Friday, 23 January 2009

Dragons Den’s Evan Davis on the Secrets of Successful Entrepreneurship

After 4 years hosting Dragons Den Evan Davis probably knows more than most about entrepreneurs. At a conference in December held at the Royal Agricultural College on the topic of "Inspiring Entrepreneurship" in agribusiness, he described the 5 characteristics he feels all successful entrepreneurs possess.

1. Optimism
This is the key requirement. Successful entrepreneurs possess an optimism “bordering on the delusional”. Those who make it see the glass half full all the time, they are never put off by obstacles thrown in their way, and bounce back after the hardest of knocks.

2. The ability to spot how things could be done better
The good entrepreneur has the knack of spotting the irritations in life’s everyday activities, and working out how they could be removed or reduced. Evan advised would-be entrepreneurs to make a point every day of finding two products or services which could be improved.

Equally entrepreneurs can see ways to create opportunities. He gave as an example the couple who developed cardboard beach furniture, but decided that the most lucrative route was to sell the opportunity to brand the furniture, rather than sell the furniture itself. Their product ended up on Henman Hill at Wimbledon, carrying the logo of a well known company.

3. The energy to make things happen
Being highly creative is on its own not enough, great entrepreneurs come out of the clouds, get their shirt sleeves rolled up, and work out the nuts and bolts of putting their ideas into practice.

4. Basic business knowledge
And, in the same vein, they have basic business skills. They can write a business plan, and understand costs and cash flows. This skill often clashes with their optimism resulting in wildly overblown projections, but the successful entrepreneur can temper the optimism with reality.

5. Willingness to adapt and change
The best entrepreneurs have tested their ideas thoroughly on potential customers, not just mum and dad, or sympathetic friends. They have listened to feedback, and adjusted their idea accordingly.

Despite all those skills an entrepreneur’s idea may not get off the ground, and even if it does, may not fly for long for all sorts of reasons. The most successful business people can catch a cold as the recent failure of green haulier JPM Eco Logistics which received investment from Dragons Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis showed.

But that’s presumably where the optimism comes back in. The best entrepreneurs just dust themselves down and get going again, regardless.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Dairy Products Market 2008

Here’s a look at the Dairy Products market in 2008, courtesy of the Grocer. All data is for the 12 months to end October, and supplied by Nielsen market research.

It was a year when huge jumps in food prices collided with credit-crunched consumers reining in spending. Unsurprisingly there were changes in how people shopped for dairy products, but not perhaps as many as might be imagined.

Consumers bought roughly the same volume of products, despite dairy price inflation of 13.4%. There was some trading down to own label, notably in the butters and spreads sector, but by and large the big well advertised and promoted brands held on to their positions with the weaker ones struggling. There was a turning away from products sold as functional or fortified, with the exception of Danone Activia with its promise of a revved up digestive system. And Organic slipped back but is not yet in freefall.

Butters and Spreads
Total value sales were up by 17% to £1.1bn, with own label growing almost twice as fast, up 31%
Total volume sales were down by 1.1%, but own label grew by 4.3%.
A couple of grocery trade spokespeople commented that spreadable butters are growing fast because they combine convenience with a natural and healthy product. By contrast fortified spreads are losing sales because consumers are confused about why they should buy them, and they are more expensive.
Perhaps echoing the natural message, Lurpak butter is the number one brand for the second year running, beating Flora.
This is a sector where organic is struggling with Yeo Valley’s value sales up by only 6% in a market where inflation was 13%, meaning that volume sales must have been well down.

Total value sales grew by 11.5% to £2.2bn. Own label grew slightly faster, up 11.8%
Its good to see that Cathedral City, is still the biggest brand in the market, owned by Dairy Crest, and British of course.

And a cheer for Wyke Farms which grew by 30% and is now the eighth biggest cheese brand. Here’s hoping that it is making money, and continues to show that it is possible to compete with multinational companies.

Total value sales were up by 7.7% to £1.9bn, and volumes grew by 1%. This is one category where own label is not growing as fast as branded products.
According to the Waitrose buyer consumers are flocking to Natural and Greek yogurts because they are seen as healthier.
Organic yogurt Rachel’s Dairy bucked the organic downturn and grew by 14%, but Yeo Valley clocked up a 1% growth.

Yogurt Drinks
This market is struggling. Value sales despite inflation were down 2.6%, and volume sales down by 8.3%.
The buyer for Booth’s supermarkets reckons that this is a market where consumers are cutting back because of price.

Fresh Milk (Additional data from DairyCo)
The total fresh milk market grew by 14.1% in value to £3.2bn, and 0.6% in volume. People are still purchasing as much fresh milk as they ever did.
Filtered milk, led by Cravendale continued to grow, up by 29%, but the modified milk market is fast disappearing, down by 35%, and is another example of consumers resisting a natural product which has been tampered with.
The Organic milk market was stable and Yeo Valley grew by 46%. There is anecdotal evidence that mothers like to buy organic milk for young children, even though it costs more than standard.
Wiseman’s “The One” milk did well growing by 48%.


The one thing to bear in mind when looking at these numbers is that they are for the 12 months ending October 2008, about when recession truly started to bite. A look at data for the last quarter of 2008 may show some differences.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Food Consumer 2009

Tis the season for predictions, and whilst the cynical might feel that forecasting in today's volatile climate has as much chance of accuracy as Mystic Meg, a trawl of what the pundits are saying is showing alot of concensus about where consumers are headed.

Here are the key themes.

1. Paying down debt.

Spurred on by fears of losing their job, and the dawning realisation that even if employed they are living well beyond their means, consumers are determined to reduce their debt, by spending the minimum possible. They are thinking hard about what they really need, and what product benefits they think are worth paying for.

As strategy consultants Marakon put it, this means a big gap between the features of many products and what consumers truly value. In other words, anything over priced for what it is, or where a perfectly good cheaper alternative exists, will see plummeting sales. Organic products, many premium foods and drinks, and pretentious restaurants selling substandard food at inflated prices will come under an increasingly harsh spotlight.

2. Searching for security and emotional comfort

The gloom and doom is bringing with it a yearning for security, comfort and simplicity. Future predictor Richard Watson reckons that this trend will result in more commitment to buying British and local as opposed to foreign and global. Jasper Gerard the Times restaurant critic, and Mintel the research company along with many others feel that consumers will seek even more reassurance about where their food has come from, how it has been produced and what is in it, hence another reason for buying local. Animal health and welfare will also be prominent, especially pig welfare following the Jamie Oliver programme about pig production, scheduled for end January.

Linked to this trend come predictions from many, including innovation business the food people, of a return to home cooked simple food such as as stews casseroles and roly poly pudding, home baking, an increase in foraging, (the National Trust is running foraging weekends!), and an increase in gardening especially vegetable growing.

3. Worrying about the here and now as opposed to what happens down the road.

Some forecasters are predicting a turning away from environmental issues and products, unless they don't involve effort or extra cost, and are not a marketing ploy.

4. Trading down but some trading up too

These are Mintel's words and capture the urge consumers have, even in the most austere times, to break out and treat themselves. Certainly the continued growth in champagne and smoked salmon sales, and the news that Waitrose had a recovery in sales just before Christmas says that consumers will splurge occasionally.

5. Trend summary

Going Up:


Staying in

Comfort food

Home cooking from scratch

Home baking

"Find your own food" from foraging to vegetable growing

Local, particularly if close in price to the alternative

Buying British

Cheaper cuts of meat, including a return to offal

Own label

Higher welfare options

Old fashioned, trusted brands

Going Down

Conspicuous consumption

Anything overpriced

Premium food unless very special, including organics

Eating out, except fast food

Bad service

Going to the pub

In truth, most of these trends have been emerging over the last few months, with the continuing flow of bad news merely accelerating them, and confirming that the choosy consumer is here to stay for a good while.