“A whole year or more to market – really?” that was the resounding take home from all our research and advice given by seasoned professionals, and of course “well informed” family members.  We were thinking more like 3 or 4 months. 18 months on and here we are our online shop launched today, reassured, confident, organised and ready.  This was time well spent and we would highly recommend a minimum of a year to market for any small business entrepreneur embarking on the same exciting adventure as us.

  1. The seed of an idea

We knew we wanted to build our own business and it became apparent early on that it would be food related based on Alice’s skills and talent.  The idea was to create a range of foods and we settled on starting with preserves, principally because Alice’s early tests were of really high quality and we knew we had something special. More than anything the ingredients were all around us.  We neighbour the Nunwick Estate, where Alice grew up and her sister Jane kindly allowed us to raid the kitchen garden and orchard for fresh apples, pears, plums, damsons, peppers, chillies and mint which was just perfect for a foundation of our testing ingredients (due to high volumes we do source other ingredients from a local supplier).  So, time to enter the world of artisan preserve making it was, the big question – was there even a market out there?

2. Research – finding a pattern

Read, read and read again.  We set about covering anything preserve related and also new business start-up articles.  One stand out was ‘Recipe For Success’ by Karen Green.  A reassuring and readable food related guide.  Another excellent backbone book to follow has been the ‘Financial Times Business Start Up Guide’ by Sara Williams.  It has worked as a great step by step guide to getting our business plan completed, which has ultimately now become our go to field manual that we keep referring back to.  

We found that one of the most expensive preserves in the world can be found in France, a redcurrant jelly where each berry is de-seeded by hand with goose quills, Alfred Hitchcock ate a pot of it every morning.  You never know what you might discover.

3. Discovering the Market

Was there one for us even?  Of course we knew preserves could be found on shelves from farm shops to Waitrose, we just needed to establish if there was a gap anywhere.  So, into the car we got and travelled to over twenty towns in the county going into every shop we could find.  We must have visited over 100 shops in 18 months, more even if you count the rest of the UK.  We found a huge pride in Northumberland and that there was a demand for more locally produced quality fair so on we marched to create preserves that we fealt are representative of the region.

4. Consultancy

We were entering the world of food production and elements of that have been very daunting.  Hygiene, best before dates, ingredients labelling, a whole new world which we were naïve to.  We were put in touch with James Miller from Healthy Food Solutions (www.healthyfoodsolutions.co.uk) who took us through the many steps required and guided us through the unknown and ultimately helped us receive a level 5 hygiene standards certificate.  This was an essential move and we wouldn’t be in the shape we are now, outside help is highly recommended.

5. Brand

This has been one of the most fun areas of starting up our business, apart from all the tastings that is! It has allowed us to get creative and with the immense help of Andy Ditchburn from Perro designs, I think we have come up with a really striking look.  Your brand look and feel is so important, and lasting so its crucial to get it right and another area to get some help with.  We have found the key is not just focusing on the logo but almost more importantly the colours, fonts and visuals.