On the up · 13 June 2018

Popcorn Shed: The cousins who left city jobs to run their back garden gourmet popcorn business

Popcorn Shed founders Sam Feller and Laura Jackson.

Cousin run business took “business inspo” from the states, after trying gourmet popcorn there for the first time, and began to conjure up their own recipes off the go-to cinema snack.

Since then, Laura Jackson and Sam Feller ditched their city jobs and began their own back garden business Popcorn Shed.

Business Advice caught up with Jackson to find why these guys are strong contenders in the snack industry.

  1. Who are you and what is your business?

I’m Laura and I’m “Kernel-In-Chief” of Popcorn Shed. Popcorn Shed makes the best tasting popcorn in the word. We’re making gourmet popcorn the way it should be: by hand, using all natural ingredients, carefully sourced, lovingly crafted and free of any nasty preservatives or additives. Popcorn Shed’s range is suitable for vegetarians and completely gluten-free. We believe that outstanding popcorn is hard to mass-produce, so we manufacture it in small batches that are made to order.

  1. How did you come up with the concept?

After a trip to the US, we discovered gourmet popcorn and we were bowled over with how tasty the popcorn was and how many different flavour combinations there were across the pond.

We came back to the UK feeling inspired, so we set ourselves a challenge to make the finest and tastiest all natural gourmet popcorn in the world, using flavour concoctions and textural inclusions that tasted better than the ones we had tried in the States.

We had always flirted with the idea of running our own family food business together, and in a moment of madness around our 30th birthdays, we had a “now or never” moment. We set ourselves a challenge to follow our passion of delicious food and create the best tasting popcorn in the world. Little did we know it would lead us to packing in our city jobs and heading off to the garden shed.

After months in the kitchen (we managed to blow up a popcorn machine and break a hob in the process) we finally hit on a winning recipe and had so many requests from friends and family that we ended up making so much we had to store it in my mum’s garden shed.  My family started calling it the Popcorn Shed, and that’s how we named our business.

  1. What was key in terms of getting started?

Having a product that we really believed in. Our friends and family couldn’t get enough of it which I think gave us the confidence to start.

Managing finances is also really important and was so much easier thanks to Xero. With an integrated dashboard that helps you see everything all in one place, it helped us get to grips with finance and allowed us to streamline tasks, saving us hours of admin.

  1. What makes the business unique?

TEXTURE is our game! We use inclusions such as nuts, chocolate and fruit to create textures which enhance taste, flavour and mouth-feel. We don’t just put flavouring in our caramel or on popped corn like other brands.

Our beautiful packaging and exceptional taste make us a stand out choice for the category. Our gourmet popcorn is the best tasting popcorn in the UK, and our beautiful little ‘sheds’ make us perfect for sharing occasions and gifting.

  1. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

There have been lots of challenges! Finding a manufacturer, convincing buyer to give you a chance, setting up the whole infrastructure to make a business run smoothly.

  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

There have been lots of mini achievements that happen every week… from getting our first customer fan letter, to being available in Japan. I’m not sure there is one big achievement that stands out for me but lots of small ones which make running the business worth it.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

Bringing kernel shaped love to satisfied customers across the world. Spreading caramel and happiness from my yacht.

  1. Who are your business heroes and why?

There are so many! I’m a bit addicted to the podcast ‘How I build this’ which interviews lots of successful entrepreneurs… so this week it’s Lara Merriken who founded Larabars. But our favourite heroes of all time is Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream). They are pretty much our idols.

  1. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Keep on top of your finances! It is so important to manage cash flow and manage resource. I use cloud accounting software Xero and this is a life saver.

Also, what’s the worst that can happen? I always say it’s ok to try and fail but it’s not ok to not try.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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