By Kim Havelaar, Founder of Roqberry.
If you have a startup selling a food product you might well have your sights set on winning a Great Taste Award. These awards are widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers.
The distinctive black and gold Great Taste label signposts consumers to wonderful tasting products. The decision of which products receive awards is the result of hours and hours of blind-tasting by hundreds of judges. One star is given for products that deliver fantastic flavour, while two stars are reserved for those that are above and beyond delicious.
While there is no ‘magic’ that will guarantee winning a Great Taste Award, there are some ways for entrepreneurs to improve their chances by creating a product that is unique and delicious. In just over 18 months, Roqberry has won an incredible 20 Great Taste Awards for our speciality tea, so let me shared what I’ve learned from the experience.
Don’t hold back – be bold with product’s flavour
When we started Roqberry, we were foodies looking to ‘blend the rules’ around what tea is, what it could be, and when it could be drunk. We wanted tea that complemented our food. which is a bit unusual, especially in the UK.
Big bold flavours were essential as our tea needed to hold its own when paired with rich foods and not be reliant on milk which softens the flavour. We created flavours like Sushi & Spice and Raspberry Fondant, both of which went on to win two stars each.
So, my first piece of advice for entrepreneurs with food products is: don’t be afraid of flavour. Don’t settle for making something tasty yet boring if you can make something delicious and outstanding. We also won Great Taste Awards for our more traditional blends, such as English Breakfast and Pure Peppermint, but it was our unusual and exciting flavours that really wowed the judges.
Have faith in your own palate
One question I get asked a lot is, how do I know when a new flavour is award-winning? The truth is, I don’t. We create tea blends that we like and work from there. Which brings me to my second piece of advice for entrepreneurs: trust your own palate!
You are not just an entrepreneur and foodie, you are a customer. By creating something that you love, there’s a very good chance you’ll be creating something others will love too! The important criterion to focus on is the flavour. A tea could look good and smell good, we may have even thought up the perfect name for it, but, if it didn’t deliver flavour, it was dismissed.
I recommend giving yourself a set amount of space and time to allow your creative juices to flow. Play around with ideas and flavours, take inspiration from a number of sources, and don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t taste great on your first try. Some of the best flavours we’ve created have been the result of a number of iterations – followed by feedback from customers.
Make tough decisions about what stays in the range
Of course, the balance to the point above is that you also need to cut any flavours that don’t prove popular with your customers. They are your ultimate taste-makers.
We use events and tradeshows to test our new flavours on our customers. People vote with their wallet and if we sell out of a product by sampling it, we know we are on to a winner.
My third piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Be ruthless about what makes the cut. Even now we will discontinue a product if it turns out to be the least popular one, even if it is a personal favourite. This helps continuously raise the standard of our teas, ensuring each one meets the standard for great taste.
Don’t play safe – keep pushing the boundaries
My fourth piece of advice for entrepreneurs, and something that should come naturally to many of you is: push the boundaries. Keeping on the theme of flavour (after all, it’s the most important thing) ‒ you must push the boundaries if you want to create a truly outstanding product. We’d rather create ‘Marmite’ tea than produce a tea that’s ‘fine’ for everyone. If you are ‘fine’ for everyone you are not pushing the boundaries hard enough and no-one will love your product.
At least if you have a unique product that some customers love then you have a captive audience for that range. Other customers will prefer other unique flavours, so it’ll all work out in the end and customers will have a wide range of products to experience!
Never compromise on quality of ingredients
When managing a food or beverage company, there are lots of strategic and commercial decisions you will need to make. Things like pricing strategies and distribution channels. One thing you should never compromise, however, is the quality of your ingredients.
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Even if you have a delicious recipe, using cheap ingredients will compromise the flavour and overall quality of the product. Eating and drinking is about the entire experience ‒ cheapening the ingredients cheapens the experience. Cheap experiences do not win Great Taste Awards.
For example, to maximise flavour, we use only wholeleaf tea that we blend ourselves by hand. This ensures the right balance of delicious flavours in every cup. For the tea bags themselves, we opted for natural materials over the plastic teabags used by cheaper brands. Not only did this decision help preserve the flavour of the tea, but it also helped get Roqberry noticed by the mainstream press.
My final advice: if you have an option, always go for the higher quality ingredients. Customers will prefer it and the Great Taste judges, with their impeccable palate, will certainly appreciate it.
Of course, gaining a Great Taste Award is an achievement and a useful marketing boost but it shouldn’t necessarily be your aim. Make food products you love, test them on your customers keep refining and drop anything that doesn’t work. That way your startup will soon have a great-tasting range with products worthy of a Great Taste Award.
About the Author
Kim is the founder and Managing Director of Roqberry. Kim spent 15 years at GE working across a variety of industries and holding senior leadership roles in Commercial Operations and Strategy. She also holds a Masters in Business Administration and in International Management (RSM/ESADE). Kim runs the day-to-day operations of Roqberry and has also qualified as a tea sommelier.