A passion for new product development in stylish packaging

is generating rapid growth at Fiddes Payne and giving it global reach. Liz Hamson reports

In an unprepossessing business unit in Banbury, Oxfordshire, Chris White, the managing director of upmarket herbs, spices and cake decorations company, Fiddes Payne, is sitting in his product-strewn office, deep in the process of creative thought.
He grabs two tins from the shelf. They are both of a yet-to-be launched Jamaican Jerk Seasoning and he cannot decide which of the two designs to go for. He plumps for the less-adorned label… for now.
Described by colleagues as an ideas man, White revels in the creative aspect of the job, he admits. “I’m passionately interested in packaging,” he says. “We might be small, but there’s no reason we can’t have world-class packaging.”
This same attention to detail has helped transform the company from one that supplied only small independents and delis to one that today supplies top multiples and export markets across the world. This year alone it expects to turn over £5m to £6m - 50% to 60% up on last year. But its sudden growth spurt is no overnight success story.
White bought Fiddes Payne in 1993 for £200,000. Four years ago he decided to go beyond the hard graft of selling to independents and get into the multiples. The first big push was with its Mosimman branded spice mills, the first to offer shoppers a plastic alternative to Schwartz’s ceramic varieties. “We came up with all sorts of good flavours such as sea salt with seaweed and rainbow peppercorns. NPD is critical, and fun too,” says White. “The problem is, we do too much of it.”
He’s not kidding. So frenetic has been the pace of NPD that he admits he has lost track of how many lines the company produces. Last year’s launches included gourmet peppercorns packed in cigar tubes, Deep South Seasonings and compartmentalised dessert and spice shakers. There are around 30 new products in the pipeline, up to 10 of which are likely to come off. “NPD can be staggeringly quick,” he says. “We’ve done certain lines in eight to 10 weeks. We’re lucky we’re able to by virtue of being small.”
He is not averse to a bit of clandestine research.
“I go to Tesco and sweep the competitors’ products off the shelves and put our own products there because you can’t tell how good your product is until you see it on shelf.” He hastens to add he always puts everything back.
For the past two years, the company has been busy developing a new category. Home bake products now generate more than half its business and its Mr Men cup cake mixes, decorations and candles, launched last August, are listed in most of the major multiples. White explains the rationale behind the move: “The UK home-bake market is worth £250m, the dried herb and market £100m - the cup cake market £50m. I guess our NPD will loosely adhere to these ratios.”
He has spent the last few months presenting to top multiples a number of new lines including ice cream sprinklers. But he is also exploring new areas such as ambient ethnic lines, wet spices and ready meals. “I’m playing with a few ideas,” he says. “But you have to be careful to tread the line between something exotic and commercial.”
White sees untapped potential overseas. “At the moment 15% of our business is exports. I think our basic target is £1m or about 20% of our business. There’s a lot of scope. Japan is already proving fantastic.”
The company now boasts 60 to 80 core lines. Its rate of growth has been such that having expanded three times in the past six years, it is now preparing to take another new unit, opposite its existing premises.
Even so, says White: “We’re still a baby company. We’re growing exponentially - it’s going to be difficult to sustain that, but at the end of the day it’s down to NPD, and that’s certainly not drying up.”