David Milner
Tom Keighley

Member Article

Bdaily meets Tyrrells crisp boss, David Milner

British crisp brand, Tyrrells, has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2002, and is now a familiar brand on supermarket snacks aisles.

Founder Will Chase sold his majority stake in the business in 2008 to Langholm Capital, and the firm has continued to operate from its Herefordshire base, expanding into Europe and most recently the US.

Bdaily caught up with current CEO David Milner, who has lead much of the business’ successful expansion since 2010.

David describes himself as a “classic” consumer marketeer. He started his career as a graduate trainee at Procter and Gamble, before taking roles at multinationals including Mars, and Campbells.

Throughout this period he gained experience of managing mergers and acquisitions. It was a step into the world of private equity, however, that brought David to Tyrrells.

“I basically went out and bought the whole market, and tried them all. I could see the product was of superior quality, and although it was a small brand, I could see it had personality,” he says.

David was taken with the way Tyrrells operated from its farm base, and the credibility this brought with it.

He adds: “There’s not too many great private equity opportunities in food, and thought - this is the one.

“I think people are increasingly looking for food that is not mass produced, and for more provenance to the product - where do the raw materials come from?”

Having worked at Campbells during the BSE scare, David identifies that episode as the first of the big consumer “confidence knockers.”

Like many smaller producers, he suggests consumers are willing to pay a bit more for that provenance and peace of mind.

There’s an inherent challenge in running a brand with this type of character, and that is, how do you balance the authenticity with expansion and growth?

David explains: “Luckily there’s no shortage of potatoes in the UK, and nearly all of ours come from within a 25 mile radius of our farm.

“There’s more potatoes in Herefordshire than I could ever turn into crisps, so that’s a good position to be in.

“Within the last three years we’ve more than doubled the capacity of the factory, and we now work 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. And of course we’ll have to keep expanding, but doing so on the farm.

“It’s different as most businesses are on industrial estates, and we’re on a farm. Fortunately the local council have allowed us to expand, and our workforce has actually increased from 70 to around 200.”

Tyrrells are now shipping their products all around the world, but everything is produced in the UK.

“Transport isn’t that big a deal. If you think about getting crisps to a supermarket in France, there’s really no difference in shipping them to Scotland; they both go on a truck,” adds David.

“The proximity of raw material and factory is the key stage, because potatoes are big, heavy and low cost, but you don’t want to be shipping them around the world. You want to be shipping the finished article with the high value.”

David admits that promising growth in North America will pose a challenge, and suggests that while it’s still financially viable to ship crisps over there, its “not that sensible.”

He continues: “The challenge is not insurmountable, but what we need to achieve is a British style that is made over there.

“We’re not there quite yet, but if the business really does take off in the states, I think it would make sense to produce them there.”

Exporting to other markets is a requirement, and not a consideration, David suggests.

“Food tastes can vary quite considerably between countries, but with crisps this isn’t the case. Wherever you go in the world, people tend to like the same type of crisps.

“We don’t have to persuade people to eat crisps because they already like them. Our job is to show people they can spend a bit more, ditch the horrid cheap version, and eat a hand cooked crisp.

“If you go somewhere like France, you discover they don’t actually have a premium brand. This is exciting for us, as we’re the first.”

Tyrrells have now launched in New York, across delis, wholefoods’ stores and a pharmacy chain called Duane Reade. The crisps are also in some stores along the east coast.

David explains: “It’s a different picture there as there’s premium snacks abound. Although they tend to be very highly flavoured and much heavier in fat.

“Our product is lower in salt and fat, and more subtle in flavour. The Americans also like that upmarket English image - the black and white photos and so on.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .

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