My grandfather used to say “disasters make the best stories.” But, sometimes the opposite is true, especially in dark times. And times have certainly been dark, so it’s uplifting to hear a positive tale. The amazing growth of SprEHd is exactly that: a lockdown success story.
There are a few contributing factors to SprEHd’s success. One is its simple concept, that SprEHd sells only one product. Apart from changes to size or dietary swaps, platters of charcuterie and cheese are all that’s on offer. But SprEHd’s rise is also down to the savvy of owner Hannah Beddie, who puts Scottish products front and centre.
Back in January, when Hannah started her new business, a pandemic was the last thing on people’s minds. The business got off to a good start. Its first cheese and charcuterie platter delivery went out on 25th January. Everything ticked along for 8 weeks. Then in mid-March, with lockdown looming, Hannah took the decision to close temporarily.
Two months later, on 8th May, SprEHd began operating again. By the time we spoke in mid-July, Hannah had sold more than 2,000 boxes of Scottish nibbles. Now everything gets assembled out of a shop on Inverleith Row, rather than in Hannah’s home kitchen. “Getting the lease on the premises was the best day. Having a shop raised the business to the next level.”
Hannah suspects one reason she got the shop was because of lockdown, as it had already been empty for 4 months. In any case, it was a game changer. There was far more space to store the growing quantities of stock arriving each day. There was also a dedicated production area. The location made 'click and collect' orders possible too, which was a whole new revenue stream. Although cash isn’t the only benefit of customers collecting. It's also safer and logistically simpler, because it reduces the supply chain.
Better still, the shop made the business much more visible. During lockdown, SprEHd didn’t have a website. The only non-social media webpage for the company was our very own Edinburgh Lockdown Economy. The listing generated about 15% growth for SprEHd (and brought a fair few new eyes to us, too). The shopfront began to add to the existing customer base, grown through Instagram. The business started to explode.
“I underestimated footfall from the surrounding residents and people on their daily walks to and from Inverleith Park,” Hannah recalls. Suddenly, the professional space and its equipment came into their own. With every SprEHd order prepared on the day, time is of the essence. The stainless steel counters left behind by the previous tenants were quicker and easier to clean. The meat slicer proved to be a wise investment. The cutter sped up production, but it also ensured consistency. “That’s great for the customer, great for the brand, and great for waste control. Oh, and it also provides a good arm workout!”
Such rapid growth is never all plain sailing. “Let’s not talk about Father’s Day,” Hannah sighs, as I do exactly that. The occasion was an insanely busy day for the SprEHd team, with 241 boxes sold. In hindsight, the volume was fine, it was only the last 28 that broke the camel’s back.
“They were a disaster. It was one batch that went out with a different delivery driver. They were 5 hours late and didn't look up to standard. Unsurprisingly, we received lots of negative feedback online.” Hannah didn’t let that deter her though. “I aimed to turn it around with an apology box. I provided good customer service, responding to each comment. It was a learning curve - you can’t run before you walk.”
That was also the weekend when Hannah finished up in her old job. Before SprEHd, she’d worked for the industry body Scotland Food & Drink. The organisation supports food and drink businesses who sign up for membership benefits. Through her role in the UK Market Development department Hannah was seconded to Brakes Scotland. “I worked with a variety of small Scottish suppliers and also gained valuable experience inside a large corporation. As a graduate this was incredible - I got to see the business from both sides."
Diplomatically, Hannah won’t pick a favourite supplier. “They’re all incredible to work with.” As an example, she tells me a story of SprEHd’s busiest period. Hannah sent email orders at 2am on Wednesday morning and her stock arrived on Friday morning. No problem.
SprEHd’s suppliers have offered Hannah more than prompt service though. “I’m always seeking advice from them - they’re the experts, they know their products inside out. They help me to keep sprEHd evolving and make sure each box has the best of the best! They’ve been very supportive of that. All my suppliers genuinely care, so my aim is to connect them with local communities. I love that we give customers a chance to try products they might not have discovered without sprEHd."
Giving customers what they want is core to SprEHd’s success. But a passion for great local produce also comes naturally to Hannah. She cites Pickles, Six by Nico and Chop House as some of her favourite local businesses. “Six by Nico offers a different experience each time, they’re very entrepreneurial. And Chop House is one of those nice Edinburgh chains. Each one is different but they all reflect an understanding of the market in the city.”
What about a favourite SprEHd product? “If I had to pick a favourite cheese, I’d choose the St Andrews smoked Anster. I’d say it’s the one that we do ‘quality control’ checks on most often! It’s properly smoked, they don’t just add a smoked flavour like some companies do.”
It’s clear not everyone puts quality front of centre. Indeed, if you were cynical you might say that some businesses only use local ingredients so that they appear caring. But that isn’t the case with SprEHd. Championing Scottish suppliers is an integral part of the company’s ethos. “From my experience with Scotland Food & Drink, I knew consumers love Scottish produce. I think channeling ‘local’ quickly put SprEHd ahead of its competitors.”
Hannah’s perception strikes a chord with us at Edinburgh Lockdown Economy. For many businesses, lockdown was a lesson in how much Edinburgh cherishes its own. And because of Hannah’s previous role, this love for local is particularly satisfying for her to see. She plans to become a member of Scotland Food & Drink - and is already looking forward to the networking opportunities and fancy events. (“There’s much less glamour in slicing meat and cheese!”)
Scotland Food & Drink's big events celebrate the people behind Scotland’s ‘natural larder’. They're a chance to network, although that happens through the community anyway. Hannah enjoys swapping SprEHd boxes for products like pasta kits and sharing tales with fellow business owners. It seems that for both businesses and customers, Scottish products represent added value. “People in food and drink love a story, and I’ve got a lot of stories coming out of one box.”
Storytelling is key to any strong brand but Hannah believes branding has driven SprEHd's success too. A recent social media post about her as ‘the face behind the business’ was well received. “Now we’re coming out of lockdown I’m creating a proper push for awareness. It’s great to hear feedback on the brand. I get a much bigger buzz from it than I do from compliments on the boxes, or receiving a lot of orders.”
Central to that branding success is the business’ name. It elegantly captures the concept, referring to local as well as the product. “Pretty impressive really, since my friends and I came up with it on a drunken night out in The Refinery!” The name is also neither impenetrable nor too specific. It leaves scope to broaden the company’s offering.
And with lockdown beginning to ease and deliveries slowing down, this is the time to think of such things. A chance for Hannah to have a breather means time to work out what will happen next with SprEHd.
Hannah is firm that SprEHd will always encourage people to buy local. But perhaps they’ll offer other ways to experience it. Future expansions will honour the core theme of platters, but serve them in different ways.
On the most basic level, this means value adds. Think wine pairings from Belissimo, or delivering the box with flowers. Hannah is currently working on two new products, which will be released with limited availability in return for honest feedback. “I want the sprEHd community to be involved with the new products. I’ve got a good following and I’d like to retain my customers as much as gain new ones. I hope people will be keen to get involved with building the range.”
SprEHd’s first post-lockdown offering is a partnership with Edinburgh Food Social. The social enterprise helps former convicts and homeless people to start careers in food and drink. During the pandemic they’ve fed people from the kitchen in the Pitt market.
Once SprEHd hit sales targets Hannah wanted to donate food to Edinburgh Food Social. They asked instead if she would do something for their volunteers. A week or so later, SprEHd delivered 40 ‘thank you’ boxes. And from now on, SprEHd is donating 50p from each box sold to Edinburgh Food Social. Their chefs are also working on some bespoke products for SprEHd - the boxes are the only place you’ll be able to try them.
Hannah is also exploring catering for other customer types. ‘SprEHd for one’ is often requested. Before, delivering a single serving wasn’t financially viable. It’ll be easier now people can ‘click and collect’ from the shop. “We’ve also played with the concept of doing ‘Subway for charcuterie,’ where you build your own box. That would be fun, and a great way to get the most out of having the shop, too.” Sign me up.
The biggest potential expansion would be into private dining. The idea is to create more of an experience than just a platter in a box. “I was in the pub and overheard people saying they weren’t enjoying being there. They felt watched. I think even as lockdown is easing, people won’t rush out - but they will want to be with their friends, for the atmosphere. So if we offer catering for 6-12 people it’ll fill a sort of middleman market, between our delivery-only lockdown business and how restaurants were pre-COVID. Even if it’s just a short term experience for us, it’ll be a stepping stone to event catering and taking sprEHd to new markets.”
The plan is to do a post-lockdown push with trial groups, until people want to go back to restaurants. Hannah sees it as a possible stepping stone towards event catering. Or maybe a food truck. Or weddings. “Things will happen in a logical order - my braindump of ideas has a timeline!”
Either way, Hannah is embracing the future, whatever it holds. “I’m ready to have failures. I’ve learned what my capacity is, I’ve learned how to fix mistakes and move on, and I’ve come out stronger. I’m very aware that COVID-19 grew demand beyond where it would ever have been. But I’m keen to evolve sprEHd from a business into a brand and maintain success once the next ‘new norm’ arrives.
“So I’ll be swapping my heels for hair nets for the foreseeable future and continue to give this everything. With new and existing customers involved, more people on board to help out - and probably a few more sleepless nights! - I’m excited to see where SprEHd can go. I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve received so far. This is just the beginning.”
Content marketer by day, drummer by night. Full time foodie, travel enthusiast and master of withering wit. Former Londoner turned long-time supporter of Edinburgh businesses.Contact the author
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