Fraser Doherty: 'How I set up SuperJam' (New Business)

At the age of just twenty, Fraser Doherty has turned a teenage hobby into business product that is stocked by major retailers across the UK
Fraser Doherty, the founder of SuperJam talks to New Business about how he set up his business as a teenager, approached some of the largest retailers in the UK, marketed the product and offers his advice on running a business.

What was your first business idea?
Growing up I was always coming up with ideas for new products, and I had my first moneymaking scheme when I was about ten: I visited a chicken farm and convinced the farmer to give me a box of eggs. I told my mum and dad I was going to keep them so they would hatch and I could start a chicken farm in the back garden.

Amazingly, a few weeks later four eggs hatched. We kept the chickens in the back garden and they began to lay eggs, which I sold to the neighbours. However, my chicken farm career was tragically cut short when a fox came along and ate my chickens!

What inspired you to start making jam at the age of 14?
I was really excited by my gran's jam and having always enjoyed it growing up, thought that it would be fun to make some myself. I thought that if people liked it then there would be a way for me to sell it and make some extra pocket money, but that was as far as my ambitions went at that point.
In the first day in one of the Edinburgh stores they sold 1,500 jars, more jam than they would normally sell in a month. They had never seen anything like it

Did you then begin to sell the jam?
Yes, we began selling the jam door to door in the area, and in some local shops and farmers' markets. People just seemed to really love the product and I started to get some press attention and I found myself on page three of the Edinburgh Evening News when I was 15. Other shops started calling me up about the jam and the whole thing just grew and grew. It soon got to the point where I was making hundreds of jars of jam every week in my parents' kitchen, so they were struggling to get in there to cook dinner!

What was the next step?
It got to the stage when I couldn't go much further with the product without moving into a factory. At that point I realized that I wanted to try and make a career out of it. I did some research and found that sales of jam had been in decline for the past couple of decades. This was partly because jam is traditionally very unhealthy and has an old fashioned image. I figured if I could create a healthier and modern brand of jam, then maybe I could challenge the trend of declining sales. I came up with a way of making jam completely from fruit juice, not using anything artificial or adding any sugar. Then, probably quite naively, I decided that I was going to try and sell the product to the big supermarkets.

What was the first supermarket that you approached?

I went to a Waitrose ‘meet the buyer' day and pitched my idea to the senior jam buyer. He said that it was a great idea, but explained that I had a long way to go. I had to set up production, create a brand and then go back to him at the right price.

What did you do then and how did you fund it?
I spent a couple of years convincing a factory and an advertising agency to work with me. I eventually got production up and running: we moved into the factory in 2006 and created the brand that we have now. I had a little bit of money that I had saved myself and got a loan from the Prince's Trust for £5,000. Both the advertising agency and the factory were willing to take the long-term view and didn't need money on day one, as they thought they would benefit in the long run.

Did all this work pay off?
Waitrose agreed to try it out in their stores in March 2007. The media coverage that we got was unbelievable: we were on GMTV and BBC Breakfast, and the biggest news show in China also covered it. Nobody could have imagined it would capture people's imaginations like it did. In the first day in one of the Edinburgh stores they sold 1,500 jars, which was more jam than they would normally sell in a month. They had never seen anything like it. Then Tesco phoned up out of the blue and said that they would like to stock it, then Morrisons; now all of the major retailers stock SuperJam.

Has the health factor been a big part of your success?
Yes, of course. It wouldn't have taken off in the way that it did unless it solved a problem that was there. Jam had always been very unhealthy and a lot of people didn't eat it, but since we've launched we've sold around 800,000 jars of SuperJam.

What advice would you give about running a business?
Go out and give things a shot. Don't be afraid to try things and see what you learn. On a practical level the best help that I've had has been from mentors. Entrepreneurs should look to anyone that has run a business or a charity, someone who has been there and done it, and can provide you with a great opportunity to learn.

What does the future hold for SuperJam?
The business is growing at a really fast pace, and there are supermarkets that don't yet stock the product but are interested in it. There are lots of other fruits that we can make jam from to expand the range in terms of flavours, and hopefully we can expand into other countries too.

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