Sam Feller has always been passionate about food and travel, but it was a chance encounter with gourmet popcorn in the States that led him to quit his job in property management, team up with his cousin Laura and start on a mission to create their own, better version of this popular snack. And so Popcorn Shed was born. We spoke to him to hear the full story.

Tell us a bit more about the Popcorn Shed

At Popcorn Shed we are making gourmet popcorn the way it should be: by hand, using all natural ingredients, carefully sourced, lovingly crafted and free of any nasty preservatives or additives.

And where are you based? 

We are based in Kentish Town, London and have a satellite office in Shoreditch

How long have you been working on it and where are you in your journey at the moment?

The idea came to us about 2 years ago and we have been on a popping journey ever since. We have 3 delicious recipes; we’ve set up our fulfilment and manufacturing; we’re sold in over 100 farm shops, delicatessens and speciality shops; and finally we recently exported to Ireland, Denmark, the USA and Canada. 

How did the idea for this business come about – why popcorn in particular?

After a trip to the US, we discovered gourmet popcorn and we were bowled over with how tasty the popcorn was and how many different flavour combinations there were across the pond.  

We came back to the UK feeling inspired, so we set ourselves a challenge to make the finest and tastiest all natural gourmet popcorn in the world, using flavour concoctions and textural inclusions that tasted better than the ones we had tried in the States.  

After months in the kitchen (we managed to blow up a popcorn machine and break a hob in the process!) we finally hit on a winning recipe and had so many requests from friends and family that we ended up making so much we had to store it in my mum’s garden shed.  My family started calling it the Popcorn Shed, and that’s how we named our business.   

Who would you say is your target customers?

Popcorn Shed aims to reach affluent, pleasure seeking adults who are brand conscious, innovators and trend followers!  Our packaging really makes us stand out in the popcorn category.

Our consumers tend to be health conscious adults who are not only interested in premium indulgence but who also prefer natural ingredients and appreciate great taste.

popcorn shed

What do you think is your biggest ‘unique selling point’ compared to your competitors?

Our beautiful packaging and exceptional taste make us a stand out choice for the category. Our gourmet popcorn is the best tasting popcorn in the UK, and our beautiful little ‘sheds’ make us perfect for sharing occasions and gifting.

Tell us about your funding. Are there any specific stories here?

Our business has been self-funded from savings by myself and my business partner and cousin Laura. Laura moved back in with her parents to save and I air-bnb’d out my second bedroom to help fund the business!

Is this your first startup venture?

We have always talked about starting a business together.  When we left university, we both went into full time jobs in the city, but we both ran successful businesses in our free time alongside our day jobs. I organised student club nights, wrote and published information products online and Laura organised networking weekend aways, dinner parties and a pop up bakery. As first cousins, we were always talking about how great it’d be to one day run our own family business together.

Let’s chat about you’re yourself a bit more. What is your family background and what was general childhood like? Did this have any influence on your journey?

Our families are food-obsessed people and this had a huge influence on our upbringing. All of our family celebrations have inevitably been food based, and we manage to bring food to every important occasion of our lives. Our families have a rich culinary heritage, and good quality food is a very important part of our lives and tradition. You could say it is in our blood.

I personally am a food fanatic and globe trotter. I love to travel and have travelled throughout the globe – to all continents in fact! Some of my favourite trips have been when culinary exploits have combined with visiting beautiful locations, such as learning how to make Thailand’s favourite dish, Pad Thai in Chiang Mai, and making Vietnamese Pho in Nha Trang.  As I mentioned it wasn’t until a recent trip to the United States, that I discovered gourmet popcorn – and when I couldn’t find the same amazing flavours back home in the UK I decided to replicate them myself at home.

sam feller popcorn shed london startup

What about your academic and professional background?

After school I went to university and studied geography, then worked in commercial property management for 6 years, but I always wanted to run my own business full time.

I have a strong passion for business, having founded and run two weekly student club nights on the London nightlife scene for over five years. As sole director of the business, I was responsible for marketing, promotions and operations, and ran the business alongside my day job in property management. This experience in financial management and operations have helped me tremendously with Popcorn Shed.

Tell us about your hobbies. Do you have any passions to help you find balance?

Laura and I are adrenalin junkies. We trained together and completed a climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, and two gruelling marathons – one in London and the other in Rwanda.  Together, we raised over £12,000 for charitable causes.  I think saying we are both very competitive is an understatement.  We both tend to egg each other on to take on crazy (read: stupidly difficult) challenges.

Do you have any role models who you think inspired you to take on this journey?

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame) are pretty much our idols.  We have photos of them in the office and we’ve read up all about their trials and tribulations in business.  We hope to walk in their footsteps and become a multi-million dollar brand one day!

You’ve mentioned your cousin Laura as being your business partner. Any stories you can share about her?

Laura Jackson is my business partner and co-founder, and yes she also happens to be my cousin so I’ve known her for a pretty long time!  When we were young we used to bake together all the time, making a grand old mess in our parents’ kitchens!

Laura is a self-proclaimed foodie with food being a central part of her life and family traditions for as long as she can remember. Her passion for sharing her food creations begun at the age of 9, selling homemade slush puppies to neighbours during a hot summer. Laura sold fudge at food exhibitions during her time at university, and her first job as a graduate “in the real world” was traversing the streets of London and ‘cold calling’ face-to-face in restaurants and cafes selling iced coffee (during what turned out to be one of the wettest summers on record!).

Laura has worked as a management consultant for a large worldwide consultancy firm for over 6 years, consulting for a number of FTSE 100 companies. Alongside her day job she has run a number of events (club nights, singles dinner parties and weekends away for young professionals) and a pop-up bakery. Laura was nominated for Brummell’s 2015 ‘Ones to Watch’

On the popcorn side Laura says that she associates popcorn with being a positive food, you eat it during positive moments, sharing with friends and with family. She admits to having a sweet tooth and what started out as an idea borne from our love of sharing food has really blossomed into a decision to pursue a dream: creating the best popcorn that anyone could enjoy!

popcorn shed

What would you say is the most exciting moment to date in running the Popcorn Shed?

Getting contacted by Harrods to list the product range the month after we launched was pretty exciting.  I think we thought, “Hold on, we’re on to something here!”

What about the toughest moment? What happened? What kept you going?

We made a very big mistake in the beginning with our popcorn bags and soon realised that the shelf life was only a few weeks because we used the wrong type of packaging material. This meant we had to throw away hundreds of bags of popcorn… We were totally gutted!  We believe that every cloud has a silver lining and so we used all the stock for some pictures for social media… check out the bath photos and raining popcorn photos!  I am pleased to say we have now sorted the packaging material issue and our popcorn now has an 8 month shelf life!

And finally, if you were to offer someone considering a startup one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never be afraid to ask for help from others in the industry, particularly when you’re first starting out.  Their advice, particularly in the early days, can save you a lot of time and money.

 

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About The Author

Director

Born and raised in China, Sean came to the UK in 2004, he spent a number of years working in the digital marketing field. Being somewhat of an entrepreneur himself, Sean started his own small digital marketing agency in 2013, where he experienced the excitement (and trials) of his own startup, and so the seed for Startup Empire was planted. He aims for entrepreneurs to not only find inspiration from the stories on Startup Empire, but for VCs and Angels to also find potential Startups with whom to broaden their investment portfolios. When not at his desk Sean can be found tickling the ivories, writing his own piano melodies or relaxing with a book. When he’s feeling energetic he indulges in his passion for Latin dancing with a spin around the dance floor!

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