Bread & Jam Fest – Connecting the dots!

Suffice to say, I absolutely LOVED attending the Bread & Jam Festival last week.

I came away with some great take outs:


This was my first visit and I went with high hopes. For one thing, I’m passionate about SME businesses as well as the food and drink sector. Secondly, it’d come highly recommended by some people who had attended last year and had come away absolutely buzzing. It didn’t disappoint! It was a genuinely inspiring get together of expert speakers and at its heart, a community of driven, passionate people all with a shared sense of togetherness and aiming to learn from one another.

Talks attended included Suzie Walker, founder of Primal Pantry – a brutally honest, heart on sleeve walk through the ups and downs of setting up, nearly falling over and running a business from scratch. I hope Suzie won’t mind me saying that she brought a lump to the throat of those listening to her amazing experience – and for any inspiring start-ups out there, one person I would encourage budding entrepreneurs to go and talk to and understand the roller coaster journey that may well be waiting for you!

Earlier on the Friday morning, I attended a session from Young Foodies, a business led by joint founders Chris Green and Theadora Alexander. Young Foodies provide an invaluable community and learning platform for brands that are still finding their way. So it was no surprise that the duo’s talk around some of the “do’s and dont’s” when launching brands or working with and building relationships with the multiple grocers, was well attended and littered with lots of questions that they were able to advise on.

One of the last sessions on the Friday was Julia Glotz from The Grocer interviewing the super smart and inspirational Giles Brook of Innocent and Vita Coco fame. He provided a candid picture of his incredible career to date, as well as what drives him in making investment decisions as well as providing invaluable mentoring and coaching to up and coming brands and people. The room, unsurprisingly, was packed to the gunnells!

So, I’ll be going back next year to build on my experience from this. But in summary from this year, the TOP 3 things that struck me were as follows:

  1. The PURE NUMBER OF START-UP’S in food and drink is a thing to behold, with some brilliant ideas and people. And the future seems to becoming more and more about smaller, more relevant brands who can connect with shoppers and consumers in a more authentic way. That feels incredibly exciting to me.
  2. Building on the above point, ARE BIG BRANDS DOOMED? With no sign of the growing number of smart, savvy start-ups hitting the supermarket shelves slowing down, Giles Brooks, as well as a couple of other people who I spoke to during the course of the day, seemed to suggest this was already happening and likely to continue (See an article recently published by Jon Golstone of Brand Gym – you can read it here – “are big brands really doomed?”Reading the article, they certainly sing the praises of what they call the “insurgents” and how the challenge they provide the big brands very much depends upon the specific categories and countries where they operate. But something irreversible appears to be happening.
  3. Hiring GREAT / THE RIGHT PEOPLE – this topic clearly strikes at the heart of what my colleagues and I at bpesearch do, day in, day out. And I couldn’t help but sit up and take note when Suzie from Primal Pantry was emphatic in the way she described (I won’t repeat here word for word Suzie!) that she would rather have a vacancy in her business than appoint the wrong person. It might sound obvious, but I agree that it is even more critical when building a business and setting out. Just as importantly, Suzie as well as Joe Benn from Ugly Drinks were very honest in appreciating that with learning and hindsight, they would likely hire more senior and /or experienced operators for key commercial roles if they were doing it all over again. This is of course, easier said than done when launching a business on something resembling a shoe string and all of your worldly possessions are on the line!! But what it does mean is that start-ups and businesses desperately aiming to scale up, should leverage their own networks and pull in as many favours as possible (people tend to want to help in any way that they can, although the employee who raided their life savings to rescue Primal Pantry at a particularly delicate time deserves special recognition!!)

In addition to this, recruiters need to demonstrate a clearer understanding of what these businesses go through both financially and emotionally. Some of these people (and remember they are individuals, not simply annonymous businesses) are often risking everything to make their businesses work. As such, they could really benefit from the counsel and expertise that a specialist, well connected and passionate recruiter can provide. But we need to recognise that it’s not about a one size fits all approach and we need to work harder with them so they can bring the right level as well as quality of talent into their businesses at the critical moments. After all, their success is our success. So doing everything within our power to support them to get there is in everyones interest.

So in summary, whether you are a start-up /scale-up looking to get a better understanding of how to go about hiring the right people at the right level – or just thinking “help, where the hell do I start”?? or if you are an existing or aspiring NED reading this and wondering how you might play a small part in the success of a brand of the future, do feel free to get in touch with Rob Hill or I here at bpesearch. We’d love to help you join the dots.