Craig Butcher editor MSN Food
07/12/2010 16:04 | By Craig Butcher, editor, MSN Food

How to make your millions in food and drink

We speak to William Chase, the founder of Tyrrells Crisps, about how to build a successful food business, and his new project, Chase potato vodka


William Chase of Chase Distillery holding his award-winning Chase Vodka

William Chase had been farming in Herefordshire for over 20 years before he had his eureka moment - Tyrrells Crisps. One of the most successful food brands of recent years and valued in 2008 at over £40million, he knows more than most about sowing the seed of a great idea, making it reality and reaping the rewards.

Tell us about your idea for Tyrrells Crisps - was there a eureka moment?
Yes, I was hit with the eureka moment of turning our potatoes into chips but the turning point was when a load of my potatoes were rejected by a big crisp manufacturer. It took me just six months from having the idea to turn my potatoes into crisps to getting the packets onto the shelves.

What was different about your approach?
We were innovative. People loved the fact that we were cooking our own home-grown vegetables to make good quality crisps. Nobody else had done this before and it became our unique selling point. The crisps grew on the back of a revolution of food. People were interested in where food came from - interested in the whole story.

How did Tyrrells grow?
Tyrrells grew very quickly as we were doing something that nobody else in the UK was doing; we had the farm where we were growing good quality ingredients and turning them into good quality food with full pedigree and provenance and customers bought into this. It was a very exciting time. I built a small factory as a test plant. Had quite a good hunch, I tried it and the media got involved. Then we put standards in place and built a modern sophisticated factory to ensure quality and we kept evolving and innovating.

Harvesting potatoes on Chase Farm

Harvesting potatoes on Chase Farm

What are you working on now?
Creating a super premium spirit [potato vodka] with pedigree using ingredients grown on our farm. Nobody else in the UK spirits industry is doing this; we grow, mash, ferment, distil and bottle everything on our farm in Herefordshire, making us unique.

How did it come about?
I was in the US five or six years ago and found a little distillery making products out of sugar beet. I was also missing the challenge of creating a new business from scratch. So I decided to build my own distillery on my farm in Herefordshire and make vodka using my own potatoes. I sourced the best equipment - a bespoke small copper batch pot still and a 70-foot copper rectification column with 42 bubble plates - one of the largest in Europe. I made my first batch of vodka in June 2008 and was really impressed with the results, it tasted so naturally sweet, it was like nectar. So I decided to put my name on it and call it Chase.

Bottle of Chase Distillery vodka

Bottle of Chase Distillery vodka

Did people like it?
Demand has soared since we won the award for the world's best vodka at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, with orders coming from all over the world. It's great to have our product endorsed like this, it's testament to all our hard work in creating a genuine, quality product with pedigree. Of course we could quite happily sit round the table and agree we had made the best vodka, but we would always wonder whether we could tweak it slightly - by putting it though the still again or use a different carbon and so on - but this award endorses it as the best, just the way it is.

What are your top five tips for making money from food?

  1. You need a unique selling point and a good strapline. At Tyrrells our most successful strapline was "It's not unusual for us to dig our potatoes in the morning, turn them into crisps at lunchtime and have them in the shops by the afternoon." It described our unique selling points in one line.
  2. Have a brand that's genuine, no fakes.
  3. No 'twee' marketing stories. You're talking to intelligent customers so you need to be sincere.
  4. Provenance: deliver quality food that gives people well being.
  5. Stay true to your roots.
    Visit William Chase's Chase Distillery website
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