Amazing Artisan: Leighton Brown

You'll struggle to miss Leighton Brown's colourful eye-catching packaging, and when it comes to flavour, these crisps really do mean business. Crafted by three foodie friends, Leighton Brown are on a mission to disrupt the snacking industry with their veggie crisps. We caught up with Cara to hear about the trials and tribulations of starting a business on a shoestring budget. 

 What do you make?

We make premium vegetable crisps.

 Where can we find your products?

You can find our crisps in delis, pubs and coffee shops around the UK. Also Selfridges, Fenwick, UGOT, Nutribox, Healthy Supplies and from our online shop.

What are your three desert island dishes?

Sunday Dinner with Yorkshire pudding, Dominic’s homemade chips and queso cheese sauce and Ceviche.

Tell us the story of your business - what inspired you to start your own business?

I [Cara] made and loved parsnip crisps but realised there wasn’t a large variety of flavours out there, so asked my chef friends Dom and Chris to help me develop my idea for Parsnip and Manuka Honey variety. Before we knew it we were in the kitchen with an array of veggies and flavours, coming up with lots of interesting recipes. We are all friends and knew we worked well as a team. We all worked full time so we basically built the business in our lunchtimes, evenings and weekends. It was something we enjoyed and although it could be really hard work, it still felt like fun.

Finance is normally a struggle of course, as unless you or your family have bags of cash [to spend on your business] it’s hard. we got our friends involved and they have been more than happy to help. We paid our designer Anne and our “delivery driver” in lovely meals and a few pints. We can’t do that forever but at the beginning it’s a real help. We’ve had so many friends say “I was in this coffee shop and told them about your crisps - here is the manager’s number” - It’s really sweet.  

What’s the most exciting thing about being an entrepreneur?

The buzz you get from being on the rollercoaster with your friends and watching your ideas develop from fruition into completeness and into shop windows is brilliant. Last year we were invited to supply our snacks at Pitch@The Palace. That was really exciting - getting our invitation by Royal Appointment through the post.

What makes your product different from other crisps on the market?

We've all worked in the food industry and Dom is a top chef so our crisps are all about using creative tastes and classic combinations. We use different root veg for people who want to try something different using natural flavours that enhance the taste of the vegetable and also give [the product] a bit of a kick.

What does your typical day look like?

There's no such thing! Monday is a meeting day and Wednesdays are for deliveries. These two are often the only sure things in a week. Other days we could be visiting clients and going to meetings, doing a tasting, experimenting in the kitchen or making marketing materials. There is never a shortage of things that need attention and at times it’s organised chaos but it works!

Your packaging is great! How did you decide on your branding and what tips would you give to food entrepreneurs looking for enticing packaging?

Thank you! We didn’t have any financial backing and really did everything on a shoestring. Luckily through a friend we met and worked with a brilliant designer called Alex Boylan who worked at creative communications company Radley Yeldar to come up with the design. For our brand we spent time figuring out who we are as a company and the message we wanted to give out. We knew we were bold and adventurous people (and slightly retro in our fashion and music tastes) and we knew we were making creative combinations that [didn’t really exsist yet in] the snack market. We made sure our brand and design reflected that and made us stand out on the shelves.

We would say to people starting out, be true to who you are with your brand - it’s your baby and it has to reflect who you are. Ask around for recommendations, don’t be shy to ask for discounts. Sometimes a designer will be happy to help at a lower price if they know their product will be out on the shelves for the public to see.

Have you come up against any challenges during your business journey so far?

Yes many. At times it seemed like they were non-stop. That’s one of the reasons it’s good to be in [business] with someone else as you can spur each other on. One of our main challenges was with our very first production run of Parsnip and Manuka Honey. We had read and re read our back copy till our eyes were melting before sending it off to the printer but accidently sent the wrong copy. This meant our first 70,000  had the word “out ” crisps instead of “our crisps” on the back. We could've cried and nearly did. We had spent a lot of money and couldn’t afford do it again. We just had to laugh it off and use the packs and hope nobody thought too badly of us. Thankfully it didn’t seem to bother too many people!

What's been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

We were very proud to win gold stars at the Guild of Fine Food Awards in the last 2 years. It’s great to get good feedback but when you win a prestigious award from someone like the Guild of Fine Food it really is a thrill. When we found out we were jumping around the room hugging and high fiving each other like big kids. It gives us the motivation to keep going, knowing we are getting it right.

What aspect of your business keeps you awake at night?

Cash flow! Like many new businesses we started on a shoestring using credit cards and the little savings we had. You need to buy materials and make sure production is running smoothly. Sometimes it’s hard when you have a client who doesn’t pay for a delivery we’d done 3 months ago! When you are starting cash flow issues can really knock you. Luckily for us these days we are okay but [we always made sure to] keep an eye on what is coming in and going out.

What do you think are the biggest challenges to food entrepreneurs today?

Sometimes it is a mission to get through to the buyer/decision maker as there are so many good products out there and buyers see a hell of a lot of stuff. You have to find a balance between trying to speak with someone and nagging them. You have to be persistent but know when to stop. Be tenacious but respectful. It is very important to connect with your customers by forming genuine relationships and asking people what they want and how you can improve your products. We recommend doing lots of market research and getting out and meeting your customers. But most importantly you have to have a great product and USP that stands out on the shelves.

What's next for Leighton Brown?

We have our new flavour coming out in a few months – Mixed root veg with salt and vinegar. It is a great combination because the flavour falls differently on each vegetable. You get a mild hit with the sweet potato, quite tangy on the parsnip and a beautiful big tangy hit on the beetroot (a must try for salt and vinegar lovers). The new flavour is in a beautiful blue colour which sits lovely with the rest of our range. We can’t wait for everyone to try it!