How many 18-year-olds do you know that have managed to bag a deal with a major supermarket to sell their product?
Not many? Well that’s Fraser Doherty’s point exactly.
At the age of 14, Edinburgh-born Doherty went out to the supermarket with a couple of pounds in his pocket. He bought some fruit and sugar and made a few jars of jam. Four years later his SuperJams brand is on the shelves of 130 Waitrose stores.
Doherty owes a lot to his Gran, who first taught him how to make it. Once he had the idea he started spending all his evenings and weekends cooking it up. His neighbours were his first customers but he soon moved on to selling it at farmers’ markets and local delicatessens.
“By the time I started selling at the farmers’ markets I’d been in the press quite a lot,” says Doherty, who is currently in his first year of university in Glasgow, studying business and accountancy. “People knew the story and were familiar with it, but I don’t think that was the only reason it sold well. Publicity isn’t a reason for people to keep coming back for it again and again. I had a genuinely good product.”
Doherty’s operation grew rapidly. His parents were driving him to the trade fairs and markets to sell the jam which he was making at a rate of a thousand jars a week. “It was getting a bit ridiculous to be spending 16 hours a day, seven days a week making the jam,” he recalls. “So I decided I had to come up with a big idea to get production up to the next level.”
Doherty did some research, and armed with the knowledge that jam sales were in decline, he decided to create a healthy range, using so-called super fruits such as blueberries and cranberries. He also came up with the idea of using grape juice instead of sugar to sweeten it.
The big break came with the opening of some new Waitrose stores in Edinburgh. Doherty went along to a buyer’s fair and got talking to the supermarket’s jam buyer. Impressed with the jam, the Waitrose buyer told Doherty to get his labels designed and find somewhere to produce it on a large scale – so, having left school, that’s what he spent his gap year doing.
He found a factory where he could oversee production, and got a local ad agency to design the jars for free. The whole process was filmed for a Channel 4 documentary, which of course helped get the brand out there.
Doherty now works out of an office at university where he does what he describes as ‘enterprise evangelism’, promoting entrepreneurship to young people through speeches and radio and tv appearances.
The future? Well, Doherty says he might have to give uni a few years off if the Waitrose sales do well. “Once my time gets ‘jam-packed’ I’d probably end up making a bad job of uni and the business if I tried to do them both.”