When he was 17, Fraser Doherty's jam-making business was doing so well he dropped out of university for a year to work on it full-time. Two years on and his company, SuperJam, supplies a range of healthy jams to Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and Budgens, and his degree in accounting and marketing has been delayed. "I think maybe 10 to 20 years down the line I might study something, but for now I'm learning a lot," says Doherty.
Taught to make jam by his grandmother at the age of 14, Doherty "really loved it" and started making jam to sell at farmers' markets and fetes. "I was making 1,000 jars a week in my parents' kitchen [in Edinburgh], which was when I realised I'd have to move to a factory," he says.
But the supermarket deals didn't happen overnight. "The biggest challenge was convincing the first supermarket to take the jams," says Doherty. "It was a lengthy process and a challenge to motivate myself as an entrepreneur to keep trying. Many people give up at the first hurdle."
The first time Doherty attended a "meet the buyers" day at Waitrose—which he refers to as the X Factor of selling groceries to supermarkets—he came away empty-handed. "I hadn't set up production, I had no brand, no concept of the product, but they gave me good advice and I went away and spent a year putting that all together."
He did some research and found that sales of jam had fallen for the past couple of decades because of its old-fashioned and unhealthy image (jam often contains lots of sugar). "There had been no innovation in jam-making for years so I looked into making a healthy jam with no additives and that was sweetened only with fruit juice," says Doherty. He used an advertising agency to come up with modern branding, found a factory he could hire a few days each month and the contract to supply Waitrose with his SuperJam range followed shortly afterwards.
Doherty knows that he owes a lot to his grandmother without whose recipes he wouldn't be running a successful business. "All too often we forget the contribution older people make to our society," he says. Last April, Doherty launched the SuperJam Tea Parties charity to give isolated or housebound older people the chance to socialise at community centres over tea and scones. During Older People's Week last October more than 100 parties took place across the UK.
Around half a million jars of SuperJam are sold a year—equating to sales of £400,000—which Doherty hopes to double over the next year. "I am ambitious for SuperJam and the charitable projects. There has been interest overseas so we will probably expand internationally," he says.