In the final instalment of our series tracking the progress of new brands over the course of a year, four survivors share their experiences and pass on their new-found knowledge to other potential entrepreneurs. Simon Mowbray reports

Meeting together for the first time in a London restaurant, three of the four intrepid new product developers can’t quite believe what they’re hearing.

James Averdieck, MD of Gü Chocolate Puds and the man with the golden NPD touch, has just claimed he’s had a “tough year”.

“Seriously,” he insists as his contemporaries look incredulously at the man who’s built up a £5m brand from scratch. “I’ve not had an easy time. Launching a new brand is like going into a computer game every day and doing battle. You can never relax and there is always someone out there trying to get you.”

“Well thank God it’s not just us then,” says one counterpart as the four men sit down to chew the fat over their year’s experiences.

Twelve months on from The Grocer’s first instalment of the four-part ‘A Year in the Life’ series, Averdieck, Abergavenny Fine Foods commercial director Bryson Craske, Natco Foods director Kishore Pagarani and Willow Water communications director Mervyn Edgecombe are face to face for the first time.

And although they’ve been reading about each other in our quarterly updates, they still have plenty to talk about.

So what have been the main tribulations for each of the four men gathered?

For Craske, the answer is simple - getting a foothold in the multiples. Although initially gaining a listing with Morrisons, Abergavenny’s frozen Rodeo Joe’s range of Tex Mex American-style hot snacks were eventually shown the cold shoulder by the multiple after Abergavenny was unable to entertain demands for a buy-one-get-one-free promotion. The subsequent delisting has effectively spelled the end for Rodeo Joe’s in the multiples, says Craske, and the company has resigned itself to only supplying the brand to independents. In the multiples, it will concentrate on own label.

“Because of our experience with Morrisons we have not even pitched to any of the other multiples,” he says. “We have a good relationship with the likes of Nisa and Spar and it is cheaper and easier to maintain those relationships.”

The whole experience has meant that first-year sales have fallen about £300,000 shy of the projected £1m and Craske says he has learned valuable lessons.

For example, he says, £1.99 - Rodeo Joe’s starting price - really does appear to be the upper limit for a cut-throat arena like frozen snacks where price promotions are more easily stomached by the bigger manufacturers such as Birds Eye. Constant comparisons with well-known brands like Birds Eye and McCain, by both buyers and consumers alike, also make the task of building a new brand into a well-populated market an uphill one.

For Pagarani, who has suffered hiccups with two of the three products he launched last year, the multiple experience could not have been more different, with the Natco director claiming that the success of his one-of-a-kind Spiced Tea offering earned one multiple buyer a promotion.

Former Uniq man Averdieck, who finally secured an elusive listing for Gü with Tesco this summer, claims it is not necessarily dealing with the multiples that keeps him awake at night but what it’s going to cost to grow the brand there.

He says: “We must go through the pain barrier of losing money on promotions in year two if we are to grow our customer base. I want to use promotions to grow trial and, in my experience, it does raise the run rate.”

Meanwhile, Edgecombe says distribution has been his company’s biggest issue. The Lake District-based firm failed to fully jump on the bandwagon of Willow Water’s spectacular PR blitz. The fact that the water contained ‘natural aspirin’ salicin was an instant hit with the media. However, sales are not what they could have been, admits Edgecombe, and addressing distribution issues will now be top of the agenda.

Meanwhile, Craske is adamant that own label is still a sensible option for smaller producers, even when you think you have a great branded idea. “Things like design costs are less of an issue. Also, it seems the retailers are more bent on making a product work because it has their name on.”

Like we said 12 months ago, nobody ever claimed that launching a new brand into the market was easy.

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Rodeo Joe’s - Abergavenny Fine Foods

Commercial director Bryson Craske

“Launching Rodeo Joe’s has definitely been a worthwhile exercise for our company and we have learned a great deal from it, particularly about the frozen sector of which we had no prior experience.

“It has been good in understanding the workings of the branded sector and its pitfalls. We are confident the brand has done enough to continue in one shape or form but this year has taught us that our best long-term opportunities ultimately lie in own label of which we have a greater understanding.

“However, Rodeo Joe’s has opened doors for us, helped us build up new contacts and we have won some own label chilled business on the back of it.”

Spiced Tea, Jelees and Jelees Juice - Natco Foods

Director Kishore Pagarani

“Jelees was an innocent victim of an ingredients health scare and we are not giving up on Jelees Juice just yet, although it will need a reformulation as it was too sweet for British palates.

“However, the undoubted success for us has been Spiced Tea, which has given us a real confidence to progress further with other products in the future.

“We have strengthened our relationships with the multiples and we are now working with them on other projects. However, bringing new brands to market requires more money for advertising than companies like ours are able to provide. That’s why we are ploughing all profits from the tea back into advertising and promotions over the next three years.”

Lakeland Willow Water - Willow Water

Communications director Mervyn Edgecombe

“Launching a completely new water brand into the market has been a steep learning curve which went off at a gallop and then levelled off. We had more issues to think about and deal with as we went further into the year and our aim now is to keep up our momentum. Our biggest problem, bizarrely, was that we had great PR right from the off but then did not have the distribution in place to really capitalise on it.

“We will obviously never know what we missed out on as a result, but it is something we are now working hard to resolve.

“There is now a real need for us to call in some expertise to help us get out to a bigger mass market that we really do believe will want this brand.”

Gü Chocolate Puds

Managing director James Averdieck

“The first advice I would give anyone thinking of launching a brand is to get a good design agency. It helped us to sell at the point of purchase. I call it part of the ‘double seduction’ process. You seduce the consumer on shelf and then again when they eat your product. But you also have to be lucky and we have been very lucky with our timing.

“We will be expanding beyond puds and into things like the frozen arena.We will also have to go through the pain barrier of losing money on price promotions in our second year if we are to grow our customer base.”