How’s the sausage business?
This is our second time around in this industry. We sold Debbie & Andrew’s Sausages in 2005 and our old company is now a competitor. We started Heck in 2013 and we have been amazed by its growth. We’re now available in supermarkets nationwide, turning over £25m.
What’s so special about Heck?
There’s a real market for upmarket, tasty sausages and burgers, and we have tapped into a young, health-conscious market. We’re by far the biggest independent sausage brand in the UK now, 40% larger than our nearest competitor.
How are you winning market share?
People are reducing the amount of meat in their diet so a few years ago we experimented with some meat-free products. We’ve launched various vegetarian balls but they have confused some shoppers, who just don’t know what to do with them. So we’ve decided to move into veggie sausages and burgers. There are only two rivals in this market: Cauldron and Quorn. We think there’s room for a third player.
Is your veggie-friendly strategy reaping rewards yet?
We’ll make £1.5m on our meat-free products this year, so it’s still a very small part of Heck. But we’re investing heavily in this side of the business. I’ve just bought a £300,000 one-of-a-kind machine from Germany to make our veggie sausages. Flexitarianism [cutting down on meat] is the future and we want to make sure we have products for the days our consumers go meat-free.
Any other innovations in the pipeline?
We love to have fun with some of our product launches. We have brought out a heart-shaped sausage for Valentine’s and this year we’re bringing out a special product to celebrate the Royal Wedding. We’re calling it the Sweet Ginger. It’s a bit of fun. We also like to support charities by doing special packs for short periods. Last year we raised £25,000 for Movember, the testicular cancer charity.
How have you funded growth?
We’ve always had trouble raising finance from the banks. HSBC tried to put us on special measures a few years ago. We were meeting all our targets but a new bank manager came in who just didn’t understand our business model so we decided to look at private equity. We raised finance from Panoramic Growth Equity, which has been our partner since 2014.
Is a sale on the cards?
Absolutely not. Panoramic will want to exit in four years but we’re looking to buy back its 25% share so that Heck is 100% family-owned again. We’ve peered into the abyss of big business and we didn’t like it. We won’t be doing that again. There is still a huge amount of potential in this business so we’re keeping it in the family.
What challenges do you face in this business?
Labour is an issue but we’ve got a new £3.5m factory, which has helped us become hugely efficient. We’re as lean as we can be, and we’re working on eliminating all waste from the business. I’m not worried about Brexit. Some of our people come from Eastern Europe but if the Armageddon comes they’ll just get working visas like in the good old days. My biggest worry is that a venture capitalist might see what we’re doing and bring a new brand to come after our market. That is a possibility but there’s no point worrying about it until it happens.
What are the benefits to being a family business?
Debbie and I both work in the business alongside our four children (pictured). It was a challenge making them work hard and focus on their roles in the early days. It’s hard to manage your staff when you’re their parents too! But it’s much easier now they are a bit older – ranging from 23 to 27. Our customers love the fact we’re a family business and I think that's helped us win 50% market share in the private label category.