George Rice of Serious Pig

George Rice, co-founder of Serious Pig

Pigging out

Born from a drunken conversation in the local a few years back, craft meat brand Serious Pig now stocks pubs across the UK having secured investment from BrewDog co-founder James Watt…

We’ve all been there. You’ve had one too many whilst out with your friends and you find yourselves talking about something completely random and getting overly passionate about it.

Whether it's the question of who was the better midfielder out of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, whether you prefer Rose or White Wine or which member of The Beatles was the most important.

But as far as pub conversations go, the one that Serious Pig founders George Rice and Johnny Bradshaw had in The Junction Tavern beer garden back in 2009 has proven to be pretty fortuitous.

On one of many lost evenings the pair found themselves pondering a question just like those above - what would be the perfect and most delicious snack to accompany the recently ordered pint of real ale and a glass of red Bordeaux whilst powering the boys through to a late dinner?

Several discarded packets of crisps, scratchings and nuts later - the pair agreed that something more 'serious' was required and they came up with the idea of developing a 'Posh Peperami' that would sit perfectly on any landlord’s counter. And Serious Pig was born…

The beginning

Craft meat producer Serious Pig creates what George describes as “the perfect pub snack”. Served in an air tight packet to preserve its freshness, its ‘Snackling Salami’ sticks are prepared from finest British Pork and a careful blend of herbs and spices that truly pay homage to the craft of charcuterie.

“The lightbulb came on when I was in the pub with my friend totally frustrated at the choice of snacks behind the bar,” George recalls. “All they had was low rent crisps, nuts and pork scratchings.

“I began to think about products in general and the range of quality choice you have for each particular thing. When you look at almost all products, including food, there's a choice ranging from value through to mid-market and upwards to premium.

“But what I realised when I saw a small French snack salami was that there wasn't a premium version of the ubiquitous Peperami available in the UK. That's a) odd that a product only exists at one quality level and b) an opportunity!

“Prior to launching the business, I was working in fashion; first for Paul Smith in Nottingham and then for a high street fast fashion supplier. In both jobs I had a lot of autonomy and that's something I enjoyed, but what I've always wanted is the chance to truly get out what I put in, both in terms of creativity and effort, and the best way for me to do that was to set something up myself.”

But how did this experience help start up Serious Pig? “Commercial awareness is key. In my sales job for the fast fashion job my boss hammered home the commercials. I learnt a lot about focus and seeing the bigger picture. Too often good opportunities aren't always as good as you first thought and you have to draw a line and move on, keep being commercial otherwise you'll run out of cash.”

Starting up

With a bit between their teeth, the very next day George and Johnny shrugged off their hangovers and got straight down to work. After a lot of discussion and designing, they came up with the name Serious Pig.

“The brand has always been received well,” George says. “There's not been a day gone by when someone hasn't remarked on the name or the pig logo. It's helped to get heard too, it stands out in the crowd and nowadays the start-up food business crowd is a big one.”

Once they had the branding in place, they started working on the product development, but this was where it got really challenging. He recalls: “The biggest challenge we have had to face has been by far the packaging. I can confidently say we lost a good two years due to this. Our cured and dried products need to be oxygen free and that means the packets have to be air-tight.

“When we used contract packers they kept letting us down and that was a huge challenge, it very nearly killed the business. If it wasn't for some great people close to the business staying late and coming in on weekends to help sort out the problems we'd be dust. It was a big lesson for me.

“I genuinely think our biggest achievement has been coming out on top of the packaging war and becoming stronger for it. It was a huge test and I feel proud that we survived it.”

Growing the business

It took a few years for the duo to conduct all of their market research and perfect the product but once they started selling their salami snacks to local pubs and customers, they knew they had a really scalable business.

Having originally set up the business from George’s home in Kentish Town, they quickly moved to a couple of spare rooms above their friend’s bar in Chalk Farm. But they knew they had to find something more suitable. This brought them south of the Thames to Peckham.

“With a little one on the way my wife and I needed a bigger home so we moved to Peckham where she had a slightly bigger place,” he said. “I fell in love with Peckham straight away and it seemed natural to find a base for the business here to save time and money travelling. There wasn't too much available but I got lucky when a railway arch became free just around the corner from home. It was absolutely perfect so I literally shook hands on it there and then.”

Moving into the new unit in 2015, George and Johnny started getting to work on Serious Pig full-time. Their products had already proved a hit among customers at a handful of local pubs and they now had the capacity to ramp up production and begin looking at new products and potential customers.

 

Today

The decision to move to their new Peckham HQ proved a shrewd one and just 18 months on, the pair now employ five members of staff, boast an annual turnover of £500,000 and have over 500 stockists across the UK. They have also seen their product range expand too with the introduction of Snackingham (Packets of sliced pork) and Snackling (Packets of pork crackling).

“Some businesses take off from day one, some start with a good idea that for whatever reason is doomed to fail, others like ours keep on, ride the challenges and continue to chip away until stability comes and that's the really interesting time. It's exactly where we are now, the time when it can leap up to the next level having built a solid foundation.”

Helping put these foundations in place has also been continued investment. Despite bootstrapping the business themselves at the start, the duo went on to raise over £125,000 from crowdfunding as well as securing funding from a number private investors.

One of which, is BrewDog founder James Watt, who now also stocks the snacks in his craft beer pubs across the UK. For George, this has been one of his biggest successes to date.

He said: “Craft beer as everyone has seen is a very fast growing sector and it's here to stay, that's pretty certain. We've always attracted customers in this sector from pubs and bars to breweries and beer festivals.

“Craft beer is the premium end of the beer market. Where there's beer there's salty snacks and there wasn't the premium offering to match. That’s where we can thrive, so an alignment here is wise and feels natural. We're like the Fever Tree to craft beer as they are to craft spirits.”

The future

Now, looking forward, George has ambitious plans for the future. He concluded: “We're at a pivot point right now and it's very exciting. We'll now build heavily on our growth and stability and continue to establish our brand in the on-trade.

“We're also looking to step outside of the impulse snack market and dip our toe into grocery. I really want to test the elasticity of the brand and see Serious Pig in a different space and be a little more disruptive.”

George’s top tips for entrepreneurs

  • I'll steal the first one. Richard Averdieck who founded Gü told me - be optimistic and when you can’t be optimistic be resilient.
  • Secondly, I'd say don't take anything at face value, not all is as it would appear and when many suppliers and consultants see start-ups they see a low hanging fruit to profit from.
  • Finally, learn to say no. It's what you don't do that's as important as what you do. They'll be tons of opportunities that will only serve to distract and there's only so many hours in the day.
  • A bonus one. Take responsibility for yourself. Day to day it has to be you, no one else will make the tough decisions or have your intuition.