How We Started A
Dried-Fruit Snacking Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I’m Stuart Prescott and I am a co-founder of 5th Season. 5th Season is a 100% fruit snacking brand based on the innovative freeze-drying technology. We exist to offer consumers the closest thing to fresh fruit, but without the fuss that fresh fruit can sometimes bring. Our delicious fruit range currently consists of Whole Strawberries, Pineapple Chunks, a Fruit Salad Mix (Strawberries, Banana and Apple) and Mango & Raspberries.
We launched our first products in February 2019.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
5th Season is co-founded by myself and Tiffany. We have worked in some of the unhealthiest food categories but have always had a passion for fruit. Mine came during my time at university whilst studying Nutrition. Tiffany, who is a mother of three, wants her kids to grow up understanding what real fruit looks and tastes like.
We originally met whilst skiing, where we got chatting about the difficulty of consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Especially when you’re busy and working full time.
After an initial review of the market, it was clear that few fruit snacks are genuinely healthy or actually look like fruit. After this realisation, we made it our challenge to create our own fruit snacks. We landed on freeze-drying as this method is scientifically proven to be nutritionally superior to anything else.
We also wanted to make sure that the brand does further good in the world, so have partnered with Farm Africa to ensure that for every pack sold, some of the money goes to impoverished farming communities where our donations are re-invested to build sustainable farming practices for the future. Not only does 5th Season Taste Good, but it Does Good.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The main challenge we have had to face is the ability to maintain the crispy, snacking texture of our fruit. Freeze-dried fruit is very moisture sensitive and goes soft very quickly if left exposed to the air. This isn’t a problem in the categories where freeze-dried fruit was originally developed – cereal and baking. Milk is added to cereal and therefore it is accepted to be wet and soggy. In baking, it is included as an ingredient pre-bake and therefore the inclusion rate is very low. Within snacking, there is nowhere to hide, and the crispy freeze-dried texture must be retained otherwise the product is less enjoyable.
The packaging was originally developed with a clear window for consumers to see the product inside. We later discovered that the barrier properties of the packaging film were not good enough and the product went soft three months into the eighteen-month shelf life. We worked with the packaging supplier to provide a film with a higher moisture barrier by incorporating a metalised layer. This has allowed us to achieve the desired shelf life.
We also had to make improvements in the process to ensure that the texture is retained between drying and packing. We have invested in metalised bags to transport the fruit in bulk after drying and we changed processes during packing including maximum time exposed to the air, temperature/humidity control, gas flushing as well as ensuring super-strong sealing of the packs so moisture does not enter the packs.
Who is your target market?
Our core demographic are urban professionals between the ages of 20 and 35. These people have an interest in health, however, due to their busy lifestyle look for convenient, on-the-go products. Snacks are also really important to people looking for products that have nutritional benefits, rather than consuming ‘empty calories’. We have found that the products over-index with females (fruit naturally does), those that are interested in a plant-based diet and enjoy keeping fit.
55% of this target demographic also have kids, so children have become an indirect consumer of 5th Season. Kids love 5th Season because they feel like they are getting a sweet treat, but their parents know that they are eating 100% fruit with no added nasties!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Everyone in the business LOVES the brand and therefore naturally tells everyone about it. Unfortunately though, we can’t just rely on our word of mouth!
Our main marketing focus is online via our social media channels. We have created some really great content that people are engaging with. Just a few weeks ago, we launched our new #SwapForFruit campaign to encourage people to swap their usual unhealthy snacks for fruit. Our following has grown organically, but we are now playing with Facebook and Instagram adverts and are setting up the 5th Season Fruity Fan Club where members will have access to some awesome benefits. You can sign up on our website!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I think that we are in a lucky position where once someone has tried the products for the first time they tend to become a loyal customer. The focus for us is therefore encouraging the first taste. Our pop colour branding does a great job attracting attention on-shelf and the key front of pack claims about being 100% Fruit and Less than 50 Calories really appeals to our target audience. With all products there is some reluctance to try and freeze-dried fruit is still relatively unknown. We frequently run price promotions to reduce the barrier to try, but after this they are hooked!
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We are a small team of five people, across two countries (UK and NL). We all work remotely so team fit is critical. Everyone in the business needs to be a self-starter, full of enthusiasm, and resilient. Working in a start-up environment is tough and it’s not for everyone. Although it’s a lot of hard work, at the same time it’s very rewarding. We meet up in person every 6 months and it’s incredible when we look back and see how far we have come. We are out there challenging the big brands!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
The majority of what we do is manual and doesn’t rely on software. There are a few programmes that are essential to running our business.
- WhatsApp – It’s incredible how much of a business can be run by chat!
- Zoom – As we work remote it’s how we connect ‘face-to-face’
- Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Software – It’s a prerequisite to working with the major supermarkets to process orders, arrange deliveries and invoice customers
- Dropbox – We don’t have any fancy network so this is a place where everyone can access the same files
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
There are two key insights that I would pass onto other founders:
- Focus on your direct to consumer business. Everyone has the dream of being listed in a major supermarket like Tesco or Sainsbury’s, but don’t estimate the benefits of an e-commerce solution. Having a direct to consumer business first allows you to build a strong relationship with your consumers and find out exactly what they are looking for. Chances are you won’t have everything perfect when you launch and you don’t want to risk getting this wrong with a big retailer as you will be delisted within 12 weeks. E-commerce also tends to have better margins and helps your cash flow as you get paid straight away rather than having to wait up to 90 days!
- Finance/Investment. The food industry is notoriously expensive to work in. Therefore make sure you have the money in the bank to support your production, working capital and any marketing investments you want to make. Getting a big listing takes much longer than you originally imagine (12-24 months). You don’t want to be in a position where your business goes under before you’ve had a chance to shine.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
For me, it’s my pride in what the 5th Season team have achieved. Within two years, we have gone from an initial idea to having six products on the market, across two countries and trade with some of the biggest retail customers available. We have managed to achieve this with a small team of dedicated people who have a passion for encouraging people to eat more fruit.
This is where start-up businesses have an advantage over the big blue-chip brands. We have the ability to be agile, make decisions quickly and implement them faster than others. Having worked for large companies in the past, I know how frustratingly slow their sign off processes are!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is a double-edged sword. Although you feel all the amazing highs and the wins you get as a growing business, you also suffer the lows harder. The business becomes your baby and it is impossible to switch off. In the early days, you can’t take time off so weekends and holidays are impacted. Things don’t always go to plan because you don’t have the expertise in the areas it’s needed most. You end up making decisions without fully understanding all the consequences.
This makes things very stressful at times and can be very isolating when you don’t have a large team around you for support.
Mental health is really important for founders and it’s often neglected. In doing so, you sacrifice yourself for the sake of the business. I recently saw this chart that I thought clearly expressed the rollercoaster of emotions you go through – sometimes on a daily basis!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Thankfully the challenger brand community is really strong and supportive. I would recommend the following resources to help give advice and keep you inspired. I do have a few books that I’ve been recommended, but I haven’t got around to reading them. At the end of the day, I opt for easy reading novels. The last thing I need at 11pm is a business book to keep my mind whirling all night!
The Food Hub – this is an amazing online facebook group of over 6,000 entrepreneurs in the food industry. It ranges from people that are pre-launch all the way through to those turning over £10m+. It’s a place where you can ask for advice, get recommended suppliers or just bounce an idea around.
Young Foodies – They are a company that supports challenger brands through the growth phase of the business. They can help with recruitment, training, back-office support and lots of people essential skills.
Brand Growth Heroes Podcast – I find this really inspiring as it’s the story from some amazing founders. It keeps me going as you realise that every brand has to start somewhere and what you are feeling is totally normal.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
We were planning for 2020 to be a year of huge growth, but the Coronavirus pandemic dampened our ambition. There is much optimism that this will still be a great year for us and we will come through the other side. We are now starting to recruit again and our ambition in 3 years time is to be established in another 2 countries. With this, you can expect to see more of 5th Season in the UK and the team will need to grow to support this.
We will also need to have more products in the range both within the current formats and extending into other categories.