Clippy McKenna is the 38 year old founder of Clippy’s, one of the UK’s fastest growing food brands. Clippy's currently supplies over 1,400 UK supermarkets including Tesco, Morrison’s, Asda, E.H.Booths, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Ocado. The company offers a range of British apple based jellies, conserves, chutneys and relishes. In 2012, it also launched MarmachilliTM, a selection of chilli marmalades. The business is expected to achieve a turnover of £1.2 million in 2013.
McKenna talks to inspiresme about launching the business and breathing new life into the jam and chutney sector.
Q: Did you always have designs to work within the food industry?
A: Food has always been part of my life. At school I was drawn to the smells, tastes and sights of home economics classes and I loved working at the food counters in Woolworth’s. At university, I worked in the food halls at Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and my essays and dissertations were always focused on food based subjects.
Clippy’s came to be when I was in the process of applying to Manchester University to study a PhD in sustainability and food networks; the focus of the PhD was the British apple and why we have lost two thirds of British orchards to commercial properties and 'cash crops'. I thought to myself at the time, who is going to read an 80,000 word dissertation when I could actually make products with British apples and sell them myself.
My vision from day one was for the Clippy’s brand to become to a UK household name. I wanted to create products to invigorate sleepy categories, such as jam and chutney, with innovative flavour combinations which are naturally versatile. I wanted to create a company that was not faceless but had a real story to tell. This explains why my face and the Clippy story are on every jar and partly why I think we have been so successful.
Q: How have you been able to compete with the big brands that we are so used to seeing dominate our supermarket shelves?
A: As a young business we do not have the fiscal power of the heavyweights to compete on the same sort of scale. We do not have the multi-million pound resources to pay for TV adverts or double page spreads in magazines and national newspapers. However, what we do have is a core mission to ensure that we are not another faceless brand but instead a breath of fresh air for what has been a very stagnant market. We have to be clever with our campaigns to engage our audiences through the likes of our JamJamboree – a celebration of all things jammy and our commitment to championing the British apple.
Q: How did you set about funding the business?
A: The business is 100 percent self funded. It started with two apple trees from my back garden and £100 to purchase a preserves recipe book, a pan and a wooden spoon. I knew that in order to survive I would need to grow the company substantially from day one. I purchased Sage accounts to run the business and barcodes from GS1-UK. At the time it was a lot of hard work, you take it for granted that all these things take time to implement. I also persuaded by fiancé Paul to give up his well paid job and commit his time to help grow the business and we haven’t looked back since.
Q: In your opinion what is the single biggest challenge facing the jam and chutney industry at the present time?
A: The biggest challenge facing the industry is that the sector is completely stagnant; there is no innovation so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to take the market by the scruff of the neck and develop a totally unique brand as well as a versatile, fashionable product.
Q: How much has the business been affected by the downturn in the economy?
A: If anything the downturn has worked in our favour. With people less inclined to eat out, consumers look for those special products available in supermarkets that give their dishes a much needed boost in days of such gloom. In addition, we whole heartedly support British apples, have a fair price point and our product is a great healthy alternative to the sugar-laden options available on the shelves. Our conserves have more fresh fruit than any other jam, conserve or fruit spread. When people buy Clippy’s they know they are getting a wholesome treat from a British family business using quality British apples.
Q: As a successful business woman yourself, what do you believe to be the biggest challenges facing female entrepreneurs?
A: The biggest and most long established challenge is one of belief. Time and time again, I find that getting people to take me and the product seriously is a common hurdle. As the business grows and develops this becomes less of an issue as the results speak for themselves. The most powerful way to defy the cynics is to present them with your accomplishments then they quickly pipe down!
Q: How do you ensure you strike a reasonable work/life balance?
A: Clippy’s started at the height of the 2008 recession, a year in which I also became pregnant! I joked at the time that it would be lovely to be pregnant and cook jam in my cauldron, how wrong I was - Clippy’s took off and took over. It is not a working job it is a lifestyle.
We all live and breathe the Clippy’s brand which does make it difficult to keep work and home life separate. On a practical level, we take our daughter Rosie along to meetings with our suppliers and demonstrations across the country but we also make sure that we have quality time together and go swimming or bake cakes at home. Personally I am a very keen runner and try and run every day to clear my head and keep myself sane!
Q: If you could only give three pieces of advice to an entrepreneur currently starting a business, what would they be?
- Never accept that something can’t be done. 'Can’t' and 'no' should not be words in your vocabulary. We were told that we would never sell preserves into the supermarkets, four years later we have proved the critics wrong and supply 1,400 UK supermarkets.
- Create a company that is scalable and keep things simple. Regardless of whether it’s a four case order for a small deli or a four pallet order for Tesco, our process for managing orders is the same and consistency is key.
- If you have courage, self-belief and determination you will succeed.
Q: What future plans do you have for the business?
Our aim is to grow the preserve category by five percent within three years and secure a six figure investment sum to help us take Clippy’s to the next level.
We want to take the business out of our home and into our own office space, hire members of staff and continue to grow the brand. We want to diversify our current products and bring new and exciting Clippy infused goods to the market. We also want to grow the Clippy’s brand internationally, we’re already exporting to the USA and want to see this grow experientially over the next three years.
Growth is the goal for our company and we’ve got another of the big supermarkets; Morrison’s is stocking a new range of Clippy’s products, including a new twist on traditional marmalade called Marmachillli which is a seville orange marmalade with a chilli kick so watch this space!