Joe McClure has been making pickles since he could walk.
“My dad would wake us up at 3 in the morning and take us down to the local farmers market,” he said. “It was our tradition every summer. I’d have to call up my friends and tell them that I couldn’t play baseball because that day was pickle day.”
The name ‘McClure’ is Scottish and doesn’t exactly scream pickles. The recipe came from McClure’s mother’s side, with the family joke being that his father married his mother to get his hands on the recipe – and is still yet to receive the full list.
Joe McClure, who started the business with his brother Bob in 2006, is a classical musician and holds a PhD in Physiology. He lives in Detroit where he foresees the day to day running of McClure’s warehouse and international sales.
McClure didn’t make it easy. He and his brother launched the company in the same month as he started his postgraduate studies. “I would be up at 2 AM to make the pickles, then have class from 10 then study until 4:30.”
Starting a business on the eve of the Global Financial Crisis was also a risky move, but McClure’s Pickles brought personality to a market where previously there was none.
“People would always tell my father to start a business, but the truth is in the 80s it would never have worked,” McClure explained. “The business needed the mid-2000s, when people started caring about their food. We saw those trends change, took the opportunity and made the most of a market void.”
It was a gamble, offering a premium product at a higher price point, but customers recognised the quality and the company took off. The brothers now have more than 30 staff, including family and friends, and jar over 1.5 million jars of pickles every year in a converted former American Axle factory in Detroit. McClure considers the regeneration of Detroit to be an important part of the McClure’s brand.
“There’s this perception that Detroit is a shell of a city, but really there are some fantastic food companies leading the regeneration.”
The rise of BBQ culture is also contributing to the success of McClure’s, as well as the increasing sophistication of New Zealanders’ palates. Since their arrival into New Zealand in 2015 through Cook & Nelson, McClure’s have become a New Zealand favourite available nationwide through delis, design stores and a range of restaurants including Woodpecker Hill, The Federal Deli, Best Ugly Bagel and more.