Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Burts

Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Burts

Article excerpt

Its crisps are favoured by Michelin-starred chefs, so it's little wonder Burts' fryers get fan mail.

Burts potato chips' quality control centre has a uniquely personal touch, explains Nick Hurst, patting his rounded stomach as he draws the tour of his Wonka-like crisp factory to a close. 'My wife would quite like to have it shut down,' he adds.

If the framed Coutts' cheque on the office wall is anything to go by, such a move would meet some high-level opposition. Burts is no run-of-the-mill crisp operation - the potato fryers receive fan mail, the delivery lorries run on recycled sunflower oil and the range of flavours includes such oddities as Bloody Mary.

Based on the edge of Kingsbridge, South Devon, in a converted parcel shed, Burts was set up by entrepreneur Richard Burt in 1997, with the aim of creating the perfect handmade crisp.

By 2001, Burt had achieved regional dominance for the brand. He sold Burts to its present owners Jonty White and Hurst, both then estate agents, who have since taken the brand nationwide.

It now sells 6.5m packs of premium crisps a year to farm shops, delis and visitor attractions, including the Eden Project and the Tower of London.

With the exception of Waitrose, Burts will not supply supermarkets.

Food critics and celebrity chefs form orderly queues to proclaim them 'the best crisps in the land'. Alain Ducasse, the only chef to have held eight Michelin stars at once, runs a Paris deli and stocks just one English product - Burts crisps.

'We always want to be ahead of the game,' explains Hurst, 'whether that's working with Plymouth University to recycle our sunflower oil into bio fuel, or putting the name of the person who fried the chips on the back of packets.'

The latter decision has proved very successful, giving the brand a quirky edge. Letters from the public arrive daily, conveying such sentiments as 'a special thanks to Mark for frying my chips', while cookery writer and Observer columnist Nigel Slater recently admitted he finds himself rifling through the box for the bag fried by Roger.

Customers can look up each fryer's profile on the company's website and there are plans to include a 'cigarette card' in each pack featuring the fryer. This seems less strange when one considers that the fryer's technique has an impact on the crisp's colour and shape. The fryers need between six and nine months' experience before they are allowed to fry alone.

The company's growth rate is 60% a year, a feat made all the more remarkable by its lack of supermarket presence. 'It was a conscious decision not to go into supermarkets, except Waitrose, which operates like an old-fashioned food hall,' explains Hurst. …

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