Laura and Robert Strathern

Laura and Robert Strathern of Fairfields Farm

Taking a bite out of foreign markets

Husband and wife team Laura and Robert Strathern decided to start making crisps from their family potato farm back in 2006 and today are shipping Fairfields Farm’s products across the globe.

Essex-based artisan crisp producer Fairfields Farm has just signed a deal which will see it supply its products to two major retail groups in Hong Kong.

Three containers of its hand-cooked crisps, Lentil Lites and Tortillas, are now on their way to Hong Kong, representing around 45,000-50,000 bags of crisps. These will be sold through two leading retail groups which operate around 4,866 stores in Hong Kong and China.

The contract is the latest in a string of deals which have helped the family business expand into new markets over recent years and broaden their horizons. With export sales now totalling 20% of the company’s overall sales, exporting has become a major part of the business and is helping Fairfields grow exponentially.

“These are major deals for us,” explains Robert. “Our export sales are a huge part of our business and there is a now a growing appetite for quality snacks from countries all over the world. Our vegetable and lentil crisps in particular are proving very popular with more health-conscious buyers.”

Robert’s family has been farming in East Anglia for three generations harvesting potatoes, maize and rye on farmland across the Colne Valley. It wasn’t until 2006 however that Robert and his wife Laura saw the potential in making crisps and decided to put the idea to the test.

Today, the family-owned firm supplies its artisan crisps to retailers the length and breadth of the UK and exports to around 20 countries including Mauritius, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Russia, Dubai, Germany, Norway, North America and Canada.

And with the family-owned firm aiming to double in size over the next few years, deals such as these are set to help pave the way for further success. BQ caught up with Robert and Laura Strathern to find out how they made it happen…

 

What inspired you to move from farming potatoes into crisps? 

We have been farming in Essex for three generations now and we have always been passionate about growing potatoes. However, we wanted to create something special from the potato crop we grow, that would really communicate high quality, genuine provenance and honesty. Also, I am rather fond of crisps and always have been!

 

What challenges did launching a crisp brand throw up? How did you overcome them? 

Making the transition from being just a grower, to being a grower, manufacturer and distributor of crisps meant there was a lot to learn. We had to learn new skills and also build resource and experience within the team of employees. The hard work and dedication of our team from the farm, sales and manufacturing operation has been essential to our growth.

 

At what moment did you realise the business was really taking off?

I think when we landed our first large retail and airline accounts, the scale of the business changed.  We realised at that point we were on the map and that the level of resource, effort, knowledge and re investment required needed to be increased. So we did, if you want to grow you need to make it happen, it won’t come to you.

 

How and when did you get into exporting? How did it come about? 

We have met various distributor partners at trade shows over the last few years, but also customers do get in touch through the website. Export is an important part of our business now and will continue to be moving forward.

 

Did you receive any support when exporting? 

We have worked with the Department for International Trade who have advised and supported us over the past few years very well.

 

Did exporting throw up any challenges? 

Yes, labelling. Every country throws a new challenge in terms of labelling. The devil is definitely in the detail! 

 

How many markets do you now sell to? 

I believe we export to around 15 countries now.

 

Looking forward, what are your plans for the business? 

We plan to continue to grow the business and expand our range with innovative new products.

 

Last but not least, what advice would you give to a couple looking to go into business together?!

Set out your goals clearly from the start, not in your head, write them down. Work out what you want the business to achieve, and what those business achievements will do for you personally. Make sure that’s what you both really want to do from the start. Don’t only talk about work at home too much and have fun growing the business. Celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes... without arguing too much about whose fault it was!