Notes from How to Build A Successful Food & Drink Startup - an evening with SimplyFMCG & Jimmy's Iced Coffee

photoLast night 80 Escape the City members packed out an Escape School event at Bathtub 2 Boardroom in Bank, London, to hear David Folkman, Craig Jones and Jimmy Cregan talk about their experiences of producing, launching and selling food & drink brands and getting them stocked in stores. It was an amazing event. One of the very best we’ve run.

The speakers…

David and Craig founded Simply FMCG in 2011 to help food and drink entrepreneurs create world class businesses. They work with exciting, ambitious brands and help them reach their full potential. Simple as that. They both worked at innocent drinks back in the day, David subsequently worked at Peppersmith and Craig joined Pieminister before they founded Simply together.

Jimmy Cregan is the co-founder (along with his sister, Suzie) of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. Their story is incredible. Jimmy was a summer-time presenter at festivals and a winter-time labourer (in his own words – lugging bricks around and painting wood). He also could have a side-line as a standup comic. Inspired by iced coffees in Oz he returned to UK determined to bring the love to these shores. Now you find Jimmys Iced Coffees in Ocado, Waitrose, Selfridges, WHSmith, BP, Tesco…

What did we learn last night?

  • Find your story. All the best brands have one. Be human. Solve a problem that is personal to you.
  • It doesn’t need to be perfect. Start early. Don’t wait till you have finished product. Start getting customer (consumer) feedback as soon as possible.
  • Don’t go after the big boys immediately. It’s not as easy as giving the supermarkets a ring. Get traction with small retailers who will give you the opportunity to understand who your customers are and why they’re buying.
  • Talk to your customers through your branding. Point of sales engagement at small retailers gives you and them a point of difference.
  • Do lots of sampling. Get as many people to try your product as possible.
  • Go through wholesalers. Big retailers often won’t deal with you unless you come through a wholesaler. Marigold and Tree of Life are two of the big ones.
  • innocent drinks. Launched into Waitrose in 2004, 5 full years after launching. Waitrose came to them because of their incredible following (e.g. fruitstock festival)
  • Hustle. Know who you’re going to target as your first stockists – systematically work through a list of 500 delis. Divide it up by post code. Build relationships.
  • Build your following. Get people to shout about you. Be human. Talk to them about their lives – not your product. Jimmy’s strapline is – “Keep Your Chin Up”.
  • Be passionate. Building any business is hard. Build a food or drink product for the retail market is particularly tough. Your passion will keep you going and persuade your clients / suppliers / buyers.
  • Yes it’s hard, but building a brand is an amazing feeling. As with most things in life – you want the princess? You’re going to have to slay multiple dragons to get there. Keep going. x
  • Research. The British Library in London has some awesome industry reports and trends. Mintel, etc. You have to go there to access the goods though.

And this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the insights delivered over the course of 1.5 hours last night…

At this point I’m afraid I stopped taking notes. Jimmy took the stage, we handed out 80 cartons of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, and I’m not quite sure what happened next…!

Jimmy spoke for 45 minutes without breathing once, he talked us through his moment of truth in Bournemouth when, staring at a horrible builder’s bum, he realised he had to do something different.

He bought a one-way ticket to Australia and there fell in love with iced coffees. He talked us through the journey from idea to experimental product back in the UK to brand to product to launch in Selfridges.

It was an extremely self-deprecating talk but throughout there was incredibly smart, on-the-money advice and clear communication of lessons learned about the hustle of getting stocked in stores.

photo copy

photo 2


photo 1

Big thanks to all three speakers. I’m going to ask all three guys to come back to talk at another Escape School talk as soon as I can. Over to you…

What did you learn?

What did you take away from the event? Do share your main thoughts in the comments. What do you still want to know? Ask Craig, David or Jimmy or the Esc team any follow-up questions or leave us feedback in the comments.


logo-simply1-red11[Final word from Simply FMCG: For their upcoming Simply Galactic coursesee the eventbrite page. The code ‘ESCAPE’ provides a 37% discount. They’re already well sold on the event so you want to go, snap up a ticket soon. They have a bunch of bonuses that are mentioned at the bottom of the eventbrite page. The reason the event is called Simply Galactic is that they’re going to put one of the attendee’s brands into space (on a weather balloon) – a nice way to launch a new brand!]

[Check out our upcoming events here:]

What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

1. Job Seeker? Create an Escape Profile to get matched to exciting jobs.

2. Aspiring Career Changer / Entrepreneur? If you’re in London, come and see us at The Escape School.

3. Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to one of our newsletters. Find us on Facebook or @escthecity.

logos highres-03

Share This