I left my job in the City to sell chocolates spread
Kevin and Kellie Bath quit their jobs to start their healthier spreads brand, Jim Jams. Here they describe their ups and downs, and having their children as chief taste testers.
One Saturday morning, when Kevin Bath was having breakfast with his family - wife Kellie and children Evie (r2) and Jack (eight) - he casually glanced at the label of the jar of chocolate spread his children were enthusiastically spreading on their toast. He was horrified. The spread contained the equivalent of 57 sugar cubes in a standard jar. Kevin and Kellie decided there must be a healthier option, and the idea for their business, JimJams, was born. Within months the couple had quit their jobs - Kevin, as in IT consultant at the London Stock Exchange and Kellie, who was running her own health business - to focus on their new venture. "We realised there was a gap in the market for a healthy alternative to chocolate spreads," says Kevin. "Neither of us had any prior experience of the food industry or developing and marketing such a product, but we knew we had to do something. It was a very big leap of faith." Three years on and IimJams lines the shelves
'Neither of us had any prior experience of the food Industry - It was a very big leap of faith'
of Whole Foods, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Holland & Barrett, and it's also available through Ocado. The product contains 83% less sugar than other chocolate spreads and uses a certified sustainable palm oil. The company has won three Great Taste awards and turned over E5ook in the past year. The concept was simple - to develop a chocolate spread with significantly less sugar than the leading brands, but without any compromise on taste. "We had no idea where to start, so we began by contacting manufacturers within the UK and Europe to ask if they would develop a spread for us to sample," Kellie says. "We held taste-testing sessions around our kitchen table with our friends and family - our kids were chief taste testers - and then took samples to food shows. The feedback enabled us to perfect the final recipe." The consumer feedback has been phenomenal, says Kevin. "We appeal mainly to the family market, but we've also been attracting younger, more health-conscious consumers. The fact we use a naturally sourced sweetener means it's kinder on teeth, has less effect on blood glucose levels, contains fewer calories, and is also gluten-free." Their success, however, has not come easy. "Ignorance, as they say, is bliss, which is just as well, because if we had known just how turbulent the ride was going to be, I'm not sure we would have actually gone for it," says Kellie. "But I'm so glad we did." The couple rented a local storage unit and used their personal savings to develop the product, design their branding and tour a few food shows, before the money almost ran out. "We had about four or five months where we didn't know how we were going to pay the mortgage," says Kellie. "It was really stressful." Fortunately, Kevin saw an advertisement for the Grocery Accelerator programme, which invests in new food and thinks brands, and applied for funding. They were shortlisted out of too companies and secured investment of Egok. By that time, they had also found a manufacturer that could deliver, but there were still a number of obstacles to overcome. "They didn't deal in small product runs. In fact, their minimum order requirement was huge!" Kellie explains. "We had just enough money left to place one order and we only had a handful of potential customers at the time. It was a big risk, but it paid off." They then approached some local Co-op stores, speciality food stores and independent retailers. It wasn't long before the business started to take off. "Morrisons was the first supermarket we approached and it was an amazing feeling when they said yes to the product," says Kevin. "We'd made it simple by offering them a solution - a healthier alternative to a product they were already selling and one that would bring them new customers," says Kevin. Ocado and Sainsbury's soon followed, and the couple also recently signed up with the Publix supermarket chain in the US, as well as launching a new isg portion pot (pictured below left). "The isg pots are now available in Center Pares and we have just completed a very successful trial with Hilton Hotels," says Kellie. "Fingers crossed you will see them in every Hilton very soon. We're also launching a milk chocolate dipper, and are in final negotations with major retailer and Merlin Entertainment." Despite their success, Kellie says they never stop worrying. "It's a constant battle. Each time we secure a new retailer, it feels great. but we don't have time to process it because we're always moving on to the next thing. We'd get a win and then we'd lose something. We'd think we'd secured something and then the retailer would pull out unexpectedly. So we're constantly on our toes." One of the best things about working together and running their own business is, says Kellie, the flexibility is has given them. "I work four days a week, so that I can still be there to help with the children's homework and catch up with the housework etc," says Kellie. Kevin says he was usually out the door at 7:30am every morning when he worked in the City but that, since they launched JimJams, he's able to take his son to football after school each week and be there to do the school run. They hope they are also setting a good example to their children by running their own business. "Jack was with me in Sainsbury's the other day and he gasped when he saw our spreads on the shelf?' says Kellie. "He asked if he was famous! I would like them to experience running their own business one day, just because it is an amazing way to build self-belief and instils such a strong work ethic. I want them to know that they can achieve anything they set their mind to, and being a role model is the most powerful way to show them it is possible." Kevin and Kellie are clearly partners in business and in life. "I love the fact that we can celebrate our wins together and we both understand the pressures of the business," Kellie says. "Some people probably thought we were a bit mad when Kevin left his job in the City to sell chocolate spread, but we hope to prove them wrong."
Left: Kevin and Kellie Bath of JimJams, which makes hazelnut chocolate spread