Tyrells show tasteable difference beats TV ads

Tyrells is a great example of a distinctive brand building a business without advertising. The premium potato chip brand had sales in 2009/10 of £18mill, forecast to grow to £40mill this year. Here's a few insights into how they've done this.

Screen Shot 2011-12-16 at 17.50.13
Founding vision

Like many brands that grow without advertising, Tyrells was created and developed by a founder with a clear vision and persistence to drive it into reality. It's also another example of an innovation coming not from logic and strategy, but from a "happy accident".

Founder William Chase actually started out farming potatoes. He sent the reject potatoes, too dark and irregular for the supermarkets he supplied, to a manufacturer of upmarket crisps, according to this article. But Chase was unimpressed with the end product, and decided to have a go himself. He bought a second-hand fryer from a local chip shop, sliced some potatoes, fried them and thought they were better. In the first year only 5% of his crop was used for potato chips. Now the farm’s entire crop is used.

He grew the business for several years, before selling out to Private Equity house Langholm Capital in 2008 for £40million. The persistence, stamina and energy needed to build and sell such a business is shown in this quote from an interview with William in The Guardian: "People look at entrepreneurs and think, 'Oh, that looks easy', but the problem is it eats you. I lived [Tyrrells] 24/7. When I ran it, I was in the factory every day. I ran around all my favourite customers checking they were OK."

Packvertising Screen Shot 2011-12-16 at 17.25.16

Given the lack of any advertising support, Tyrell's packs do have to work harder than for most consumer goods brands. In addition to helping create stand-out on shelf they work as a form of extra communication, adding emotional "sizzle" – we call this "packvertising". Each distinctive pack uses amusing, old-style black and white photography. The photos change across flavours and over time. 

This approach started back in 2004 with the launch of an un-salted variety of Tyrrells, called Naked Chips. featured a picture of naked ladies from the 1930's. The name alone is a nice touch, communicating a bit of personlity versus conventional naming

Taste-able difference

There's definitely a good product "sausage" at the heart if the Tyrells brand. The product is made using locally source British potatoes, which is a nice provenance story. But more importantly, the production process makes a "tasteable difference" that creates thicker, crunchier and more artsianal looking potato chips.

Conventional crisps are made in a mechanical continuous frying process, which uses thinly sliced . To get  potatoes washed to remove starch, as this can cause potato slices to stick together in continuous frying. This process takes out potato flavour and goodness.

In contrast, Tyrells use thicker sliced potatoes that must be made up in batches, with a cook stirring the chips by hand so they don't stick.

Screen Shot 2011-12-16 at 18.01.28
Premium pricing

The hand-aided, batch production process costs a lot more of course. But at this adds real value to the brand, Tyrells are able to charge almost twice as much as regular, run-of-the-mill crisps. 

What is also impressive is the way William fought to protect the price premium by taking on in 2006. The retailer wanted to treat Tyrells like other brands and cut the price. William refused to stock them, resulting in Tesco sourcing cheaper product from overseas. William threatened to sue and forced Tesco to back down.

The next few years will be interesting for Tyrells, following the sale of the business to Langholm Capital. This is the firm beind the success of Doreset Cereals, and their ambition is to repeat that success with their new aquisition. One smart move has been to bring in Perry and his crew at Big Fish design, who are busy working their magic on the design and website, as they did with Dorset.

In conclusion, Tyrells is another lovely example of a product with a clear fuctional difference, a strong personality and distinctive packaging, all of which support a price premium. In other words, its a true brand. If only there were more of them around….