Jenny: It all started on family holidays to France where they eat a lot of compote My kids were always dragging me to the hypermarket to buy some but the nearest thing we had back home was baby food. I own a nursery and saw that those eating compote-esque products were getting a hard time for having ‘baby food,’ which was sad because everybody in France, from age five to 100 eats this stuff. So I approached Deborah to find out whether there was a gap in the market for this, bridging the gap between being a toddler and an older child. We’d always wanted to do something entrepreneurial and felt now was the right time or we would never do it.
Deborah: As a mother I knew the sort of things going in lunchboxes, like Pepperamis, crisps and everything else which was just packed full of sugar, salt, bad stuff. I’m not an earth mother, or purist or anything like that, but I do want to give my kids something healthy. We just wanted a healthy snack that could survive in an eight-year-old’s bag and be okay to eat at the end. We make crushed fruit, pure and simple.
Jenny: We knew we had the innate skills (from working in sales and marketing) to give it a go as well as the network to bring in the skills we didn’t have, like PR and finance. We also have two very patient husbands which helps!
Deborah: We knew we couldn’t just run a business out of a bean tin, so we registered the brand, made sure we had good accounts, spent a good 18 months developing the product in the UK and conducted research. It was so important that our product didn’t need sugar so we had a panel of tasting sessions with about 150 kids and a variety of samples. We went to conferences, spoke to suppliers and managed to raise our families all at the same time!
Jenny: It would be really hard to be in business with someone who’s not a friend because it’s such a rollercoaster – one minute you’re as high as a kite, the next one of the suppliers haven’t turned up or something.
Deborah: We’ve learnt a lot from each other and the benefit of the friendship is you’ve got that bedrock of knowing what you both want. Friends have shared values, and see the world with same objective in mind. If you don’t have a shared value-system you will end up tearing each other apart.
Jenny: And it’s harder to disagree with someone you don’t know.
Deborah: You need robust discussion, which isn’t as easy with someone you don’t know as well. Although, saying that, sometimes you might need someone more objective who can reel you back from getting too involved in your ideas.
Jenny: Honestly, working together is all we know but it’s worked really well for us!
Jenny: There so many distractions in a working day, and we’re doing so much between us so we need to find time to actually think about the strategy
Deborah: Like any SME we recognise that we are spread too thinly. 3am is a too-familiar time for me right now. The business is like a child: it will both exhilarate and exhaust you.
Jenny: And you don’t want to let it go – it’s hard to trust people to do it as well as you would do it, but you can’t grow unless you do that. There’s not a lot of time off.
Deborah: But you really do need to step back as, definitely for me, I do some of my best thinking in a daft place like the shower or on the school run. You do need to carve out some space for yourself away from the business.
Jenny: We created the brand for children with a 7 plus age range in mind, but it’s also young professionals, both men and women, who are buying it. A lot of men have recognised it’s something you can have after a run, and we’ve got some triathletes who love the product. Young professional women love it too because it’s very low in calories as well as one of your five a day. So obviously, that’s taken us in a slightly different direction in terms of our branding and we’re looking at making it slightly more adult.
Deborah: For me, the word crushed embodies the whole brand. Our product is simply crushed fruit, so it does what it says on the tin. We’re up against brilliant marketing for average products that you don’t want to be feeding to your family on a regular basis because we have an obesity crisis on our hands. We want to give children something healthy that they are going to enjoy.
Deborah: Very. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been the main way of raising awareness of the brand and connecting with bloggers so you can build your presence. We’ve found entities and enthusiasts through social media, but it’s about getting beyond that to mainstream customers. It’s also useful for feedback from customers so we can improve the product.
Jenny: The jury’s out on social media. It really helps to build your brand but I’m not convinced that it encourages people to go out and buy it. I don’t know if there’s that link. My feeling is the old way are the best ways: people, mothers at the school gates.
Deborah: Twitter has been invaluable for networking in an industry about which we didn’t know a huge amount. Next year we’re looking at a mixed marketing campaign. Social media will be there, but it will mainly be more traditional channels. In terms of national coverage, not everyone is constantly following Twitter.
Jenny: We want to reach mothers but they’re always busy running around, so how much time do they have to be on social media?
Jenny: Good research is key. You’ve got to know the flavours are right or you can make very costly mistakes. You have to trust your instinct to some extent, but research was invaluable because we went in with preconceived ideas of what the children would like, and the children unanimously preferred different flavours.
The reality is you can faff around with the packaging all you like, but if the taste isn’t nice customers are not going to buy it again.
Deborah: I received some very good advice from an old boss of mine who told me to go and look at what other people have done and follow in their footsteps.
Jenny: Don’t be afraid to contact people. It’s amazing how helpful and generous people have been to us, helping us on our way.
Deborah: Exactly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re in the food industry, go and have a look at food exhibitions, try and network, look at case studies, read around things.
Jenny: Also if you’ve got a good idea, then just go for it. If retailers or investors seem intimidating, it’s only business language that stops you, but there’s jargon in every sector. Once you learn the language, you’re in. Also, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to test out an idea. If you’ve got a good idea, you’ll be surprised how often people will just say yes to you. Also don’t commit a huge amount of money until someone with some amount of authority has sense-checked your idea. We were quite lucky; we got in front of Waitrose without spending a huge amount of money first. We absolutely wanted to get an order before we pressed the button on anything.
Jenny: We don’t have a culture of eating compote over here; we’re not French. In the UK compote is associated with babies, so we have to educate people and that takes a bit of time. We want to reach thousands of children because children today are under so much pressure and we want them to have another resource. We love the fruit bowl, but fruit is hard and this is easy. Also, it’s really hard not letting the business take over your life and remembering to carve out time for yourself.
Jenny: The fun we’ve had and the things we’ve learnt. And launching and supplying in three major retailers since February. It has taken a long time to get to this stage, but it has been such a fun ride.
Jenny: Five flavours definitely: we want to get a good variety onto the shelves. We might look at other types of healthy snacks, though the core business will always be pouches. For now we need to build the brand so people associate it with health.
Deborah: Want to get a reasonable size team, another product or two online and basically establish ourselves as a health brand. I would love to see UK 5-year-olds going down in weight and loving fruit and I think Crush can help that come about.
Jenny: If you go to France, the difference is just staggering. French kids are all fit and healthy and totally mystified as to why we live the way we live. I would lie Crush to be involved in changing kids’ mind-sets. We want people to be able to say yes to a snack and know that they’re putting something great into their bodies.