In July, The Grocer kicked off a unique experiment to chart the first year experiences of five new brands as they started life in the tough world of fmcg.

Four months on, these are the warts-and-all accounts showing the trials, tribulations and triumphs of launching a new product onto the market.

Not surprisingly, it has been quite a voyage of discovery for our five ‘guinea pigs’ with all reporting very different experiences.

Among them, one has suffered the heartache of an early demise (but could still be brought back to life), another has discovered the teething troubles associated with too many fingers being in the pie, and one has even had to put up with being caught in a health scare unfairly.

Two more, meanwhile, appear to have taken the market by such storm that they are making nonsense of the dogged old statistics which show the odds being continually stacked against market newcomers.

Simon Mowbray speaks to the business brains behind the brands to get the first of three updates in our running series of features.

When The Grocer launched its quest to follow the tentative first steps of five new brands four months ago, Stream Foods boss Paul Newberry made no bones about the fact that his offering could be the first to fall by the wayside.

And so it has proved, with the Cambridgeshire-based company’s Jusfruit brand becoming the sole casualty of the pack despite gaining impressive listings with Tesco and Sainsbury.

Withdrawn from the market two months ago “for a number of reasons”, Newberry says the ambient potted fruit purée range (rsp: 49p, 80g) failed to reach expected sales levels. He had hoped the brand would generate sales of £150,000 by the end of the year but the first step of getting consumers to try the product proved a major stumbling block.

“Generating trial can cost money in terms of above-the-line support which was something we were unable to do because of our commitments to our other brands,” says Newberry, referring to Stream’s growing portfolio of hand-held packaged fruit snacks under the Fruit Bowl banner.

“It has been a bit of a catch-22 situation. We placed a couple of ads in slimming magazines and had a reasonable response but to take it further would have meant more support. We would have been losing money on every pot we produced.”

However, Newberry insists the Jusfruit concept is just on the backburner for the time being. “Long term, we are not ruling out a return to the brand.”

No one ever said that launching a brand was easy. And Abergavenny Fine Foods has found just that with its Rodeo Joe’s Tex Mex American-style frozen snacks.

Despite launching in Morrisons in September, teething problems delayed further listings. A trial in seven Londis stores was postponed when Abergavenny lost its account manager to Glanbia.

And a change of buyer at Safeway meant that this month’s proposed launch will be shelved until next year, while another problem for Abergavenny has been sorting out “finite detail” with its production partners.

However, it’s not all been bad news. The Co-op this week took delivery of its first consignment of the six-strong range made up of Pepperoni Bites, Mozzarella Melts, Jalapeno Flamers, Buffalo Rings, Onion Rings and Southern Skins. And Nisa received its first Rodeo Joe’s stock at the beginning of the month.

In Morrisons, sales of the £1.99-£2.29 range have been encouraging. “Sales are between 700 and 900 units per SKU per week which Morrisons tells us is respectable,” says Abergavenny commercial director Bryson Craske, “but we are retailing at £1.99 so the margins are high. We have also been on promotion at £1.49 for a couple of weeks and that saw an uplift in sales of around 75%.”

Craske admits that the company’s original aspirations of creating a £500,000 brand in its first six months have had to be scaled back to £300,000. But he insists that the goal remains to turn Rodeo Joe’s into a £3.5m brand next year.
Things are going so well for former Uniq executive James Averdieck’s Gü brand that he has already added a brand extension to his line up of premium-positioned chocolate puddings (The Grocer, page 57, November 8).

Gü Boozy Little Chocolate Puds and Cheeky Little Chocolate Puds - sold in three small 50g pots, rsp: £2.49 - go into Sainsbury and Waitrose stores next week at £2.49 a pack.

As for the main range - three double packs of larger sized offerings, also carrying a rsp of £2.49 - Gü says sales are far in excess of expectations.

When The Grocer spoke to Averdieck in July, he boldly predicted he could turn Gü, manufactured by Rensow Patisserie, into a £1m-plus brand within a year. Sales were then running at around £28,000 a week in Sainsbury and Waitrose. But further roll-out to 190 Asda stores and Budgens in September, and 340 Safeways last month has seen sales rocket to as much as £80,000 a week, partly helped by 50p-off price promotions in Sainsbury and Waitrose. A mention by Anthony Worrall Thompson in a national newspaper supplement didn’t do any harm, either.

Now Averdieck is being even bolder: “We now expect to do £3m this year and there is no doubt we will be at £5m within two years.” Marketing spend is likely to equal around 10% of sales next year, although some of that money could be spent on developing new products. Talks with Tesco and Morrisons are ongoing.
When a celebrity cook of the stature of Clarissa Dickson Wright starts extolling the virtues of your brand completely unprompted then you know you’re on to a good thing.

Dickson Wright told viewers of ITV’s This Morning show, Radio 4 listeners and readers of her Country Life column how she believed drinking the Lake District-sourced H2O, which contains “natural aspirin” salicin, made a cyst she’d had for 16 years virtually disappear and helped clear up a friend’s daughter’s eczema.

The result was a 700% sales surge in Waitrose alone (Willow is also listed by Sainsbury). It is little wonder then, that Willow is more than keeping its head above water, so to speak.

The company’s bottling plant near Morecambe Bay is on line to process 4 million litres by the end year, equating to a value of more than £3m for the 500ml (rsp: 65p) and 1.5 litre (rsp: £1.29) formats.

A listing in more than 250 Safeway stores, which starts later this month, is also likely to boost production next year and the water is now being sold through The Health Store chain. Sales director Mervyn Edgecombe says: “We are actively adding incremental value to the category, rather than just carving a slice of the existing water market.”

A marketing spend of up to £250,000 next year should help keep the tills ringing. The company is also looking at the possibility of adding a carbonated version.

But Edgecombe insists that listings with Tesco or Asda will depend on price.
To have a new product caught up in a health scare within weeks of launch is annoying. To have it smeared unfairly, albeit unintentionally, is infuriating. But that is exactly what happened to Natco Jelees jelly pot confectionery when Trading Standards issued a health warning in July about similar products.

The alert was raised after it was discovered that some rival products contained konjac, a banned jelling agent which makes jelly so hard that it has caused choking incidents in the US. Even though Trading Standards advised there was nothing wrong with products, such as Jelees, which use seaweed extract, independent retailers started returning the product to Natco.

“We unfairly got tarred with the same brush,” says a spokesman.

The incident prompted Natco to revamp the offering and it is now developing bags of 11 pots for the multiple sector and is talking to Tesco, Somerfield, Asda and Sainsbury. Its sister product Jelees Juice, a range of jelly-based drinks in pouches, is also being tweaked. It will have a reduced sugar content, more fruit juice and will go into assorted multi-packs. Natco says it is pleased with the product’s performance in Tesco and Safeway and it goes into Londis next month. However, neither product is likely to hit the ambitious multi-million pound sales projections made in July.

Last, but not least, Natco’s Spiced Tea has gained listings with both Tesco and Sainsbury with the former taking part in nationwide sampling over six months.