Cherrygood: John Heseltine

Did you know that cherries contains more antioxidants than any other fruit and are said to help prevent insomnia and to slow down the aging process? Although unknown to the average consumer, these health benefits have been seized upon by John Heseltine, who founded the UK’s fastest growing fruit juice brand, Cherrygood, in 2008. Juice and smoothie sales may have dropped by £114m over the past two years, but Cherrygood is bucking the trend, reaching £1.2m turnover last year and ripening John’s appetite for growth. 

Having set up and sold juice-bar chain, Lovejuice for £3.4m in 2007, John was on the hunt for his next big venture. Reading about the health benefits of cherries, he noticed the UK retail market was completely devoid of cherry juice. Then, while travelling across the US, John discovered that Montmorency cherries, from the ‘cherry belt’ in Michigan, had the highest level of antioxidants of all cherry types. Once he started to develop strong relationships with the local farmers, the business idea started to ferment.

John and his business partner Martin Hall run Cherrygood from their office in East London. They deal directly with the cherry growers in Michigan , making sure all the cherries are carefully selected and crushed at the source, before shipping the nectar to the Netherlands where it’s blended and packaged. From there it is sold and distributed to supermarkets around Europe; at present in the UK, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose all stock the brand.     While the cherry crops were easy enough to procure, funding has been a major challenge. “The banks have not been helpful,” says John. “We even approached them when we’d secured sales with the major supermarkets, but they were all dismissive.” John and Martin initially financed the business with their own savings and some early stage angel funding. Once they had half a million pounds in the bank, they were finally able to start trading.

John teamed up with Windfall Drinks to launch Cherrygood in the UK. The renowned sales-agency managed to secure interest from 2,000 supermarket stores across the country, which was an enormous breakthrough for the business. As managing director of marketing agency Breathe-e, Martin helped catapult Cherrygood onto the drinks market, which has been crucial to its enormous growth. Not only is it the leading cherry juice brand, but it’s also the fastest growing juice-drink in the country.

Despite the strong growth, cost-management has proved tricky. As a small company of only two permanent employees, keeping costs down has been a priority. “We have had to be very creative in our thinking, to minimise overheads and yet still promote our business,” John explains. Cherrygood has made good use of PR to build brand recognition, and John also swears by the power of free samples, with heavy promotion in supermarkets and handouts at train stations proving highly effective.

Cherrygood has also managed to outperform the rest of the juice sector in spite of its mid-recession launch. “I think consumers are being very careful with their money and shopping for promotions,” says John. “We therefore need to promote on a regular basis to keep our customers happy.”

This year John expects growth to more than double, with a predicted turnover of £2.5m. He is also seeking further investment: “We’d like to enter new markets and the US is next on our list. We’re also looking at other cherry products, including sparkling and cordial drinks, and even a children’s range.” 

The secret to the brand’s successful assault on the juice sector? It’s not rocket science according to John: “We use the best cherries in the world.”

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