Farmer on journey from being bankrupt to owning a £14m vodka distillery
William Chase, the 50-something entrepreneur and founder of Tyrrell's crisps, has just celebrated the 10th birthday of his second business, Chase Distillery, which sells a very different type of potato-based product – vodka.
"It's very exciting to have reached the 10-year milestone of selling a very special product. It's a unique business and it took a long time to get where we are," he says.
Chase grew up on his family's Herefordshire farm, which he bought off his father at the age of 20 using a £200,000 bank loan. Despite farming the land and selling potatoes to supermarkets throughout his 20s, he struggled under the pressure of running a business and ended up bankrupt with only a £15,000 car to his name.
"I always wanted to be a farmer, but trading every day to supermarkets was hard. You work 80-hour weeks, but it's never enough to get rich on it. You do it for the enjoyment of farming, not the money. I struggled to make ends meet."
Being declared bankrupt at the age of 33 was "eye-opening" for Chase, who had always believed if he worked hard, he'd make money. "I was left with my car and quickly realised I would have to start again and turn every penny into a pound. It was a good lesson in how fragile money is. It's far easier to spend it than make it," he says.
In a bid to turn his life around, Chase decided to start making premium potato chips, and in 2002, Tyrrell's was born. While the potato crisps were a runaway success, stocked in 6,000 UK retailers and exported to 10 countries including France and Russia, it was the company's vegetable crisps that were most profitable. "Our vegetable crisps became famous, as we were pioneers in that category," he says.
Tyrrell's was at the forefront of the growing trend for organic foods from independent manufacturers, and Chase's insistence that his crisps were only sold in top-end retailers (he had a long-running dispute with Tesco after refusing to let it stock his crisps over fears it would undermine the premium nature of the brand) helped to catapult Tyrrell's into a multi-million pound business.
Chase made £30m when he sold the posh snacks business in April 2008 to private equity firm Langholm Capital, and reinvested almost all of the money into marketing his next venture, a vodka distillery. Chase claims it was the UK's first single-estate distillery – meaning that most, if not all, ingredients are sourced from a single area of land – when it opened in June 2008.