How Jimmy’s Iced Coffee conquered the UK coffee market

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is the sort of brand that needs no introduction. In less than ten years, the company’s become a household name and you’ll be hard-pushed to find a major supermarket that doesn’t stock the familiar blue-and-white carton.

At The Pitch, we’ve been fans of Jimmy’s for a while. We lived on their iced coffees while we planned our eighth and ninth year of the competition – now on our eleventh, we’re delighted to welcome founder Jim Cregan onto our judging panel for The Pitch 2019.

We spoke to Jim about the early days of Jimmy’s, how to succeed in buyer meetings and the “phenomenal” brand he’s a fan of.

How Jimmy’s Iced Coffee got started

We launched the business in April 2011. It was my be-all and end-all. It had to happen. That came hand-in-hand with my lack of a career, which was part festival MC and part labourer. I was jumping from a career building and saying “I’m going to go and do the coolest thing in the world.”

In our first year, I remember being so unbelievably excited. I think that rubbed off on people. We still had a lot of teething issues, particularly being a brand new brand with a 60-day shelf. We had to run around like lunatics trying to sell the product or it’d be wasted. But we were so young and pumped about doing it – there was an urgency to it.

The confidence came naturally. I was stupidly passionate about getting people to try Jimmy’s. I couldn’t believe the hold it had on me in the beginning. There were times that I lacked confidence, but I’d think “if I don’t know enough or I’m not passionate enough, I shouldn’t be in that meeting”. It was all hell-bent passion and drive.

Each business component is important. There are a number of business components that you need to split across Monday to Friday: production, marketing, logistics and sales. You’ll only want to do one or two because they’re the ones you’re good at. But they all need to march forward together, so you need to make sure they’re all happening at once.

How to get a food business listed in supermarkets

We were so small that we just went in all guns blazing. We’d go into buyer meetings and say, “we’re Jimmy’s, this is why we do what we do, we want a trial”. When you’re tiny, you can get away with a lot. People usually want to help. They love the fact that if a small brand turns out big, they can give themselves a pat on the back.

Don’t send a buyer an email. They’re getting hundreds of emails a week. Even if you email three times, you’re still in an email pit with a thousand other snakes. Go hire a billboard or do something amazing that shows what you’re about. One of the greatest examples is Charlie Bigham getting into Sainsbury’s by cooking 300 meals and giving them to all their staff. He got listed after that. If you really want a listing, you have to work really hard for it. You can’t just email.

We sell a carton of Jimmy’s every five seconds. The plan is to look at international markets now. It’s much harder to sell in the winter, so we need to think about ways to get our sales up. There are good iced coffee categories in places like Sweden and Dubai, but we need a little bit more product refinement.

What Jim looks for in startup pitches

I really like stuff that’s got a sustainable twist. There’s still a little bit of plastic in our carton and that’s no good. The Toast beer brand is phenomenal – their comms and mission statement are all amazing. We need to be more like that.

I want to see businesses take a risk. I like seeing people who are doing it for the right reasons, not to get rich. People with true stories. You can feel the blood flowing around their body. They’re nervous, hungry, willing to make mistakes and willing to learn.

The whole startup game gets me excited. There are so many portals for people to gain insight and inspiration. It didn’t really happen eight years ago. The Pitch and Enterprise Nation are amazing hubs for people looking to learn this stuff.

Just get off your ass and go and smash it. That’s the most exciting thing to see.

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Kat Haylock
Kat is the lead writer at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch. She’s worked with small businesses for the last six years, championing Britain’s startup scene and anyone who has snacks.

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