Who could have failed to notice these wee beauties at the many Scottish foodie events?
When you grow amazing strawberries like Claire and Ross Rennie do on the family farm in Aberdeenshire, besides picking and punneting them, what else can you do? Cover them in chocolate of course. Berry Scrumptious is the brainchild of Claire and Ross Rennie but it doesn’t stop with chocolate-jacketed berries, they also produce fudge and chocolates. Since they started their company back in 2005, they haven’t let the grass grow under their feet.
Like many small companies, innovation comes from necessity, passion or filling a niche, which is where the Rennies new venture has sprung from. Summerhouse Drinks came to fruition (pun intended) because Claire, in her own words, said,
“As I’m always the designated driver when we go out, I noticed that most of the ‘posh’ lemonade sold in Scotland is made in England and a bit of further research with the customers who buy our chocolate, showed that there was a demand for a Scottish made lemonade range. Never one to pass up a good opportunity, we decided to go for it!”
Not that life gave Claire lemons, she couldn’t resist an opportunity to let her creative streak loose and she decided what better way to showcase her drinks than from a summerhouse on the back of a van. Bonkers you might think, yet brilliant.
“We’re making real lemonades and soft drinks with 100% natural ingredients sourced from as close to home as possible. We will have some berry flavours but not enough for it to be called Berry Scrumptious. So we’re calling our new range ‘Summerhouse’ as, let’s face it, you generally need a Summerhouse to be able to enjoy a normal Scottish summer (and escape from the midges at the same time).”
I asked Claire what the biggest hurdle was.
“Finding the right machinery to make our lemonades. It’s very specialist equipment and has a long lead time from the factory to being installed and we didn’t have months and months to wait, we wanted to be launched for this Easter at the latest.”
Product development isn’t a quick process. Claire has been working on the drinks for over a year. Most of that time was spent doing research, writing and rewriting business plans before purchasing their first piece of equipment … a Soda Stream! Claire found that this ordinary piece of kitchen kit was a great way to test out recipes. It soon became apparent that that they needed to try the recipes out on a bigger scale and last December they trundled down to Edinburgh to spend a day at the Brewing Lab of Heriot-Watt University to try out a carbonating and bottling machine.
Since then everything gathered pace with pallets of bottles arriving in December. While most of us were patting our over-stuffed bellies between Christmas and New Year, Ross and his dad dashed off on an overnight jaunt to Keighley to collect some bits of production kit that they had bought only the week before.
They were now the proud owners of tanks, a bottler and carbonator, capper, labeller and a lot of pipes. All this gubbins was plumbed in the kitchen unit that was originally used for storage. New drains were put in, then a new floor and a wet wall.
As if this wasn’t enough, there was branding, label and website design to be done; recipe development; planning a programme of festivals and foodie events to attend.
By April, Claire had three flavours bottled and labelled! The initial range consists of Misty Lemonade (a cloudy version), Scottish Raspberry Lemonade and Hint O’ Mint (a firm favourite with the team) made with lemon juice that has been infused with natural mint leaves. Their first wholesaler started stocking Summerhouse Drinks, which meant that their beverages could be delivered throughout the UK on a weekly basis.
Never one to stand still, once again Claire’s creativity came into its own – getting the funding for the mobile summerhouse that could be driven around Scotland, dispensing lemonades and mocktails at festivals, fairs and foodie events.
One way of funding that has been popular with many small businesses, is crowd funding; this is the route that Claire opted for.
Why crowd funding?
“We decided to crowd fund for our van as we had spent all our resources on purchasing the equipment to make the lemonade and needed some funding. However, our avenues were limited. If you went to the bank or finance company and said ‘I want to build a van that looks like a summerhouse’, I doubt we would have got a positive response.”
This proved to be an excellent resource for finance for the company and within few weeks, Summerhouse Drinks had over 170 contributors, raising almost £5,000. And what do they funders get for their dosh?
“They get a range of rewards depending upon how much they pledge, including discounts on the Berry Scrumptious website, free drinks and VIP invites to events.”
To see how Claire managed to raise her funding and the wee video she made to generate interest in the mobile summerhouse, have a gander at the Bloom VC project page.
I asked Claire, what advice would she give to other small producers who want to diversify?
“Do a lot of good market research first and never stop innovating; new products are the lifeblood of a business.”
If you have an idea, take the plunge and you too could be winning awards like Summerhouse Drinks; they have won the Best New Retail Product for companies with less than 25 employees at the Grampian Food Innovation Awards with the judges liking their Hint O’Mint lemonade. They will soon find out how they got on in the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards. They were one of only three companies shortlisted in the Best Retail Product – Non Alcoholic Drinks section.
Unfortunately, there are no images of the van yet but it will be ready for their first event at The Taste of Grampian on the 7th June and, of course, you’ll be able to see it and try the lemonades at the Crail Food Festival.
If you fancy seeing where Claire’s design inspirations came from, then look no further than her Pinterest board. I’m sure many of us would like one of the gorgeous summerhouses featured in our gardens.
To follow the journey of Summerhouse Drinks stop by the website blog http://berryscrumptious.co.uk/blog/ and to keep up to date with what’s happening with the van, they are on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Summerhousedrinks
All images © of Berry Scrumptious, reproduced with kind permission.