The Teenaged Jam Mogul
Most of us do nothing more with jam than spread it on our bread, but this young entrepreneur is using it to rake in the doughFeatured May 09 Words by Tina Walsh
FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH
There can't be many budding millionaires who still live at home with their mum and dad, but then Fraser Doherty is no ordinary budding millionaire. The brains behind SuperJam, the 20-year-old Scotsman started out by making jam in his parents' Edinburgh kitchen when he was just 14 and, since setting up the company two years ago, has been busy leading a quiet revolution in the world of fruit preserves.
What started with a £5,000 (€5,380) loan from the Prince's Trust has grown into a £500,000 concern and SuperJam products (Blueberry & Blackcurrant, Rhubarb & Ginger and Cranberry & Raspberry jam and a just-launched marmalade) now shift half a million jars a year and sell in 1,000 branches of Waitrose, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Budgens.
It all began when Fraser's grandma Susan showed him how to make jam from her own recipes, which he adapted using superfruits such as blueberries and cranberries. Before long he was selling around 1,000 pots of the stuff every week to friends and neighbours, local shops, at school bring-and-buy sales and church fêtes.
"I suppose it started as a hobby, but as it grew, it became quite infectious and people got excited about it," says Fraser.
You might think that 14-year-old schoolboys would have something to say about one of their number making and selling jam, but Fraser's friends couldn't have been more supportive. "I didn't get any negative comments at all, in fact, it led some close friends to think about setting up their own businesses," he says.
Too young to go to university after passing his Highers exams when he was still 16, Fraser took a year out (he started a business degree a year later, but had to leave once the business took off) to develop the product and tweak the recipes, using only fruit and fruit juice with no added sugar or sweeteners.
The orders started to flood in, making his parents' small kitchen redundant, so Fraser did a deal with a local jam-making factory in Lancashire to rent space and equipment a few days a month.
Following an article in the local press, he was approached by Waitrose to present his wares at a "meet the buyer" event.
"The buyer loved it," beams Fraser. "He thought it was great that a teenager had reinvented something that's been around for hundreds of years."
Pending a few alterations, the buyer agreed to stock the product, but it wasn't all plain sailing. The man from Waitrose initially turned up his nose at Fraser's new handiwork (he didn't like the packaging or the taste), so it was back to the drawing board for another six months before it was finally accepted. Once everything was up and running, Fraser, still only 18, was sent round the country on a jam "rock 'n' roll" tour, staying in hotels meeting the buying public and handing out the product in Waitrose stores up and down the country.
"Getting people to try the products really helped to boost sales. They liked the fact that they tasted very fruity and less sugary than a lot of the competition," says Fraser.
By March 2007 SuperJam was born and soon flying off the shelves, selling 1,500 jars a day at the Waitrose Strathclyde branch - more than the company's total monthly jam sales. It didn't take long for the press to get wind of what was happening and Fraser has now been splashed across the pages of The Scotsman and The Sun and was a runner-up in a competition backed by the paper, with celebrity judge Lorraine Kelly describing him as "the kind of young man who you would hope your daughter would bring home for tea". Millionaires' bible Forbes magazine even listed him as one of its 2008 young entrepreneurs.
For all his success, however, Fraser remains refreshingly self-deprecating and says he can't be preoccupied with the money. "I make jam because it's what I love to do."
He still works out of the same factory, employing just one full-time employee and four people on part-time contracts a few days a month. The rest of the time, he's busy with promotional work and expansion plans, which are ambitious. Turnover is forecast to double this year and he's already cracked the lucrative overseas market by opening a SuperJam outlet in Helsinki, Finland, with further outlets set to open this year in Ireland and America.
Mum Anne, a council worker and dad Robert, an electrical engineer, couldn't have been more supportive, says Fraser. They even continue to let him conduct the odd experiment from the gas hob in their kitchen.
Despite being run off his feet with the business, he's started organising charity events for the elderly as one of his heroes is the late Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop), who gave all her money away to charity in her will. Last summer he put on a huge tea party for Edinburgh's old folk, with live music, food and drink and, of course, plenty of jam. Charitable work is also close to his grandmother's heart. "She feels very strongly about giving something back to her own generation," says Fraser.
To top it all, he's just won a prestigious BT Young Entrepreneur Award and was photographed for the event by renowned fashion photographer Rankin, whose images of the great and the good have graced countless glossy magazines.
Five things I wish I'd known before I started
It's important to involve the customer in developing new products.
Take the ups with the downs and don't get over-excited with every win or upset with every setback.
Keep things simple, especially packaging.
It's great to see a room full of elderly people laughing.
Don't get frustrated at how long it takes for the product to go from an idea to the shelf.
Best piece of advice anyone's given me
My dad told me to always do what feels right for me and to go with my gut feeling.
My first boss
When I was 13, I worked for a local butcher, selling bacon and sausages door to door. He was quite eccentric but taught me a lot about running your own business, selling and giving customers what they want.
A big motivator for me are the SuperJam tea parties and I'd like to see thousands of people benefit from our charitable works.
FIVE GREAT RESTAURANTS TO SEAL A BUSINESS DEAL
Galvin at Windows
The view from 28 floors up in the Hilton is a suitably dramatic backdrop to clinch any big deal, making this one of the most exciting places to eat in the capital. The classic French gourmet tasting menu is the perfect epicurean accompaniment.
Situated in the heart of the Left Bank and with the Michelin-starred chef Philippe Bélissent at the helm, it's little wonder this hip hideaway was voted Best Urban Hotel In The World by Harper's Bazaar last year. Its intimate dining room offers fine food and the necessary privacy needed for business dealings.
With arguably the finest location in the city - right next to the Charles Bridge - and a lovely outdoor terrace, Kampa Park is a magnet for local celebrities and captains of industry. The 150-strong wine list should offer an impressive toast to seal the deal.
Join the well-heeled crowd at this vast, welcoming eaterie with great views of the Spree. Fist-sized steaks from Ireland, France and Argentina are the house speciality, or there's a wide selection of fresh fish. Booking is essential.
Agata e Romeo
With its elegant décor and, crucially for business meetings, well-spaced tables, this family-run restaurant takes "Mamma's home cooking" to new heights. Leave room for the original and exciting pastries.