Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Nut Factory

The euphoric high of becoming accredited by The Soil Association was followed by a period of slight to moderate anxiety, as I still hadn’t solved the problem of how to scale up the business. Making porridge at home was fun but we had to grow to become profitable. The following thoughts kept me awake at night:

1: I have no idea what machine/factory/fire extinguisher/safety wellies/hazard signs/pens to get in order to manufacture porridge.

2: We have no money to buy anything other than the dented cans of beans from Tesco that we are living on.

At our next meeting I admitted to Abi that we had no money and knew nothing about manufacturing. She thought for a moment and after flinging a couple of affectionate insults my way made an excellent suggestion.

AE: ‘Why don’t we just get someone else to make it?’

I think that she then said ‘Like…DUH?’ but I can’t remember for sure.

Apparently this is called sub-contracting and is common practice in the food industry. Marvellous.

I looked up ‘Factories’ in yellow pages and started ringing around. Each factory I spoke to either couldn’t or wouldn’t make our product. I, ever the optimist, had assumed that everyone we spoke to would be competing to turn their entire workforce over to porridge production so the sense of rejection was acute. The main factors that seemed to be off-putting to the factory managers were:

1: They had never heard of our product.

2: We had no experience of manufacturing anything.

3: We had no stockists except for Abi’s friend’s deli.

4: We didn’t have any orders (except from nana who wanted some to give to her ladies at the cancer shop)

I had nearly reached the bottom of our list of 10 000 factories when I got through to a man called Jack at a nut factory. He sounded busy and slightly grumpy so when he said that they might be able to mix for us I nearly dropped the phone. If he had been right there I would have kissed him on the forehead and said ‘YOU LOVELY MAN’ but luckily he wasn’t.

In the car on the way to the factory Abi and I discussed our strategy.

AE: ‘Act like you have been to other factories and know what they are talking about. Don’t look desperate.’

FE: ‘Ok. Do you think we will get free nuts?’

It was exciting being inside a real factory although in my imagination it had been staffed entirely by squirrels so part of me was disappointed. Before you go in you have to put a lab-coat and shower-cap on and sign a form to say that you don’t have any diseases that mean your skin might flake off into the nuts. At that stage we really didn’t know what were looking at and we just smiled a lot and nodded vigorously. There were nuts everywhere: rivers of nuts flowing along conveyer belts and falling down miniature trap doors. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Abi’s words chimed in my ears as I tried to appear business-like and not at all desperate.

In the office after our tour we discussed every aspect of exactly how the product was made. Jack opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, then closed it again and sighed. After a long considered pause he finally looked up at Abi and I and said ‘Ok’. We tried our best to act natural but we were amazed and delighted that this was going to finally happen. As we left, just when I thought that life couldn’t get any better Victoria called after us ‘Help yourself to some nuts.’

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