This is the difference between pork scratchings and pork crackling: scratchings are cooked at one temperature, which is why they can be perilously hard. Crackling has two meanings: it’s the stuff on top of belly of pork; it’s also pieces of skin and fat cooked at a lower temperature with a short burst of more heat to finish them off. There are also rinds – an American thing – which are leaner, lighter and fluffier, and puff up.
I learnt this very quickly after meeting Nick Coleman and Andrew Allen, self-confessed meat lovers, crackling specialists and founders of the Snaffling Pig Company. You may have seen them on Dragons’ Den last Sunday. I didn’t, but they sent me a 1.5 litre jar of pepper flavoured crackling, which two of us on the Business Features team demolished in 24 hours. If you like pork-based snacks, this is probably the most addictive thing you will ever eat.
“But your products are air cooked, aren’t they?” I ask. They aren’t, actually – and that’s why they taste so good. “It is what it is,” says Allen. “We cook with premium meat and oil in the heart of the Black Country. You’re never going to convince a vegetarian, but it is a by-product, which is something. And it’s great for a low-carb diet. But you don’t make this kind of product and try and pretend it’s something it isn’t.”
Two years ago, Aylesbury-based Snaffling Pig was just an idea. Coleman already ran and owned a medical supplies business, but “wanted to start a consumer business – and I saw the opportunity in pork scratchings.” Actually launching the company was the result of a bet. “A friend of mine challenged me to start a business with £500. And I spent that on getting a designer to build really lovely product packaging.”
Coleman had known ad agency founder Allen since student days – they ran Aston University’s guild together, and the latter was an usher at the former’s wedding. “Nick came to me and said, ‘I’ve designed this but it’s not really working, can you take a look?’”, explains Allen. “Then he announced he was off on holiday, so I was just left with it for a couple of weeks.” By the time Coleman arrived home, Allen has done a “huge amount” of research and re-designed the whole brand.
Eighteen months ago, they started trading with a couple of flavours – it was “still a side project” then. Now, Snaffling Pig offers 11 flavours, in addition to complementary products like cider, beer and Pig of Doom hot sauce. Go on the website now and you can buy a Torresmo Brazilian special flavour. “Obviously, we’re not an official sponsor of Rio, so we go with ‘Olympigs’,” says Allen.
At the beginning of the year, the pair were turning over £400,000. That figure is now £800,000 and, by the end of the financial year, they’re aiming for £2.2m. “It’s ambitious, but we’re confident we can do it,” says Coleman. “It’ll take both of us – but you can’t do this sort of thing without a partner anyway.” Allen adds: “if this business was just me running it, it’d still be a pretty PowerPoint. If it was just Nick, he’d probably be in jail.”
Off to market
Their strategy is heavily focused on gifting. The pair have “solved the male present problem. Not that this is just for men, obviously, but it moves you on from socks,” says Allen. Wedding favours are increasingly popular – it makes a change from sugared almonds, at least. In supermarkets, it’s key that “pubs aren’t cannibalised. We really don’t want a situation where someone can pop into the supermarket down the road from a pub and get the same item cheaper,” says Coleman. Snaffling Pig crackling is already sold in Selfridges, Fenwick and Caviar House – “crackling, caviar and champagne sounds odd, but it appears to work!”
You may have heard some of this being relayed on last week’s episode of Dragon’s Den. Coleman and Allen were “hoping that Nick Jenkins would be interested”, and the Moonpig founder delivered, investing £70,000 in their business. “It was an incredible experience, we prepped a ridiculous amount, but you’re still edited to look like you don’t really know what you’re talking about.” The pair also looked “pretty cocksure to say the least”. Shortly after they appear on camera, Coleman is caught pointing at pictures of the Dragons and declaring “I’ll tame you, I’ll tame you!”. “We were told the cameras were off... but there were actually GoPros everywhere,” he explains. All the same, the pair signed the deal with Jenkins a month ago and, between filming and the show airing, saw 100 per cent growth. Moreover, since the show, they’ve had “tremendous feedback”, with people ordering while it was airing, and sending in family eating snaps.
This is impressive, but perhaps not surprising: reinventing old favourites can be highly lucrative. It took two years, Coleman points out, for the popcorn market to grow from £55m to £105m because of attention paid to it by those innovating an old favourite. “If you’re spending £3 or £4 on a pint, you want a quality snack to go with it,” says Coleman. The company’s products are already in 900 pubs, and the pair are talking to some large chains. “The most important thing for us is distribution. You’ve got to nail it across the country and ensure free delivery for pubs, otherwise scaling is going to be extremely tough.”
International expansion is firmly on the horizon. “There are plenty of markets that’d work. America, South America, the Philippines, Germany, Denmark, Spain... Americans spend $400m a year on pork rinds. We did our first export at the end of last year to Dubai. There are 1m expats out there, and they’ve been re-ordering since,” says Coleman. Allen explains that they’re keen, in time, to expand into other snacks, too. “Having a portfolio is really important. Not bringing in new products is where traditional snack companies went a bit wrong. Other people will move in behind us, the brand could get squeezed, and that means diversification is key. There are lots of things we’d like to do – we’re just working out now where we’ll go.”
In the meantime, an important step has been forming a relationship with Action Against Hunger – customers will be able to add a donation on a couple of products. “It’s just about being human, isn’t it?” says Coleman. “There’s a way of going about it – we’re not Toms or Gandhi’s – but this is an indulgent snack product, you don’t need to eat it. Having the option to give to those who struggle to eat just seemed like a nice way to do our bit.”