Since September last year there has been a distinct lack of communication from Roots HQ. What a lot of folks don’t know is that Roots is really a one man show, which is me; Mark. When I started Roots in 2012 I was fortunate enough to have some friends help me with various aspects along the way. Some, such as Jon, hoped to be more involved but found that balancing a full time job and Roots was not going to work.
These days there are two people that help out as much as they can, my better half Cristina, and Chris Davey. The reason I mention all this is because since early last year I wanted to make a few changes at Roots, however the day to day running of the company took up all my time and made it impossible.
When Roots launched in bottle form last year I had problems from the get go. Basically, I could sell it much faster than I could make it. I really did not expect this to happen, I had thought that Roots would be difficult to sell initially, and I reasoned during that period I would have the time to iron out bugs in Roots. But here I was spending all my time trying to keep up with demand.
Everything at Roots was done by hand. For example, I was asked on numerous occasions about the handwritten dates and batch numbers on our labels. These were only handwritten because I could not afford a printer to do it for me.
I decided to try and work more hours to overcome Roots’ equipment shortfalls. Perhaps if I worked hard enough I could make enough money to buy the equipment I needed.
Every evening, every weekend, for close to six months I worked, I did have a couple of half days off and one or two nights out but it was generally all work. Shifts could sometimes go over the 24 hour mark, but it did work…kind of. Each month I managed to double what I sold the previous month.
September started really well and in the first week I sold the same amount of soda that I had sold in the whole month of August. Physically though, at that rate of selling no matter how many extra hours I worked with the equipment I had, I could no longer make enough soda to keep up. The capacity at Roots was just not big enough and the process was too slow.
I decided I would have to take time out. First to raise money for new equipment, and secondly to look at what had been going on with Roots in detail and iron out the bugs.
When I first started Roots my initial idea was to make a soda in the best way possible. To do that I was using whole, high quality ingredients, with the absolute minimum of processing. I would use sugar, but a raw cane sugar that was much less refined. Finally I would make them for adults, I would not aim them at kids.
To make the sodas I wanted to make I needed to use the highest quality fruit, and because I was using whole fruits juices with minimal processing, I needed to use a lot of fruit juice to get a full flavour. I saw a lot of premium fizzy drinks made with about 14% fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate. Hoodoo is nearly 50% whole fruit juice. High quality fruit is expensive and some of the more exotic fruit we use for these new flavours is more so.
When I first took Roots to the Edinburgh Farmers Markets in 2012, I sold our sodas in 250ml portion sizes. I also sold them for £2.50 each. I reasoned that there would be people out there like myself who wanted a soda now and then, but one that was all natural and less processed. I thought that they would understand the price due to the quality of ingredients. I also reasoned that folks such as myself are prepared to pay £2.20 - £2.50 for a small but high quality coffee, or a small smoothie for around £2.20.
Ok, so why have I been talking about bugs in Roots, portion sizes, and prices? Well just before Roots launched in bottles there was a dilemma of sorts. Initially we were going to use a 250-275ml bottle, the same portion size as the soda we sold on tap at the Edinburgh Farmers Markets. However the only bottles I could find in a 250-275ml size were clear ones. Brown or amber bottles do not allow harmful UV light to penetrate into the product breaking it down and causing off flavours. Clear bottles do.
Roots was all about making a soda in the best way possible and we could not compromise on the quality of our juice, it meant we would have to use a 330ml brown bottle to begin with.
So when I effectively shut Roots down, I began by looking at the numbers. As expected the 330ml portion size was causing problems.
Still I carried on working out a plan to make our soda on a bigger scale, hoping to find a way to make the 330ml bottle work. I put together a shopping list of equipment that would allow me to make soda quicker and in larger quantities. I checked my calculations to see if my setup would be feasible but again the figures were not great. I would need to sell a colossal amount of soda to have any kind of a chance of making Roots work in 330ml. We would need distribution throughout the UK, and we would need to lower our price so distributors could sell it to stockists for the same price as us. When I put an allowance into my spreadsheets for distribution the results were then really bad. Even with an extremely ambitious sales forecast and with distribution, Roots would make a loss.
I had felt from the start that there would be a ceiling on the price people would pay for a soda, and at Roots we are at that ceiling in terms of what we sell our soda to our stockist for. Raising our prices for the 330ml bottle just did not seem like an option. It seemed then that Roots was over.
I told a few friends and family members that Roots was going to close. I would then let everyone else know a few days later, once I had honoured the remaining orders.
The following morning, after the thought of Roots closing had finally sunk in, I went out on my last delivery run. I was frustrated because I felt given time to work out the kinks, Roots could work. I mean, it was not like I could not sell it. As I drove around I remembered the choice that had to be made with the bottle and the bottle size. The problem was still the same; where do I get a smaller brown bottle in the shape we use?
I do not come from a food and drink background and I did not know all the possible bottle suppliers out there. As good as the internet is, sometimes you just cant find what you are looking for. As Roots launched I figured that I would learn some things as I went along. I never got to know the bottle manufacturers, but I had been keeping every bit of paper that came with the bottles we had been buying.
When I got back in from that delivery run I pulled out all those bits of paper. From there I traced the bottles back to Germany and got in touch with the manufacturer. I found that they did make a 250ml amber bottle and better still, they made it in our shape. So I went back to my spreadsheets and put in all the new numbers; smaller bottles with an allowance for distribution…Roots worked.
From that point forward I raised money and began overhauling everything under the hood of Roots. I have bought equipment to label our bottles and print the batch numbers and best before dates. I have purchased new equipment that speeds up the bottling process and the juice making. Not only is everything faster but we have custom tanks being manufactured which will arrive soon, increasing our capacity 700%.
With Chris’s help the bottle labels were overhauled, which had to be done in order to ensure Roots worked commercially. Reducing the bottle size was not enough alone to get our margins where they needed to be, again I was not prepared to take anything away from our soda.
I have talked about all this because our customers are going to see our soda on the shelves in a smaller volume but at the same price. I am not ashamed to admit that I made a mistake launching with the bigger bottle, one which I now need to amend. I hope by telling the full story you will understand why I have done this. I have faced Roots closing and it was really heartbreaking the thought of it failing without giving it my best shot. And that is why I changed it because I am not prepared to give up just yet.
Peace be with you brothers and sisters.
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