Dr Will’s: The Interview
Dr Will’s: Redefining condiments, naturally
Founders: Dr Will Breaker, Josh Rose and Liam White
Website at dr-wills.com
S&S exclusive: Use the code SAUCY25 to get an exclusive 25% off everything on the Dr Will’s website!
Suits & Startups were invited to Dr Will’s offices to meet Liam White, co-founder of the all natural condiment brand. We talk startup journey, fun branding, being stocked in Selfridges and on Ocado, favourite recipes and why corporate canteens need some Dr Will’s!
S&S: First things first, tell us, what is Dr Will’s and how did the idea come about?
Liam: Dr Will’s are an all natural condiment company. We produce healthier condiments - made only with ingredients you can recognise and pronounce - and free from refined sugar.
We started with Tomato Ketchup, Beetroot Ketchup and BBQ Sauce. We sweeten them with two dates per bottle, in contrast to traditional ketchups / BBQ sauce, which are loaded with sugar.
We recently launched a range of three mayonnaises - Classic, Spicy and Avocado Oil.
At the very start, (Dr) Will and Josh met and got chatting in a gym in Newcastle. Josh was running a restaurant at the time and had put together a burger he was really proud of - chuck steak, local Northumberland cheese and a brioche bun. He saw his customers loading it with Heinz ketchup and thought that there must be a healthier, tastier option - from a quick glance in Waitrose over the road, there wasn’t.
Will was looking at ketchup from the medical angle - so many people eat so much of it, yet it is full of sugar and people are relatively unaware of that. His mum was a nursery school teacher and was frequently hearing that the mums were having to put ketchup on their children’s broccoli to get them to eat it. Surely there must be a better option, we thought...
I was working in Canary Wharf at the time (a good S&S connection!) at J.P. Morgan. I was tired of working the long hours and desperate to do something more fulfilling. My mum’s a food writer, so I grew up surrounded by food and - when I met Will for coffee - it was an easy decision to get on board to launch Dr Will’s with him and Josh at the beginning of last year.
S&S: Tell us about the Dr Will’s journey - how the founding team came up with the initial recipe and how you went from making Dr Will’s from home, to a restaurant kitchen, to being stocked by Ocado?
Liam: Will and his mum started making recipes in their kitchen and, quickly running out of space, moved into Josh’s restaurant kitchen. They tested the sauces in the restaurant and, later, at Will’s wedding. We realised that making it in our own kitchens wasn’t sustainable, so moved production to a small farm in North Yorkshire - there we could make batches of a few hundred bottles. When we sold 300 bottles in a day at a rainy food market in Newcastle, we realised that we might have the starting point of a business.
Launching properly at the beginning of last year, we started supplying independent shops - mainly farm shops and delis - and our first major win was a flagship listing in Selfridges in the Summer of 2017. After that we got into Harvey Nichols, Planet Organic and Sourced Market. We quickly outgrew our capacity in Yorkshire and found a new production partner who could meet growing demand for the sauces.
We’re now listed in around 400 retailers and in April 2018, we launched on Ocado - which for the first time, means we can supply customers across the majority of the UK. Since then we have also launched in all of Dobbies Garden Centres food halls and in the bacon bagels at all the Crussh sites across London.
S&S: We love the idea of a healthy condiment brand. There is an increasing awareness of the dangers of too much refined sugar. With this in mind, who are your target demographic and how do you go about marketing to them and maybe converting those who are still hooked on refined sugar (and the incumbent brand Heinz!)?
Liam: This is something that we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about initially - we were just happy to see Dr Will’s stocked anywhere that liked the sauces. As we’ve grown, we’ve started to think more carefully about our marketing strategy and our target demographic.
A typical Dr Will’s customer is health conscious, likes to cooks from scratch and know what’s in their food. We aren’t really limited by age - mums are a key demographic as they are often keen to try and avoid their children becoming addicted to refined sugar from an early age, but equally millennials are becoming more and more health conscious, discerning about the products they buy and increasingly distrust the big conglomerates.
S&S: What have been the highlights on your entrepreneurship journey so far? And the most challenging moment?
Liam: Highlight: Getting into Selfridges - our first flagship listing - and getting listed with Ocado. It’s always feels brilliant to see the products we've created on shelf.
Most challenging moment: Recipe development - it took us 44 versions to get to a ketchup we were proud of! Production is also really tough at the start - orders are choppy and you don’t have any cash to hold stock, plus getting consistency in the product takes time (and plenty of stress!)
S&S: What does the future hold for Dr Will’s? Any other sauce flavours? Branching out of condiments, or into other countries?
Liam: Hopefully most of the above! We have an exciting pipeline of product development within condiments over the next couple of years and we’re looking to expand heavily in the UK and abroad.
There’s a long way to go in the UK - we’re not in any supermarkets just yet and we’d love to see Dr Will’s in more restaurants and cafes. We’ve recently started doing some export - Dr Will’s can be found in Spain, France, Dubai and Kuwait so far.
S&S: We love the Dr Will’s branding, the little glasses logo and the ‘stash collection’. Tell us how the name came about (any competition from Josh to name it after him?!) and the fun tone behind the branding.
Liam: Thank you. The name was actually Josh’s suggestion! We felt it fitted nicely with the healthier, natural products we were making.
The condiments market has been pretty unexciting for as long as we can all remember, so we wanted to create a fun and playful tone of voice that adds a bit of personality and excitement to the condiments world.
S&S: Favourite Dr Will’s condiment? There are also some great recipes on your site using your products - Who comes up with these? Favourite recipe?
Liam: Either the spicy mayo or the beetroot ketchup… it’s close! The recipes are the work of Tash - she’s our community and marketing manager - and actually bought a couple of bottles of ketchup at our first ever market in Newcastle, long before she started working with us.
Favourite recipe - the one pan pizza - where you use a tortilla wrap and our sauce to make a quick pizza base and layer up with your favourite pizza toppings. A great quick and easy dinner that doesn’t require a long list of ingredients.
S&S: At S&S we like to try and find the connection between startups and people working in the City. Any plans to get Dr Will’s condiments into the hands of City workers? Targeting corporate canteens or doing tastings in big organisations?
Liam: Absolutely - we’d love to be stocked in some corporate canteens and it’s something we’re working on at the moment. Few things would make me happier than seeing our sauces in my old corporate canteen.
We feel it makes perfect sense - city workers (particularly in investment banking where I used to be) are aware that they spend a lot of time at their desks, probably don’t have the time to do as much exercise as they would like, so know that eating healthily is one of the few things they can control.
From the point of view of the corporates - employees eating healthier food and consuming less sugar means better productivity and less sick days. Plus, when the staff are already looking for healthier alternatives, having these options available at the canteen means staff are more likely to eat on site rather than buying lunch elsewhere.
Building awareness of sugar and explaining the story behind our products is really important for us. We’d love to come and do a tasting at PwC!
S&S: We would love to have some Dr Will’s tasting samples at our next event! Watch this space!