After realising there wasn’t a breakfast product tasty and quick enough to make for her family on the market this retired mother from Sussex founded The Great British Porridge Co.
After starting the business five months ago Jacqueline Barleycorn has since stopped producing from her kitchen and moved to a new working space.
Business Advice caught up with Barleycorn to find out how she feels about going from feeding her family the recipe to being stocked in over 50 independent stores.
How did you come up with the concept?
We as a family try to live a healthy lifestyle but often found breakfast ended up being a slice of toast & a banana. Knowing the health benefits of oats we loved the idea of an instant porridge as we never had enough time in the mornings to make porridge from scratch. When we saw what was on the market we were disappointed to see they were either full of unhealthy ingredients or tasted very bland. So loving a challenge I decided to make my own. It was such a success with the family that friends started asking if I’d make some for them, which is when I realised I’d created something good. I had actually retired but this was pulling me, I knew it was something I had to pursue to see where it could lead, so I started The Great British Porridge Co.
What was key in terms of getting started?
I spent a lot of time trying the porridge out on friends and family as I had to make sure it not only had the right nutritional criteria but also tasted delicious too. Getting the price right was also a challenge as it was vital that it was made from 100% natural ingredients as that’s something I felt strongly about.
I also spent a lot of time visiting trade shows to see what the current food trends are. I soon realised that there was no point having an amazing product if the packaging and branding wasn’t right as that’s the first thing people notice. Especially too because I knew I was entering a very busy, competitive market. I was taking on some of the big, established names in the Breakfast category. I needed to know my product would stand out and then not disappoint when people tried it.
What makes the business unique?
The business is unique in that it was started because of a desire to ensure my family eat healthy food rather than purely a money venture. That somehow ended up with me running my own business which certainly wasn’t the intention. I had no experience of running my own business so a lot of what I did and still do is based on following my own gut instinct. We have a unique product in that its 100% natural, vegan, gluten and dairy free, no added sugar and still tastes delicious. The incredible growth and success we have seen from launching only five months ago is what definitely makes us unique.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
Originally we were producing the porridge in our kitchen at home. This wasn’t too much of a problem but the storage of the ingredients was. I also soon realised I’d have to buy the ingredients in very big quantities to get the best prices which then meant there was more to store. This also meant more financial outlay, which put a strain on my already dwindling cash flow. Another major challenge was trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about when communicating with buyers. I’d never had any dealings before in the food industry and I hadn’t worked properly for 25 years while my children were growing up, it was completely new to me.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Turning an idea into reality and a very successful one at that. In five months we are have sold in three countries and have a fabulous website that customers can order from. The Great British Porridge Co is now stocked in over 50 independents, including Harvey Nichols and Selfridges too, we have just listed with a top wholesaler and have buyers contacting us asking to stock it. We have already moved out of our kitchen into new premises to cope with the demand.
Describe your marketing technique – what strategies have you used?
I always intended from the very start to having amazing looking packaging as I knew that would be my best marketing tool. We sell to stockists direct, via wholesalers plus direct to the public so we have all bases covered. I’ve always valued social media as it’s an incredibly cheap way of marketing your product and getting it out there. I do all my own social media as I think it’s important to engage with my customers.The Great British Porridge Co has recently done it’s first ever trade show which was a tremendous success with a permanent crowd around our stand. We gave out samples of the porridge. I made a few expensive mistakes at the start but now I try to be much more cautious about things. There’s a lot of people offering you incredible marketing opportunities but you can’t do all of them so I try to be very selective. I have a habit of working out how many bags of porridge I will need to sell for it to have been worthwhile and that really focuses the mind.
In five years’ time, I will be…
Retired again and loving seeing The Great British Porridge Co run by my children.
Who are your business heroes and why?
A couple of years ago I did some healthy food demonstrations and through those I met Hayley and Matt Hunt who run the successful business The Protein Ball Co. They built it in a very short time and are now selling in 17 countries, running their own factory and employing lots of staff. What I admire most about them is they are still lovely people and running a successful business hasn’t changed them. They have shown that through hard work and dedication you can achieve an incredible business in a very short time and that’s what I’m on track to do too.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be completely honest with yourself about how good an idea you’ve got. Follow your instinct, you need to be your own critic. Do plenty of research, see what other products or services are available and how you will fit in, what makes you different. If you are sure you’re onto something good then go for it. Work very hard at focusing on what will go right rather than what can go wrong. You need to be very positive and passionate about what you are doing as that will come across to your potential customers. Dig deep and find all the confidence you can, even if it’s not there, fake it, nobody except you will know. Be prepared to live and breath your new business. It will take over your life. There will be knock backs but you’ll get over them and believe me the highs you get when things go right are worth every sleepless night you’ve had. Try to engage with other people in a similar situation, do some networking, join online groups, it’s great for support especially if you don’t have a business partner…..and finally do realise that even your own family will get fed up of hearing about it 24 hours a day.
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