Having my own brand gave me a voice - Fruit & Vine

Having my own brand gave me a voice

Margins are getting tighter and growers are facing a cocktail of difficulties, not least the challenges posed by the supply chain and working with retailers. Sarah Kidby spoke to Yorkshire grower Annabel Makin-Jones about the rewards of launching her own luxury food brand – Annabel’s Deliciously British – four years ago.

luxury brand strawberries
Annabel’s Deliciously British strawberries

After growing strawberries for her family farm for around 15 years, Annabel decided to launch her own brand – prompted by positive feedback from consumers who bought her strawberries in supermarkets. Her brand was quickly accepted by Ocado and two top London wholesalers, and the business has gone from strength to strength, now producing around 20 different products and selling to food service and exports as well as retail.

In addition to strawberries, truffles, rhubarb, daffodils, jams, chutneys and sparkling drinks, the farm has put in a small amount of raspberries this year as a trial, using a mix of Nobility, Bella and Majestic. The crop has already been sold to The Dorchester, The Savoy, Capital and the royal family. Andreas Veg, the local shop of Simon Cowell and Nigella Lawson in Chelsea, also now takes the full range of products.

Getting to such high-end customers requires tenacity – Annabel said: “You get so many ‘nos’ and it can be really soul destroying”.

Not a commodity

Producing a premium product has meant higher margins, which has allowed the business to invest in other things, including B Corp accreditation, LEAF Marque, and charity donations to the Prince’s Trust and Marie Curie charities with each sale. Additionally, it has allowed them to be more creative with their packaging – and Annabel has been keen to move away from strawberries as a commodity.

“We’re creating something that we’re proud of, rather than strawberries becoming a commodity which the retailers have turned them into,” she explained. “We put it in a beautiful box and tell the complete story, sharing videos on social media of how the fruit is grown and trying to educate the consumer more about what we do.”

When choosing a gift to take to a friend, our thoughts may turn to a box of chocolates rather than a plastic punnet of strawberries, but Annabel wants to challenge that thinking with a premium product and beautiful packaging.

“You’ve got to have a USP”

Having her own brand has given her a voice of her own and for agriculture, as well as providing greater artistic freedom. When it comes to dealing with retailers she noted: “We’re the underdog; we have no voice, and they know that. […] And that’s one thing my brand has given me – a voice.”

For those considering a similar path, Annabel says: “You’ve got to have a USP and you’ve got to know what it is. It’s not a case of going to your local shop and saying ‘will you sell my strawberries’, because why would they buy them from you over anyone else? I think it’s about being more dynamic in the role that we’re in and realising you’re not just a grower. Because now as farmers, we’ve got to be so much more.”

Telling the story is a key part of this USP, she continues. “I’ve created a brand based on what I want and what’s important to me, and when you talk about what really matters to you, consumers can relate to you. When they’re buying the product, they know the integrity behind it.”

Paying for British

Exporting products overseas, including to Japan, Singapore and Dubai has brought additional challenges and costs, but Annabel’s customers have been willing to pay for a premium British product.

“It is more difficult,” she says. “You have to have teams of more specialist staff, and you have to train them on the spec of what they’re picking. […] Because we’ve gone above and beyond, they now feel very comfortable and they’re happy to pay for it. […]

“Service to me is absolutely essential. Your product can be wrong sometimes if you make a mistake, but if your service is impeccable and you act accordingly and put it right, people will come back.”

The farm has implemented a barcoding system, from the field all the way into the retailer. It can even trace the member of staff that picked the fruit. Additionally, they grow mainly Junebearer varieties, and only 30% everbearers, as they feel it is a premium crop. This goes against the grain as it’s become the norm to grow up to 100% everbearer; but as Annabel says: “God loves a trier and a risk taker.”

Asked what’s next for the brand, Annabel said: “I think it’s about looking at what’s next, what do people want and how can we do that? It’s about how we evolve. That’s how I’ve grown this business, it’s ’shall we try this, shall we try that?’. It’s not me planning five years in advance. I don’t honestly know what the future holds, but I don’t envisage it not being exciting.”

Annabel's Deliciously British

Meet the grower

Annabel Makin-Jones is a fifth generation Yorkshire farmer. Having grown strawberries on her family farm, she set up her own high-end food brand, Annabel’s Deliciously British, and sister brand Tame & Wild, which produces fruit and botanical infused sparkling drinks using waste fruit. She now produces around 20 products and supplies to luxury retailers.

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