Interview with David Mason | Managing Director | Global Harvest

November 8, 2020

JUST FIFTEEN months after David Mason started his business came a breakthrough that most owner-managers can only dream about. Except he saw the reality of taking what was on offer would probably end up being a nightmare.

“The major airline didn’t so much ask me to quote them for three-quarters of a tonne of my product; they told me what price they were going to pay,” he explains. “But I wasn’t going to take the order on that basis. Why spend time making something if you aren’t going to make any profit from it? I knew I had to have nerves of steel. I also knew from when I was an employee, that once you agree a price which is lower than it should be, you can never increase it to the right level. The order was too big to take on as a loss-leader, so I had to sell them the advantages of having my product in the belief that a buyer will be prepared to pay the right price for something they really can’t source elsewhere. I knew I had to have nerves of steel.”

Mason had started his career as a buyer for a fruit and veg supplier, then joined a fine foods company which had a major pub chain as a customer. Which is where he learnt that particular lesson. “That account was our biggest by far and they demanded a price and service level which just wasn’t sustainable. It resulted in other customers being let down.”

David Mason

Redundancy gave him “a kick up the backside.” He recalls: “I had realised there was a market for condiments such as quince, damson plum, fig, and spiced apple, rather than the usual relishes and pickles. Now I was going to do something about it.My ambition was to create products which nobody else was making as their core offering.”

Flicking through his mother’s recipe book, he found the initial recipe he was looking for and made a first batch of 300 pots. Next morning he found that none of them had set properly. “My lower lip began to wobble a bit as well,” he admits. But he swiftly realised what he needed to do to make sure the pectin (the starch which occurs in the cell walls of fruit and vegetables) could set properly. Next day, the product was emerging from the kitchen perfectly.

The conserves take the form of ‘dulce de membrillo’, a sweet, sticky, very thick jelly made from the fruit. It can be sliced and eaten with cheese, baked in a tart, or eaten as confectionery. The Italians came up with it as a way of making use of fallen fruit in their orchards.

Interestingly while quince sounds quintessentially English, the first reference to it is actually in a collection of Roman recipes. And originally, quince, not oranges, were used to make marmalade; the word comes from the Portuguese marmelada, which refers to quince preparation. 

Today, the products made by Mason’s company, Global Harvest, travel on the Orient Express, are in play at Manchester United, and on display at Harvey Nichols. Photos of award-winning chefs who incorporate Global Harvest products adorn his office wall, and he reels off their names as if he is talking about Formula One drivers.

Appropriate as setting up Global Harvest in 2010 represented such a gear change. “The drive to go into business was to create income for my family,” he says candidly. He started with £800 redundancy money. In addition to selling direct to chefs, competitors from his food service days have became customers. 

An early decision was to outsource the manufacturing, which not only bought Mason time but made each pot 7p cheaper to make. That resulted in a sales increase of 8% that year and an 26% profit hike. The catalyst for the switch was the need otherwise to invest in two more machines and additional production staff.

Another catalyst for the development of Global Harvest came when Mason give a talk at an event where a master chef was giving a demonstration. In the audience was property developer Stuart Stevens who sought him out at the end of the event to say he was impressed by Mason’s passion for the product and asked what his next step was going to be. “I said it would be to go to the bank because I needed bigger premises and facilities,” Mason recalls. Stevens offered to fund it instead. Today the company works out of a converted milking parlour.

Then came another potential breakthrough opportunity. “In 2017 I got a call from a young chap, let’s call him Henry for now, who said he had been researching to find a small specialist food company for a television programme,” Mason explains. 

`”We had a chat, and it turned out the programme was Dragons’ Den. We didn’t need the money, and I didn’t want my majority stake to be diluted, but I realised after speaking to Stuart that the exposure of our brand on national television could be valuable, and so would gaining some advice from the assembled multi-millionaires. 

“In the file we had to create for the due diligence required by the show’s producers, we had to show purchase orders, picking notes, proof of delivery to customers – it was exhaustive. Then Stuart and I practiced our presentation – he read out the figures, I talked about the product – followed by a dummy run in the studio without the ‘dragons’. The lift you see in the programme doesn’t really exist. It’s really two doors – one you walk in, the other out. I remember all the make-up; we looked like mannequins. The ‘dragons’ looked kind of weird as well, so that helped to dull the nerves.”

“What makes good television for this kind of programme is drama, catastrophe, disaster; if it’s pitch perfect, that’s really not as interesting,” says Mason. He’s speaking from near experience. Because for Global Harvest, it all began to kick off behind the scenes. The production team didn’t realise that the product would stick to the cover they put over the carefully prepared display, which resulted in 50% of it falling to the floor when it was lifted.

“We stayed cool through the whole thing,” says Mason. “Then Peter Jones, who had invested in Reggae Reggae sauce was the first to say he was out because he didn’t think we were ready to expand.”

But what Mason did come away with was a clearer impression of what he needed to do with the branding. The Global Harvest logo now incorporates an image of Great Britain in national colours rather than a representation of the world, with the wording Made in England writ larger, together with a line of description – ‘an alternative to a relish or a chutney’. The all-encompassing geographic reference of the company name relates to the sourcing of ingredients from around the world.

The next – “and exciting” – step is to export, starting with a wholesaler in Dubai. On-line sales have been made direct to consumers in the USA, China, Russia, and Australia.

“The key thing that government could do is to provide introductions, to put me in front of food distributors in other countries, to open doors that an SME couldn’t left to its own devices,” says Mason. “It’s fine handing us a report to say how many people in a particular country could buy our product but if we don’t know who to sell it to and how to get it to them… It would be better to have the name and contact details of someone we could work with in that country, and an introduction.”

He’s prepared to put the effort in on his side. After all, he’s already travelled some 140,000 miles, across numerous countries and continents and back to Blighty, on his motorbike in pursuit of his passion. “I love meeting people, experiencing their culture and their food,” he explains.

In the future, the next pair of hands to look after Global Harvest could be a wholesaler “because it would be a valuable bow in their quiver,” or maybe a chef who has had enough of working from nine in the morning to eleven at night and wants to exercise their passion for food in a different way. Explains Mason: “They could come in and look after the day-to-day workings of the company, a year later have a shareholding, and then Global Harvest becomes my pension as they take over the running of the business.”

 

Researched and written for Ward Goodman by DECISION magazine

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