Stuart Prescott (Founder)

5th Season Fruit Snacks

Stuart Prescott (Founder)

Netherlands

The idea is almost worthless, if you don’t act on it.

Questions & Answers

Praveen

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Stuart

The idea for 5th Season started probably three and a half years ago. I studied nutrition in University, so I was always very passionate about healthy eating and the foods that we eat. During my time at university, I realised that I didn't want to go into the health side of things in terms of work in hospitals and advising for Nutrition and Dietetics. I was always more interested in food science and product development. So during my time at university, I picked modules that led me towards that career.

After graduating I got a job with a Company called Diageo. Great company to work with. They gave me the foundation of my product development skills and a chance to learn from the experts in the field. However, after around nearly three years, I decided that I was going to leave the company, because it was such a huge multinational company, that you lose your sense of what it takes to develop a product. You don't really get an insight into the end to end process.-  you're just one cog in a very big machine.

So I left that and joined a company called Mizkan, a Japanese company that at the time was branching into Europe. That was a combination of branded and private label business; I went there as an NPD manager. And that's when I really understood the full length-to-length development process, right from creating an idea, pitching the idea of developing it, putting it through a factory and commercialising that product.

Praveen

That seemed to be going well. What happened next?

Stuart

Then an opportunity came up. I'm really passionate about the ideation side of things. I got approached by Kettle Chips, and got to focus on the front-end innovation. So it's anything from ideation through to kitchen sign-off, and then it was handed over to someone else that would then do the factory side of things. So when I first saw this, I was really excited about creating the concepts, coming up with the ideas and doing the really innovative stuff. During my time at Kettle Foods, that's when the trend for healthy eating really started taking off. The sales of crisps were going down as people were converting over to healthy products.

Praveen

What kind of food trends did you notice?

Stuart

People were becoming a lot more aware of what they were eating and their eating habits over time changed. So instead of having three traditional meals a day, people started ‘grazing’ throughout the day. What people therefore looked for in snacks changed. Snacking today is not just about hunger and more about the role that snack plays in their overall diet.  Obviously, the indulgence trend is still there, people aren't going to stop eating crisps and chocolate. But especially between Sunday through to Thursday people are becoming a lot more aware of what they were eating.

I always wanted to go back to my roots in nutrition and work with products that are genuinely healthy. It’s quite ironic that everything started with a nutrition degree, but I’ve worked in some of the unhealthiest categories possible. So it's actually nice to have a business as in 5th Season where, people can actually eat as much as they want and it's only going to be good for them.

Praveen

Tell me about your co-founders and how you began this journey?

Stuart

There are two co-founders of the business – myself and Tiffany. Tiffany’s background is within marketing. We actually originally met skiing and got talking. We both love fruit, and the whole idea about eating five-a-day, but we also realised that a lot of people don’t achieve their five-a-day.

When we started talking about it, we realised that everyone knows they should be eating fruit, people like eating fruit, but it's just not that convenient. And there's always situations where you have the best intentions to eat fruit, but it just doesn't happen.

Like, if you've got a bunch of bananas, you've got to time it perfectly, right? Because you buy them unripe, but once perfectly ripe you’ve only got a short time window to eat them.

So we decided, let's do a fruit-based snack.

Praveen

What is the unique selling point of 5th Season fruits and snacks?

Stuart

In the beginning we looked at competitors in the market and what other products we were going up against. We were really shocked at how bad they actually are for you.

As a consumer, you put so much trust into believing that this is a genuinely healthy product for you. Then you look actually at how it's being processed, it's shocking! So we set ourselves the mission to be the closest thing to fresh fruit, but with the convenience that dried fruit brings. And to do that we landed on the innovative freeze drying process and that is our unique position within the market.

Our key competitors use different methodologies and therefore we are the only 100% fruit brand that can achieve this without any preservatives, flavours, added sugar, added fat, anything at all. There is only one ingredient in our packs and that’s the fruit itself.

Praveen

Why did you choose the freeze-drying process?

Stuart

There are a couple of reasons why we chose the freeze-drying process. One is because we could preserve the fruit without needing to add anything back. We also love how the fruit keeps its shape. For example, our whole strawberries are still whole strawberries, just completely dry throughout - they don’t shrivel up like raisins. The process happens below 50 degrees, so the flavour doesn't change, the colour doesn't change. Whereas in more traditional baked products, they are pretty much putting it in an oven to drive the moisture out of the product, which changes the flavour profile. Whereas, because the process to temperature or freeze dried is so much lower, it actually tastes like fresh ripe fruit, which is incredible. People are always surprised that our products actually taste of the fresh fruit.

However, the most important reason we chose the freeze-frying process is because the dried fruit retains far more nutrients than anything else. 90% of what is in fresh fruit is still within our packs for 18 months versus if it were like raisins or something like that, there would be between zero and 30% of the nutrient composition left. So, really it then becomes a compromise versus eating fresh fruit. There is no real compromise between eating a pack 5th Season or eating fresh fruit. You just don’t need to worry about preparing the fruit, refrigerating it, it going mouldy, or anything like that.

Praveen

Can you recall the eureka moment when this idea came up?

Stuart

Yeah, it started just from a basic conversation between me and Tiffany. Both of us are genuinely interested in food because we're from the industry. Then with just a bit of research, the light bulb moment was when we realised our opportunity was to bridge the gap between fresh and traditional dried fruit.

Praveen

Are there big players in the snacking market that you had to go against?

Stuart

No. The snacking market is very fragmented. There are some big fruit brands but no one is owning the freeze-dried fruit sector. We also know that there is some cross over between 5th Season and fresh fruit.

Praveen

Do you have global ambition for scaling your business?

Stuart

Since launch, we've always been in the Netherlands and in the UK for a number of different reasons. We know that the fruit snacking market isn't big enough to be just in one country. We do have a plan for the two markets that we're in and we want to grow those. But we also know that there are other opportunities, for example, Germany, France, Nordic countries, and then maybe, further down the line, America.

Praveen

Did you have any entrepreneurial fear when you set out on this journey?

Stuart

Oh, it's terrifying! Anyone can have a great idea, and I'm sure other people have come up with the idea of the 5th Season before. But the difference as an entrepreneur is you act on it. The idea is almost worthless, if you don’t act on it. You thrive off that idea that you need to keep going. It does push entrepreneurs, because you're putting your life on the line.

Praveen

What's your five-year plan? Or I could say… where do you see 5th Season in five years?

Stuart

So within five years, our plan is to get more market traction in the UK and in the Netherlands. We will also be in two other European countries by that point, within five years. And there will be additional products and probably additional categories within that. So we base ourselves as a fruit brand, but there's still more to go out. As I mentioned, a lot of people want to give the product to their kids. So there's probably an opportunity for a kid-specific pack, which then, although still within snacking, is a different category within the market.

Praveen

As we are going through the pandemic, what was the impact of COVID-19 on your business?

Stuart

Huge, huge.

We had to completely rethink the business as a result. Initially, we thought the pandemic would be three months and it would just be a temporarily switch in focus for us. But the longer it's gone on, the more I think everyone's realised that this is not going away anytime soon.

We operate across multiple channels like cafes, offices, contract catering and we were fortunate that we had that in place. Cafes, bars, farm shops closed overnight, we also lost some wholesale business. Our grocery account was stable. I’ve heard that the impulse category dropped almost 90% due to Covid. The reason for this being the convenience factor went away. When people are at home, they have more time. However, in grocery there was a shortage of fresh-fruit so people were looking for alternatives and turned to 5th Season.

But then we saw the growth was online, and we had to completely pivot our business to become focused on our direct-to-consumer offering. Previously this was seen as something in the background as we’ve also had our own web shop and sell on Amazon. With everyone turning to online we saw about 1400% growth online throughout lockdown.

Praveen

What would you advise someone starting new in the food industry?

Stuart

If I could offer any advice to any startup business, I would actually not focus on the trade and focus almost entirely on the direct consumer to start with. Because that's where you can build that loyalty. There are some great examples of brands that have made it, that only had direct consumers, for example, Graze.

Also, increase your networking, take advice, join startup groups. The startup space is very friendly and people are happy to help each other. I would also encourage people to look quite closely at their finances. I think a lot of people are very optimistic when they start out - things take longer and are more expensive than you ever think they're going to be.

Praveen

Where can customers find find 5th Season?

Stuart

 In the UK you will find 5th Season stocked in select Sainsbury’s and Revital. You can also buy online from Amazon, TheVeganKind Supermarket and of course our website www.5thseasonfruit.com

 

Praveen

Stuart, thank you very much. You have a lovely day, and I'll look out for 5th Season products in the supermarket and I may send a few packs to my team. We can all do with some healthy snacking! 

To find more about yummy, fresh and healthy snacks please visit https://www.5thseasonfruit.com/