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For Jacqueline Barleycorn, embracing the usual pastimes of retirement wasn’t something she wanted to confine herself to. Instead, she embarked on a new business venture, navigating the world of healthy breakfast options with the birth of The Great British Porridge Company.
“You could say I was typical of a lot of people. The children were growing up I was getting to a stage where I needed to get my teeth stuck into something new,” says Jacqueline.
“Having been a mother to the children for several years, when my husband retired we decided to go and do all the things you’re meant to do at this stage of your life; go backpacking around India; take up golf; start gardening. But none of this interested me.”
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Instead, Jacqueline explains she got more interested in the health food sector and started to teach people how to make healthy meals.
“It was by doing this that I started to mix with others who had started their own businesses and taken products to market, which inspired me to think that maybe one day I could do something similar.”
Light bulb moment
Seeing the personal benefits of healthy eating, Jacqueline was always encouraging her family to eat well, but none of them would ever eat porridge unless it was laden with sugar-filled toppings.
“Being a problem solver, this was something I wanted to sort out. Having looked around I realised that a lot of instant porridge products on the market were full of sugar and so I made the natural progression of starting to experiment with making my own.
“I knew that whatever I made had to taste great and had to be quick to make to be practical on busy mornings, and I knew that this was possible without the end result being full of rubbish.
“Quite quickly, my friends got to know what I was doing, and I decided to take the instant porridge to farmers markets and couldn’t believe the response.
“People were returning and asking for more and I realised I had to make a go of it as a business,” says Jacqueline.
Sourcing the ingredients
In the initial stages Jacqueline sourced many of the ingredients from local health food stores and her own kitchen cupboards, but as the business has scaled-up she now buys directly from wholesalers. Buying in bulk to realise the financial benefit.
“Many of the branded instant porridges available contain a high proportion of oats as this is the cheapest ingredient. However, my porridges consist of 50% oats and 50% natural ingredients such as fruits, nuts and seeds which not only adds to the taste but also the nutritional benefit.
“My USP is the fact that all three of the porridge flavours are made from 100% natural and high-quality ingredients, with the added benefit of being gluten free and suitable for vegans meaning the products appeal to an even wider audience.
“With many evolving health food trends, it’s important you’re aware of these and are able to realise their appeal where possible,” says Jacqueline.
Developing the look and feel of the product
Having produced a product she was happy with that was gaining traction at a pace, Jacqueline needed to take the time to think through her branding and what the packaging was going to look like.
“The breakfast market is so competitive that our branding needed to be ‘on-point’ in order for us to stand a chance of making our mark in this saturated industry.
“It’s the same for food and non-food related products, you could have a brilliant product, but if your packaging and branding isn’t right people won’t be interested,” she says.
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“I had an idea of what I wanted – nothing too busy and something that would reflect the naturalness of the products – but I didn’t know how this would come together and instilled my trust in a designer I had previously worked with.
“This is a scary process as you don’t know what the designers are going to come up with and how many times you can say no if you don’t like it.
“I was fortunate that my designer understood the product and what I wanted to get across. But, the best bit of advice I can give here is to walk away if it’s not right. It’s better to lose out at this stage than to be stuck with a design that isn’t appealing and able to attract the right audience.”
The practical aspects of a food business
Jacqueline and her family initially made up the porridge packets in their home kitchen, but as the demand grew for the product, the limitation of storing the raw ingredients became one of her biggest challenges.
“Storing everything at home wasn’t a long-term option and so we made the decision to rent a commercial unit close by where we now have the space and facilities to store all the raw ingredients, make all the porridge and keep all the finished goods.
“My biggest challenge now is stock control. Ensuring we forecast for the right amount of raw materials to meet supply and demand is one thing, but we also have to ensure we continue to use the oldest ingredients first so and that everything remains well within its use by date.
“It’s a balancing act but it can be managed through strict organisation and having clear processes and systems in place,” she adds.
Jacqueline has also had her work cut out finding which distribution channel was to be the most effective for the business.
“When I was getting the business up and running Facebook was a brilliant tool. A lot of direct enquires came through the social media network and I thought we could continue selling online until Facebook changed their algorithms which worked against the promotion of businesses.
“Instead, the focus switched to selling directly to farm shops and delis, online via the website and allowing enquires to come directly to us which has seen the likes of Selfridges and Harvey Nichols stocking our porridges.”
More recently, Jacqueline has realised that she has so many stockists that too much of her time has been spent meeting these orders rather than focusing on building her customer base and has therefore signed up to be listed with wholesalers to ease this pressure.
“We have been so lucky with the progress the business has made in such a short space of time. I am a great believer in following your heart and going with your gut instinct and this was a decision I have not regretted one bit.
“We have made a lot of progress to date and are learning as we go, but it’s an exciting journey to be on.”
Read more from the founder of The Great British Porridge Company by reading our quickfire questions here.