Papa's Mineral Co: Targeting success in food and drink sector
There's a saying that necessity is the mother of invention and that's certainly the case when it comes to Papa's Mineral Co.
The company, which produces and sells a range of flavoured drinks, was established as Wayne Adair looked for ways to diversify and supplement the income from his seasonal ice cream parlour in Bangor, Co Down.
And even while 42-year-old Wayne believed passionately in the product, even he could never have envisaged the success that lay ahead.
It is even more significant given the fact that Wayne has taken a recipe passed down from his grandmother and turned it into a thriving business.
He explains: "When I was young, about 10 or 11, I would have made ginger wine with my mum every Christmas.
"We used my grandmother's recipe that she had passed down and it was a real family tradition.
"I really enjoyed making it and I would make up about five litres and would put it in little bottles that I found lying around the house.
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"It would go in lemonade bottles and things like that and then we would drink it over the winter."
After he left school, Wayne followed his family into the ice cream business and, showing his entrepreneurial spirit, he bought an ice cream parlour when he was just 20 years old.
"I was always going to work in ice cream," he says.
"But the ice cream parlour was a very seasonal business and that's when I started making my grandmother's ginger wine and selling it in the shop during the colder weather.
"It was actually really popular. Very quickly we had people coming in looking for it.
"I would make up a certain amount of bottles and when it sold out, it sold out.
"I only produced it around Christmas for the first few years but we had customers enquiring about it all year around and then I started selling it at St George's Market in Belfast."
Wayne adds: "At this stage, the market ran on a Friday morning and nothing for the rest of the week and we thought we could do something with this and that's how the Saturday morning market started.
"I was one of the first stallholders, I actually have the number two licence for the Saturday and the market was so successful and turned into what it is today."
Over the years, Wayne has built on the success of the ginger wine recipe and has developed a number of other flavours that have proved to be equally as popular.
He said he believes this is as a result of responding to customer requests.
"Most of the flavours we sell came from customers," continues Wayne.
"It is so, so important to listen to what your customers want.
"I do a lot of trade fairs and markets and that's where I really get to speak to people and find out what they like and what they want.
"I would have people coming up to me and saying they used to drink peppermint cordial and we would develop one ourselves.
"We now sell a range of flavours, like clove cordial, which won gold at the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards in 2016, cloudy lemonade, elderflower, and spiced winterberry cordial.
"I also think the fairs we go to, like the Balmoral Show, are a really good opportunity to promote our drinks.
"They are an expensive purchase, they are an indulgent purchase, they are £4.95 at retail, so it's important that our customers can taste the drinks before they buy.
"Every show we have people come to us who have never tried it before and that's why it's so important to do business face to face."
As Papa's Mineral Co became more successful, Wayne - who is also a full-time civil servant - sold the ice cream parlour and concentrated solely on growing his drinks company.
He now features at the Christmas markets at Belfast, Glasgow and Galway, which is extremely labour-intensive.
He explains: "Even today, the business is very seasonal and about 75% of our business comes from the three months coming up to Christmas.
"It's hard work but it's worth it.
"When we started out in 1999, we made about 200 bottles and in 2000 we were making about 800, and now we make about 30,000 bottles a year which I think is good."
Given that the majority of the business happens in the run-up to Christmas, Wayne's employees are seasonal workers.
"It all comes down to me, which is hard because I work in the civil service as well," he said.
"It can be incredibly difficult because we sell such large volumes in the three months before Christmas.
"I am lucky because my wife, Lora, does my social media because I am terrible at it, but she really knows what we should be posting."
Wayne continues: "I would say you have to listen to your own instinct and follow it.
"You also need to follow customer feedback, which is what I have always done.
"Your customers are the most important part of your business because they are spending money to buy your product.
"You also need to take chances, I took a chance setting up the business and I haven't looked back since."