathering the economic fallout of a global outbreak. His two-sentence announcement sparked an outpouring of sympathy and uptick in online orders. Sassard suspects the reaction was heightened by his poor choice of words and the post’s proximity to Easter.
“To go without Mrs. Sassard’s would be very hurtful at this time,” he said. “The cucumber pickles and other things we make are wonderful for the Easter relish tray.”
Mrs. Sassard’s was founded by Sassard’s grandmother, Edna, who needed extra money to pay for home repairs. Although Jerusalem artichoke relish was the first entry in her product line, she went on to sell pickled okra, pepper jelly, iced cucumber pickles and green tomato relish. In 1962, the company was passed down to Sassard’s daughter-in-law Gertrude; Allen and Dayne Sassard took over the operation about a decade ago.
“It’s not just your normal preserves. It’s really something that speaks of old-fashioned, that speaks of put-together,” Sassard said in 2017 of his intention to persuade more local stores to carry Mrs. Sassard’s. “They really jump out of the jar at you.”
But Sassard’s successful strategy backfired in March, when gift shops across the state closed in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
“Tourism has stopped,” Sassard said, recounting the thought process which led to his greatly exaggerated report of the company’s death. “We have 100 gift shops, and there’s no one ordering from the shops.”
Now Sassard plans to emphasize online sales, as many other area artisan producers have done.
“It’s critical for small businesses to put out the word that with a click of a mouse, we can be processing to send your way,” he said, adding that he’s trying to work up a marketing message that doesn’t lean on gloom.
He’s thinking of pitching Mrs. Sassard’s peach preserves as a conduit to enjoyable stay-at-home family breakfasts.