Nut butters. So simple right? That’s just what I thought.
But oh how wrong I was. In fact when I began creating the product range for Pip & Nut I could have never imagined just how complicated it would be. But as I go through the process of scaling the recipes to prepare them for retail I’ve discovered just how many elements you need to pull together to get your product on the shelves. I now walk round supermarkets in awe of all those companies who managed it!
Having said that, it’s a process and processes can be learnt. By doing a lot of research and speaking to the right people you can work your way round most challenges that come your way.
How did I get started?
I came up with idea for Pip & Nut about a year and half ago. I knew I wanted to create a brand of tasty all-natural nut butters using different flavours and nuts, but I needed more that just an idea to prove there was a market for the product range.
Speaking to other entrepreneurs it was my good friend Kelvin Cheung, founder of the brilliant social enterprise Foodcycle, who told me to get out there, start selling and test the waters. So that’s exactly what I did.
I created the recipes in my kitchen and worked with a graphic designer to develop some relatively cheap but attractive labels. I found a commercial kitchen in Park Royal, North London, and bought a commercial food processor to make small batches to take to markets.
For three months I took up residence at the ultra trendy Maltby Street Market, in Bermondsey, where, every Saturday, I’d set up shop and sell to the general public. These were three of the coldest months of the year resulting in me wearing every conceivable piece of clothing I could (I called it the ‘Michelin man look’). I also had to endure horribly early 5.30am wake up calls. However, despite all this I loved trading at the market and found it an incredible way to test the products and get direct customer feedback.
Every week I sold more than my small scale production could handle, I even had regular customers returning and retailers started contacting me interested in stocking the products.
I found there was demand!
But there was a catch. Working at such a small scale was not commercially viable. I knew I would not be able to fulfil large orders and with big ambitions for the brand I needed to find a manufacturing partner, fast.
Finding a manufacturer
This has been the biggest challenge to date and has resulted in an eight month long search. But this search taught me a whole lot about manufacturing.
I learned that manufacturers hate working with nuts (they’re an allergen), in fact most don’t even allow them on site. Those that did handle nuts required huge minimum orders to justify the pain of cleaning all the production lines. I even found some manufacturers simply refusing to work with start-ups and laughing me out the door.
It was disheartening and there were times during the search that I started to think it just wasn’t possible. But eventually, after a huge amount of digging around, and some serious tenacity and persistence, I finally met my manufacturer.
They liked the products, the brand and were happy to work with me on a smaller scale. Bingo!
So now it’s all go and I’m spinning lots of plates to pull together all elements of the products together. From product testing, nutritional analysis, completing the brand and packaging, sourcing suppliers, agreeing prices, contracts, funding… the list goes on. All being well Pip & Nut will be ready to hit stores in the Autumn and that’s when the hard (but fun) work truly begins!
I’d say one of the big take home lessons I’ve learned from this long, and frankly tiring, search was that making sure you’ve got the right partners on board with your business is fundamental. For food based businesses in particular the relationship you have with your manufacturer is possibly one of the most crucial ones you’ll form. You need to trust them 100% with your product and they need to believe in your brand as much as you do in order to make the partnership work.
News from outside the shed (and inside Escape the City HQ)
I got ultra excited about seeing my face appear in the first major piece of Pip & Nut press coverage, and in the The Times no less – fame is just round the corner I think!
Rob had his last day in the office on Friday and is off to go get married!
There has been an office move to Bank – internet is a bit dodgy but the team are settling into their new home. And finally, I’m prepping for a Crowdcube campaign that’s going live very very soon (more on this in the next post).
POST EDITED BY CELIA
(check out Celia’s blog “Dared, Determined, Done!” about making big career and life changes here)