The craft beer scene is big business. Hundreds of challenger brands have emerged over the past decade or more to take a bite – well, sip – out of the market share of the mainstream breweries.
Some craft beer-makers have become established names, such as controversial Scottish brand BrewDog, while others have been snapped up by the industry titans – Camden Town Brewery was bought out by the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, in 2015.
But while Britain’s appetite for craft beer has grown, reflected in how pubs across the UK have expanded the range of drinks they offer, pub snacks haven’t quite kept up. Bog-standard bags of crisps, nuts, and pork scratchings still abound behind most bars.
This is a problem that premium snack food company Serious Pig has set out to solve.
George Rice and his co-founder Johnny Bradshaw noticed the discrepancy between the high quality of beer and the lacklustre bar food options while drinking at the Junction Tavern in north London in 2009.
They wanted to capitalise on this gap and offer better snacks to go with a pub session, and liked the concept of making a “posh Peperami” – the salami sausage snack that’s a staple of schoolchildren’s packed lunches. Thus the idea for the company was born.
“It was always the same boring snacks behind the bar,” recalls Rice, now managing director of Serious Pig. “I just thought, hey, where’s the good version of a Peperami?”
Rice and Bradshaw wanted to make their quality salami snack using British-farmed pork, but finding the right suppliers and developing the recipe took some time – while the pair formed the company in 2009, they did not launch a product until 2012.
“The bottleneck to getting to launch was that we wanted to use British pork, and we wanted it to be made here in the UK, because we have higher welfare standards,” explains Rice.
Seven years on, and the Peckham-based company is thriving. Along with its snacking salami, Serious Pig sells bags of bite-sized pork slices, flavoured pork crackling (pictured right), packets of peanuts and almonds, and a range of crunchy cheese snacks. And having sampled a few of these goods, I must admit that they’re delicious.
Rice’s ambition is for the company to offer 40 different products in three years’ time. It has already achieved decent market penetration: as well as being on sale in pubs around the UK, Serious Pig products are stocked in supermarket chains such as the Co-op and Tesco. It’s a premium product, and is priced accordingly – one Serious Pig salami stick from Tesco costs £1.50, double the price of a Peperami stick, and averages £2 in pubs.
But people don’t seem put off by the pricing – last year, the company achieved turnover of £449,000.
As with many innovative businesses in our increasingly digital economy, Serious Pig has taken advantage of crowdfunding to finance growth.
Notably, BrewDog co-founder James Watt invested in the company’s first round of fundraising in 2015, and Rice is currently managing a second round. According to the listing on Crowdcube, it is valued at almost £7.5m.
“I’m really excited about the crowdfunding” says Rice. “It’s a bit addictive. I keep looking at the app, because every time an investment is made my phone pings and I get an email notification. I’ve been putting my phone on silent at night.”
The proceeds from the fundraiser will be used for sales and marketing, and to pay for sampling to encourage more people to try Serious Pig’s wares.
“We’ll be out and about letting people try the product, because we know that when they try it, they come back to buy it.”
Hogging the spotlight
Some might question the move to build a brand around meat and dairy snacks in 2019. As we saw with “Veganuary”, vegetarianism and veganism are becoming more popular than ever. Animal farming has come under fire not just on welfare grounds, but also for its impact on the environment.
Has that change of public sentiment caused any issues for Serious Pig?
“We’re seeing people eating less meat. I’m certainly doing that, but when I do eat it, I spend a bit more and eat better quality meat,” says Rice.
“Better quality equals better welfare, and that’s something I’m encouraging. If the consumer stops demanding lower prices, the supermarkets and all the way up the supply chain will stop cutting corners, and ultimately the animals will have better welfare.”
Serious Pig is closely tied to the craft beer sector – the company even calls itself a craft food producer. This is fine while craft beer is still in favour with consumers, but it’s becoming a crowded market, and even a small economic downturn could lead to some casualties in the sector.
But Serious Pig is in a good position. It’s sitting in the less-contested premium snack food category, and has plenty of other directions in which to achieve future growth, from targeting more retailers, to increasing its product range, and exporting abroad – currently, the firm focuses just on the UK.
A great philosopher (well, cartoon character Homer Simpson) once said that alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. It’s also helpful for coming with new ideas.
Rice thought up his company while drinking a beer, so perhaps the next great business or invention will come from someone having a pint while chewing on Serious Pig salami.