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How Pipers Crisps created a successful Food business

Alex Albone is a self-confessed failed serial entrepreneur. The 54-year-old founded a succession of firms selling salmon, soft drinks and beer in the 1980s and 1990s. None worked out.

But then he looked closer to home and to potatoes. Albone’s family owned a farm in Lincolnshire and in 2004, with fellow farmers James Sweeting and Simon Herring, he started Pipers crisps. Each put in £100,000 of savings, with £82,000 more coming from Brussels.

In the year to the end of January, Pipers made a pre-tax profit of £513,000 on turnover of £9.8m. Hopes are high that producing 35m bags of crisps this year and the launch of a wild thyme and rosemary flavour will further boost sales. Pipers employs 90 staff in manufacturing, sales and distribution.

After the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, people wanted to know where their food came from and Albone sensed an opportunity.
“It gave us the chance to talk about local food in Lincolnshire,” he said.

The trio moved into premium crisps because of Lincolnshire’s status as a major potato producer.

“We thought it would be a niche market that would grow,” said Herring, 53.
Salt from Anglesey, cheese from the West Country and cider vinegar from Somerset were sourced as flavourings. The first products were washed, cut, fried and delivered by hand. The business expanded and soon began supplying the east coast main line railway.

Pipers’ business has been built on independents such as pubs, delis and farm shops. “We’ve never really got among the supermarkets, but I’ve nothing against them,” said Albone.

About 40% of Pipers crisps are delivered by their own team of drivers, directly supplying about 4,500 outlets. The rest are sold to wholesale distributors. The products can be bought in 13,500 UK outlets and are exported to 39 countries.
Herring and Sweeting, 47, also co-own a coffee roasting business, Lincoln & York.

Albone and Herring had City careers as commodities traders before moving back to Lincolnshire. Sweeting was a trainee coffee buyer at Allied Lyons in London.

Creating Pipers was a “meeting of minds between the three of us”, said Albone. “Simon’s really good with numbers, James knew how to put a factory together and I was good at selling.”

Aside from the European grant, the trio have had no outside investment. They each hold a third of the business.

Albone lives in Hackthorn with sons Bart, 22, and Dexter, 18. Herring lives with his wife, Clare, and children Guy, 19, and Martha, 17, in Market Rasen. Sweeting, his wife Fiona and their children George, 18, Sophie, 16, Emma, 14, and James, 9, live in Howden, East Yorkshire.

Albone urges entrepreneurs to keep going through adversity: “If you’ve got a dream, don’t give up.”

Source: - 5 November 2017