Meet the Producer: Made for Drink - leading the way in gourmet bar snacks

24 July 2023, 07:00 AM
  • From a village hall, to Fortnum & Mason via The Fat Duck – Made for Drink founder Dan Featherstone’s story is a shining example of how passion can elevate a side hustle to big business
Meet the Producer: Made for Drink - leading the way in gourmet bar snacks

Imagine having the guts to take your side hustle – your first ever food and drink product – to one of the world’s leading chefs. A tough gig, right?

It was a risk Dan Featherstone, founder of Made for Drink, was willing to take. 

Armed with a special set of skills, honed over years working in the snack industry, Dan took a trio of handmade treats to his local (which just happened to be Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray) in 2016, just hoping they’d like them.

“It turned out to be the best meeting I’ve ever had. If I could get the snacks legally packaged, they’d trial them,” he beams.

Fast-forward to 2023, and business is booming for the artisanal snack company, which recently clinched a collaboration with Stella Artois, creating a specially curated crisp (Smoked Salt & Black Garlic) designed to work in harmony with the iconic Belgian beer. More than 3,000 pubs across the UK are stocking the new product, in a bid to raise £120,000 for charity Hospitality Action.

Humble beginnings

Being close to the creative process is what inspired Dan to found Made for Drink. 

A self-professed ‘people person’, studying anthropology at university seemed a good fit, but Dan would go on to take a graduate job with PepsiCo at Walkers and Quaker – a baptism of fire.

“I remember on the first day them giving me a call list of 120 corner shops to sell their crisps into. They gave you a van, you’d get your stock, and off you’d go. I’d just finished my Masters, and I turned up wearing a suit in a van in Aldershot. I was like, ‘get over yourself mate, get out there and sell crisps!’”

Dan worked around the business, spending his days dreaming about snacks. “It dawned on me, at the time, there was a movement driven by customers who want a better product. Craft beer, and gin were taking off, and bar snacks from the mass market just didn’t quite fit.”

The seed of an idea nagged at him. “I sat down and wrote a plan for a side hustle. Just for fun,” he says.

Around the same time, Dan took his WSET qualifications, learning more about the vital connections between food and drink. 

“I loved these little rules, and the idea that food and drink from the same place go brilliantly together.”

Taking a chance

When his initial experiments got the nod from The Fat Duck team, Dan was urged by his local council to take a level three manufacturing exam, and admits he found their support lacking. Down the road in Maidenhead however, was a different ball game. Here he was welcomed to the village hall with open arms, using the kitchens for production, alongside space at Park Royal Food Innovation Center in London.

Made for Drink officially launched at The Fat Duck on the 26th November 2016. A week later they ordered more. Success. 

Dan would take days off work to meet the orders in his growing book, including from Fortnum & Mason, where the buying team were blown away by unparalleled interest from customers.

Buoyed by the fruitfulness of his endeavours, Dan took a leap of faith, selling his car, quitting his job, bringing in a business partner, and spending a day driving around Maidenhead looking for a factory. Everything fell into place, with Made for Drink growing 100 % year on year. Until Covid.

Adapting and evolving

“The factory felt like a war room at the time,” he says. “People were calling up overnight to cancel their orders.”

A plan was drawn up, pivoting to online and supermarkets from speciality retail, with tremendous support from buyers at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, who agreed short payment terms and even prime promotion space. “I’m so grateful. They got us through,” Dan recalls.

In 2021 the size of the business doubled. But having become heavily reliant on supermarkets, 2022 proved tricky. In what was a tough board meeting, Dan decided he needed to do three things to protect his health, and the health of the business: take on someone to help run it, spend more time with his family, and move production to an external manufacturer.

Today, five companies produce the key range of snacks, using Made for Drink’s own equipment and processes. Rather than spending his time with an accountant, Dan says the decision has brought him back where he wants to be – in product development, and with customers, which has led to powerful alliances.

Fen Farm Dairy is a prime example. “Their Baron Bigod is the best cheese in the UK in my opinion,” says Dan, who contacted farmer Jonny Crickmore with the “ridiculous” idea to produce a cheese and onion crisp in Made for Drink’s English Heritage range – but one that would be enticing to the speciality food retail market.

“We’ve never had so many leads from fine food retailers for samples,” Dan beams. “Success is about being adaptable, and not stretching yourself too thin. Focussing on what’s selling well. I’m hugely excited to see where we go next.”

Get in touch

Discover more from Made For Drink, visit their website and connect today

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