A pressing business
PUBLISHED: 11:23 17 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:23 17 March 2015
Tessa Allingham meets Ed Stone, the 24-year-old entrepreneur behind Edward's Cordials
It’s cold inside the old parachute shop hangar. On one of those bleak, still, damp days where not much moves in the winter-muddy fields, where shades of grey and dank brown dominate, and the black, bare branches of trees score the sky, the chill seeps into the old building.
It’s an unlikely place for something as light and sunny and delicious as fruit cordial to be made. But this vaguely dilapidated hangar – at the end of a pot-holed track on the former American airbase in Alpheton – is, for now anyway, the headquarters and beating heart of Edward’s Cordial.
The Edward in the title is Ed Stone, a 24-year old entrepreneur who makes, sells and distributes his range of grown-up but alcohol-free cordials from this unpromising building. He uses locally-grown pressed fruit – strawberries, plums, blackcurrants, rhubarb, elderflower – mixing it with a dash of herbiness – basil, lavender, mint and ginger feature – to accentuate the natural taste. Importantly, he insists, there are no additives.
Ed is soft-spoken, modest and has the mildly bemused air of someone taken aback by rapid success. He launched the business officially at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in November 2013, having won a free stand in a competition. “It was mad,” he says, “but I just had to go with it.”
Mad, yes, especially when Ed explains the backstory. “Summer 2013 I was working at Neal’s Yard near Borough Market. I bought some rhubarb at the market, experimented by boiling it down and straining it through a pillowcase and ended up with a nice pink juice. I love food so I played around a bit, added some lavender, and my flatmates loved it.”
Nothing if not spontaneous, Ed left his job, returned to his parents’ home in Suffolk and started producing cordials. Local agency Holy Cow devised the clever, tongue-in-cheek branding that incorporates Ed’s own cartoons. “They were fab to work with, really creative,” Ed says. “They gauged what the business was, its ethics and my ambitions perfectly.”
It all happened fast though, and Ed admits to having little business nous. He pauses. “Actually, I have none at all. But I do have a skipper qualification.” I clearly look blank, trying to make the link between sailing and making fruit cordial. “It’s about the pressure,” he offers. “I’m good in high pressure situations. I love pressure, it’s exciting.”
And he’s certainly had plenty of pressure recently. When we meet he’s just back from a crucial meeting at the Preston headquarters of Booths, the high-end, north of England supermarket chain.
“They found us at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in September – it was the first trade fair we’d ever done – and all being well we will be supplying 30 Booths stores which is very exciting.” He chats leaning on a pallet of some 2,000 bottles about to be taken to the Taste of London Winter fair at Tobacco Dock, and reels off the other year one successes.
“We’ve sent our first crates to a Scandinavian store, we won a gold star for the strawberry and mint and rhubarb and lavender cordials in the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste awards, we’ve had snippets in Vogue and Tatler, and I’ve recently signed a wholesale deal which should get us into 400 or so shops from Scotland to Kent.” Closer to home, Ed had a fantastic time at his first Aldeburgh Food & Drink Fair, loved the Whitsun and Christmas markets in Bury and is a regular at Lavenham farmers’ market.
Ed’s ambition is naked. “2014 was about testing the water, but I want to take the business as far as it can go. Next year is going to be huge.”
He insists, however, that the East Anglian roots will always be important and he is fully determined to stick with Manningtree fruit growers, D C Williamson, as the key supplier.
“Fruit arrives cold-pressed and we mix it with sugar at a low temperature so as not to lose the fruitiness, then add citric acid to temper the sweetness. We steep the herbs overnight in the juice, drain off, bottle, cap and gently pasteurise.” Ed thinks nothing of hand-labelling every bottle, sometimes persuading his family and girlfriend Lydia to help out.
“They have been so supportive,” he says. Ed’s sister takes care of admin and his brother, Will, is a useful ideas person.
“My parents have been so patient. I used their kitchen to prepare for the NEC show – I don’t know how they put up with it!”
Not surprisingly, for someone his age, Ed squeezes the pips out of social media. His Facebook page and Twitter feed buzz; interaction seems to pour from the pages amid shouty capital letters – AWESOME!! YAAAY!! WAHOO!! – and forests of exclamation marks. These are the virtual platforms where Ed talks about his plans for bigger bottles, for smaller ready-to-go sizes, shares his excitement at national distribution, cheers awards won and debates the merits of new flavour combinations. Beetroot and ginger is a possibility, along with other superfood – and veggie – based cordials).
“If it wasn’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t have connected with Flavourly.com, an Edinburgh-based gourmet food delivery service which now buys my cordials. It’s nice to have a social following on Twitter, but it’s even more important to make connections – it’s incredibly powerful.”
Is he nervous at the idea of expansion?
“Petrified! But I have great support. I’m in pretty much daily contact with Julian [Pollard, founder] at Scarlett and Mustard who has been a fantastic mentor.
“I realise it’s easy enough to start a business, but maintaining it and growing it is hard. It is lonely at times – sometimes I find I’m talking to myself! – but I’ve always wanted to do my own thing because it’s more exciting. This job definitely never bores me! I love it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”