Jacqueline Barleycorn founded The Great British Porridge Co, which is based in Sussex, in 2018. Having been retired for some years, this is her first business venture in the food industry. Here she shares her entrepreneurship journey.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
As a family we always tried to live a healthy lifestyle, but often found breakfast ended up being a slice of toast and a banana. Knowing the health benefits of oats we loved the idea of an instant porridge as we never had enough time in the mornings to make porridge from scratch.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
When looking for a healthy instant porridge for the whole family, we were disappointed to see those available were either full of not very healthy ingredients or just tasted very bland. So, loving a challenge, I decided to make my own. It was such a success with family that friends started asking if I’d make some for them which is when I realised I’d created something good. I had actually retired but this was pulling me, I knew it was something I had to do to see where it would lead.
I spent a lot of time trying the porridge out on friends and family as I had to make sure it not only had the right nutritional criteria but also tasted delicious too. Getting the price right was also a challenge as it was vital that it was made from 100% natural ingredients as that’s something I feIt strongly about.
How did you achieve awareness?
I spent a lot of time visiting trade shows to see what the current food trends were. I soon realised that there was no point having an amazing product if the packaging and branding wasn’t right as that’s the first thing people notice. Especially too because I knew I was entering a very busy, competitive market. I was taking on some of the big, established names in the Breakfast category. I needed to know my product would stand out and then not disappoint when people tried it.
I always intended from the very start to having amazing looking packaging as I knew that would be my best marketing tool. We sell to stockists directly, via wholesalers plus direct to the public so we have all bases covered. I’ve always valued social media as it’s an incredibly cheap way of marketing your product and getting it out there. In the early days, I did all my own social media to really connect and engage with my customers. I also attended trade shows to reach new buys, giving out samples.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We were on Dragons’ Den in the summer of 2019 and had all 5 dragons wanting to invest (known as a full house) and we initially had talks with Tej Lavalni but ended up going alone and raising money using the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), which is a government-backed scheme which offers great tax-efficient benefits in return for shares in the company.
What are the key successes?
Turning an idea into reality and a very successful one at that. In a short space of time – along with a pandemic – we’ve managed to secure national listings with Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado, we export all over the world. We are currently talking with Japan and the Middle East.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
From the start, sustainability was so important to me. Finding the right route to sustainable packaging came with a range of challenges along the way. After 2 years and many different attempts, we finally got there. Determination and a belief in doing better is what got us there, along with a great team of people behind the scenes who helped drive us forward at every stage.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We have big plans to stand oat from the crowd! New flavours, new products, and more collaboration with partners who we feel align with our brand values. We’re passionate about serving healthy, staple breakfasts to as many people as possible, so we have big plans to grow our market share.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Be completely honest to yourself about how good an idea you’ve got. Follow your instinct, you need to be your own critic. Do plenty of research, see what other products or services are available and how you will fit in, what makes you different. If you are sure you’re onto something good then go for it.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Work very hard at focusing on what will go right rather than what can go wrong. You need to be very positive and passionate about what you are doing as that will come across to your potential customers. Dig deep and find all the confidence you can, even if it’s not there, fake it, nobody except you will know. Be prepared to live and breath your new business. It will take over your life. There will be knock backs but you’ll get over them and believe me the highs you get when things go right are worth every sleepless night you’ve had. Try to engage with other people in a similar situation, do some networking, join online groups, it’s great for support especially if you don’t have a business partner…and finally do realise that even your own family will get fed up of hearing about it 24 hours a day.
Who are the people who inspire you the most and why?
Sir David Attenborough – for being the most amazing human being on this planet.
Richard Branson – because he has been so inspirational to generations.
Laura Ashley (before it was sold) – we have production in West Sussex and only a short drive from their production site and they had huge International success with a great ethical brand
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Who said life is either a daring adventure or nothing” Helen Keller
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve” Napoleon Hill
“Nothing in this world is at it seems. Except, possibly, porridge” Stephen Fry
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
@thegreatbritishporridgeco https://www.facebook.com/thegreatbritishporridgeco/ @GBporridgeco