At The Foodie Bugle we are always interested to find out how new food and drink entrepreneurs establish their businesses in the very beginning and how they overcome the inevitable challenges of creating a new brand. We believe that the sharing of information helps new and aspiring producers to learn from others. We were very interested to know more about John McFarlane’s business, Norfolk Cordial, which was only set up last year. We sent him a series of questions, he sent us his answers and this is what we found out:
Question: How was your business set up in the very beginning – how did you think of the idea, and how did the business plan develop?
Answer: My girlfriend was making elderflower cordial for the local pub where she worked and I thought that the recipe was really good and the locals really loved it. I then looked around and noticed that not only was there no commercial cordial producer in Norfolk, but other pubs in Norfolk didn’t really offer anything like this on their limited menu of non-alcoholic drinks.
I believed there was a gap in the hospitality market for a more sophisticated non-alcoholic adult drink. So I packed up my life in Cornwall, where I used to live, and came back to Norfolk to start production of our new elderflower cordial business.
So,with my girlfriend away sailing in the Caribbean, only a recipe in hand, having never made cordial in my life before and not really knowing what an elderflower even looked like, I began production in June 2010. I made about 2000 litres of cordial that summer and then set about peddling my wares.
On my girlfriend’s return we developed a further four flavours to our range. We now have Wild Elderflower, Red Gooseberry & Wild Elderflower, Strawberry & Lime, Raspberry and Rhubarb, Orange & Ginger.
Question: What challenges and difficulties did you have to face in the beginning? How did you manage to grow / find / source all the fruit? How did you overcome problems, and did anyone help you?
Answer: Finance was the first hurdle to overcome. I borrowed £5000 from my girlfriend and had to be very careful how that was spent, but by the end of the summer we sold enough cordial to break even. The internet has proved to be invaluable as a resource of information and a way to make the right contacts.
We pick our elderflower from a local farm and the farmer there has agreed to let us use his land. He has left the elder trees alone and does not spray so at the moment we have a great supply. The other fruits we started picking from our garden but soon we needed to outsource a supplier. We are fortunate that Norfolk has very good agricultural land and all our main fruits come from local farms. We are self-taught at what we do and although many people have offered all sorts of advice along the way we have pretty much done it on our own.
Question: How did you find the pubs, restaurants, delis, retailers that would sell your product? Did you find it difficult to convince them to stock your cordial?
Answer: We use the internet to research the right place to sell our products. I really enjoy selling and have found the best way to get our products out there is to go and see each company and talk to them. Some are harder to convince than others and we are aware that our product doesn’t suit every pub or restaurant. The delis and farm shops have been fantastic and the public really seem to love our drinks. Tasting days have really proved to be a great way to meet the customers and talk to them about our range.
Question: Did you use the Internet and social media a great deal to get your name known?
Answer: At the moment our website is still under construction so we use both Twitter and Facebook to keep people up to date with what we are doing and where they can find our cordials. Both have proved invaluable and I still get excited every time someone follows us on Twitter or joins our Facebook page. I am still learning exactly how to make the best of Twitter but it really is a fantastic marketing tool for any business.
Question: What is your strategy for future growth and development? Are you going to be in farmers’ markets, food fairs, food halls or festivals?
Answer: We have now joined with Groveland Apple Juice to produce a range of still drinks for the ready-to-drink market. We are doing a range of drinks with an apple juice base and our cordial flavours mixed in. We really want to expand our market further afield than Norfolk and food fairs are top of our agenda as a means to put ourselves in the right place to make the right connections. Locally we are doing as many fairs and festivals as possible this summer. We are looking at other ways to expand our range into new markets
Question: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of growing and sourcing fruit to turn into a drink?
Answer: It is a very saturated market with a lot of big companies and you have to decide where you want to position yourself and stick to it. It is not an easy industry to be in and you have to learn to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take criticism and use it constructively to help you develop your product further and improve its quality.
Question: If you could do it all again what would you do differently and why?
Answer: I truly love what I do and have enjoyed the path of learning so far. Every hurdle has been the chance to learn something new and develop both ourselves and the business so I wouldn’t change anything. So far so good.