In an average week, I probably spend about 20% of my time working on our product range, checking the quality of existing products and looking at new ideas. At the moment we have a new range of chocolates that’s about to go live, some liquid caramel chocolate balls. We’re also launching a hot chocolate, which is about to go into Waitrose – we’ve been testing it in their café for the last few months. We like to do this – we also go to quite a lot of events, like the Ice Rink at the Natural History Museum (where we had a chalet). We always like to experiment with our stuff on a small scale before we roll them out.
I probably spend another 20% of the week with my team - we have about 25 people in the UK, split across sales, marketing, product development, operations and finance. And I typically spend a day every fortnight in France, where we have 12 people (mostly in sales and marketing).
We’ve just done our annual Soufflometer, a day when we all take a trip to our factory and everyone - no matter what they do - has to make our chocolate soufflés. This year there was hot competition, as ever - I finished about half-way down, so there are clearly some very good soufflé-makers in the business! But for me, the key thing from a business point of view is that if you can create a chocolate dream, you've got a better chance of selling a chocolate dream.
Another 20% of my time is spent working with and thinking about our customers. I’m not into email or mobile phone customer contact; instead of emailing and phones there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and good listening. We put a lot of effort into this as, for sure, supermarkets have lots of options in terms of who they buy from. We supply all the big supermarkets in the UK and France, with a couple of notable exceptions (we don't supply the discounters, for example). In the UK, Sainsbury’s is our biggest customer, though we also do a lot of business with Tesco and Waitrose; in France, it's Monoprix, Carrefour and Casino.
Finally 20% of my time is spent dealing with our suppliers. My business partner actually supplies about half of our products (we’re effectively the same company – he runs the manufacturing side and I run the commercial side) and then we have a few other big suppliers too.
Life is certainly getting tougher. We’re having to be more competitive on price; the food industry’s been hit by a lot of raw material price increases this year, so keeping your margins is the really challenging bit. But for us, because we're still quite a young brand, the key thing is to carry on growing the top line. This year we'll do that by about 40%, so we're still seeing growth.
I’d also rather be doing what I'm doing than what anyone else is doing. There is a comfort food aspect to our stuff, and I think that if you have a really good quality product, which really delivers, then people will carry on buying it. We’re not selling big ticket items like plasma TVs - everything we do costs less than a fiver. So although our puds may be more expensive than other products on the shelves, they’re still relatively affordable (cheaper than a Zone 1 Travelcard, I always say, and much more satisfying!).
But the key thing is that you've got to deliver that chocolate hit. Regardless of the economic situation, that’s what makes people think: ‘Sorry, we're not going to cut back on that - it's just too good!’
James Averdieck is the founder and managing director of Gü, the award-winning chocolate pudding business.