Passion product has taken us to the top
The owners of a brand of sweet potato crisps and the fishing family behind one of the north coast’s top chip shops talk to Lisa Smyth
It is only three weeks since Wolf and Woodsman crisps first made an appearance in the shops. But already, the team responsible for bringing the product to market is excited and looking forward to taking the next step in building the business.
It is this drive and passion for the authentic sweet potato crisps that has got them this far, and it is likely to play a big part in helping them to achieve their goals in the coming years.
The business was set up by brothers Jonny and Andrew Laverty and their childhood friend David Knowles as a result of a chance encounter with another entrepreneur.
A discussion between Jonny and David ensued and three years on they have launched the first in a range of sweet potato crisps.
Jonny (29) explains: "David and I already run a gym together, in Lisburn, called White Wolf Crossfit.
"We were at a fitness competition and we got chatting to a guy who owned a nutrition company that sells protein bars and powders and I thought I would like to do something similar.
"David and I had a chat about it on the plane on the way home and the idea really went from there."
While most people dream of setting up their own business, Jonny and David decided to implement their vision.
They recruited Andrew to help them develop their plan and together the trio identified a gap in the market, developed a product and created an exciting and dynamic brand to attract potential business.
Jonny continues: "We'd always noticed that no-one was really making sweet potato crisps, they were quite hard to get, so we decided to take forward that idea.
"We actually played around with different ideas in my kitchen before we settled on something we really liked.
"We had experience of setting up a business before, but we'd never created a product and taken it to market, so this was all new to us.
"The gym is really about providing a service, not creating a tangible product, so it's been a bit of a learning curve, but we're getting there, I hope."
While they had identified a gap in the market, the business partners were also keen not to replicate other products on sale.
To this end, the crisp they have developed is cut slightly thicker to give it more crunch.
They have also come up with two flavours to date, which they believe set them apart from their competition.
Jonny continues: "It has been a lot of hard work to get to the point we're at today.
"We had the initial idea three years ago and we had to come up with the right product, then we had to get machinery sorted out.
"Packaging and building the brand was also really important to us, we wanted to build on the brand we have already created at the gym and we came up with the name, Wolf and Woodsman.
"We also had to source packaging and we found a supplier in China and there was a lot of going back and forward on the internet to get that secured.
"Having the product's nutritional profile took quite a while as well, tests would be done and then more tests would be done, but it was absolutely essential to get that information correct.
"Throughout the whole process, we were getting feedback and changing things around until we were happy with the packaging and the product.
"People really seem to like what we have come up with, we get lots of positive comments and that's great because it reinforces that you were right to put in so much time and effort to get it right."
They also worked hard on social media to raise the profile of the brand and were rewarded when they secured their first order with a well-established name.
"So far we have developed two flavours, peri peri salt and chipotle and lime," he continues.
"At the moment we only have the peri peri salt in the shops, the chipotle and lime tends to have more of a kick so we want to get the peri peri salt established before launching the second flavour.
"Our first order was to supply a box of 50 to Rademon Estate, which was a brilliant feeling.
"There is definitely something very satisfying about seeing an idea that was in your head, that you have developed, on the shelves for people to buy.
"Looking to the future, we want to export and we're initially looking at Ireland and then, down the line, we would like to get in to shops in England, Scotland and Wales.
"We are targeting the likes of farm shops and we're not trying to be McCoys or Tayto, we're just trying to be ourselves and make a success from our crisps.
"We're also not trying to get into the supermarkets at the moment either.
"The best piece of advice I've had so far has come from my brother.
"For me, I find if I think in the long term, and think about the long-term vision too often, then I can get quite anxious and think that maybe I'm not moving fast enough.
"It was actually Andy who told me to stop thinking about the long-term goals and think about the next step.
"He said it can be something as simple as going for a coffee and having a chat with someone but to concentrate just on that.
"You should just focus on what's in front of you because opening one door will always open another couple of doors.
"It's a good piece of advice when I'm stressing about things."