Pip Organic – From market stall brand to making it
Patrick & Karen O’Flaherty are the husband and wife team behind lunchbox favourites Pip Organic. ParentFolk caught up with them to discuss how they’ve built a business from a standalone market stall to being stocked in supermarkets and schools around the country.
How have you taken the business from a stall at Borough Market to being stocked in supermarkets?
Our original business idea was to open up a chain of organic juice bars but every time we found the perfect site so did lots of the large coffee chains so we were constantly being disappointed as we could not afford to compete for the leases. We got a break on Borough Market and initially started making juices and smoothies in take away cups. We started to build up a group of regular customers and some of them would turn up with bottles for us to fill up so that they could enjoy our drinks on the days the market wasn’t open.
We looked around in organic stores and supermarkets and, at the time, there were not many options that were accessible and great tasting within the organic sector. So, we then bought our first bottling line (with very little experience of running a production line!) and made a batch of our most popular drinks and booked a stand at an organic trade show in London.
Looking back it was a big (and rather naïve!) step as we were in effect producing a range with no customers to sell to! It was the first time we spoke with distributors and retailers and it was really fantastic to get such a positive reaction. We made a few tweaks to the range and then went into full production and we started selling in smaller chains, cafes and then eventually the supermarkets.
What’s been the highlight of running the business?
We are really passionate about supplying healthy options into schools and a highlight for us last year was that we were supplying over 500,000 ice lollies to primary school children as part of their school meal. We received lots of messages from kids saying it is their favourite part of their school dinner.
This year our highlight has been to innovate with the launch of the paper straw, a year before the government deadline and therefore reducing plastic, additionally we shared our solution with other producers to ensure that a paper straw is widely available to large and small brands.
What have been the key lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
There have been many! But overall we have learnt to really listen to feedback and never assume anything – many of the pitfalls we have experienced in the past were caused by us assuming something.
Even though we are parents we wanted to ensure that our outlook on what is wanted by parents and kids wasn’t just our thoughts or influenced by research that quickly goes out of date. Our Pip Parent Panel help us with quick research questionnaires, samplings, mystery shopping and insight pieces which their responses are made anonymously in order to encourage them to be as honest as possible.
What do you think is the biggest challenge to running your own business?
When you run a small business you are spinning lots of plates at the same time. As our range is only made with organic fruit and veg – getting the best crops is always a constant challenge and goal. We are always looking at yields of crops, challenges that farmers might have and potential pricing changes – it’s a constant juggle to ensure we have the best varieties in our range.
You’ve now got a wide range of different products, how do you come up for ideas for new ranges?
With a strong belief that you only get out what you put in – our Pip family of products is only ever made using 100% organic fruit & vegetables. We are always innovating to ensure buying healthy organic products as fun, approachable & accessible as possible and we encourage kids on our ‘Kids Panel’ to get involved in tasting new products and helping us select packaging.
As a family focussed organic brand we take our responsibility in helping to shape future pipsqueaks tastebuds very seriously by offering healthy but fun food and drink products. We always strive to make sure our range nurtures long term healthy eating habits.
Additionally, being sustainable to the core is really important to us and we work in partnership with all our expert growers and have done for many years, with quality, provenance and traceability as a cornerstone to our business.
You’ve just launched recyclable paper straws with your drinks cartons, how important is it for you to be an environmentally-friendly brand?
We are constantly looking at how we can improve our range and packaging to ensure everything that we do is as sustainable as possible. Sometimes the improvements are small and not visible to our consumers but add to the sustainability goals within the business.
The paper straw, however, has been a focus for 3 years and we tested 100s of types of straws and after a successful trial of our paper straws in Feb this year, we are proud to announce that all our kids cartons are now being produced with paper straws on, so keep your eye out for one as over a million packs have been produced last month…so that’s a load of plastic removed already!
What’s the secret to working with your partner? How do you make it work?
That is probably our most frequently asked question! Our skill sets are very different from each other so our roles rarely overlap so but we make all the major decisions together. I think it helps that we have a great team to work with and that we are able to work in small teams, many of which have been with us for many years.
In the past we may have talked more shop at home but since having kids we try and only discuss work in the office. Our kids are also really involved in the business and enjoy the benefits of helping us sample our range … and of course claiming all the new product development as theirs!
What’s next for Pip Organic?
Our brands purpose is ‘to make is easier for parents to say yes’ and we have lots in the ‘pipline’ to deliver this with new products – so watch this space!