Full name: James Mansfield
Twitter Handle: @fieldandflower
Fun Fact: “…my great great grandfather was the head gardener at the Tortworth estate in Gloucestershire and planted the arboretum which is still there now. He fought in the Boer war, left the army and became a gardener in 1905, returned to the cavalry in the first world war and won a distinguished conduct medal. He then returned to his gardening job with a glass eye having been gassed in the trenches! Just thought I’d share, he should be my idol over Luke Johnson!”
So, let’s start at the beginning. You’re a Balham man, and your father was in the media – which is pretty far removed from rolling green fields and the farms of Somerset! How was it that you ended up with an interest in the agriculture anyway? Can we have a little backstory about your life? You don’t come from a food and drink, or a farming background, right?
That’s all correct. I’ve always had a love for the countryside. We used to go on family farm holidays and I did my work experience on a farm when I was 16. Whilst moving from London to Agricultural college wasn’t seen as a natural thing to do, looking back I don’t have any regrets. I’ve always preferred being in the countryside to the city and have dreamed of having my own farm since I can remember.
I worked at the Ivy restaurant when I was 18 on my gap year, I saw the chefs taking deliveries direct from farmers and suppliers which also made me even more interested in food. I love cooking so running a food business with farming roots is the perfect combination.
Now onto the business itself. You met your business partner at agricultural college, right? Could you tell us how that eventually turned into Field and Flower. I read somewhere that you guys were much more interested in digital marketing and entrepreneurship than the rest of your class – trading antiques on eBay.
We met at college yes, on our first day. Flower rolled into the car park in a rusty old white truck with logs in the back, (he sold logs to fund his degree)! We decided upon leaving college to buy a cow from James’s dad and market it direct to consumer. We knew more people were going online to do their grocery shopping and this, combined with increased demand for grass-fed, free range, traceable meat helped us get the business off the ground.
When we were at college we did lots of research into food businesses and even did our dissertations on selling meat direct from the farm gate and hanging beef to increase tenderness. We did have a brief spell selling and competing with our housemates on who could make the most profit in selling antiques on eBay – not very cool, but true.
I read that you did your final thesis on the hanging of beef – namely, how to make it better and more tender. Seems very apt! What were your findings, any advice for us?
As above. I found a technique that is used in Australia that essentially means hanging the beef carcass from its pelvic bone rather than the Achilles which is what we do in the UK. My tests and thesis did prove Tenderstretch improved tenderness, but we haven’t managed to implement it over here in the UK yet as abattoirs still prefer the traditional method of ageing beef.
Could you tell us a little about your catering adventures? You’ve fed the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Dizzee Rascal, selling thousands of burgers at Glastonbury.
When our online business was just beginning we thought we’d go and sell our product at events on the weekend. This helped brand awareness and managing the balance of the beef animal. The events business was quicker to get going than online and it ended up being a lot bigger than originally planned. We served Richard Branson, Dizzee Rascal and Rupert Grint at the Virgin Media VIP Louder Lounge and then got a pitch at Glastonbury where we sold thousands of burgers. Shortly after the summer of 2011, our online business took off and we put the events business on hold.
You don’t have to tell us this one, obviously, but we heard that Buckingham Palace has placed at least one order with you! What did you send them?
We did have an order from Buckingham Palace, we don’t know who ordered and I can’t reveal what was in the order.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the meat business?
We’re still a small business so the day to day varies a lot and James and I often wear many hats. Today, I’ve done some finance tasks, HR (a new team member started today), worked on an exciting partnership with a famous blogger, launched some new sirloin steaks on our website and continued to complete our crowdfunding paperwork with Crowdcube – in between walking our office dog Arthur, the jack Russell! Tomorrow I’m in the butchery in Somerset to review Christmas with our operations team.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
In the early days meeting Richard Branson and being shortlisted by The Observer Food Monthly for best independent retailer. But more recently successfully raising 900k through crowdfunding. This was a challenging but proud moment.
Where do you get your ideas?
James and I have always had ideas, especially after a beer or two. Many are improvements on things we’ve seen elsewhere or come from suggestions our customers make. Food and farming are quite creative so we’re working in an environment which is naturally quite creative I suppose. Our team is very creative too which helps.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Our biggest challenge has been going from just the two of us and one butcher to a team of around 20 quite quickly. Handing over jobs that I thought I’d always have to do is still a strange feeling.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
James Flower likes what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has done for food and farming. I worked at the Ivy restaurant when Luke Johnson (restaurateur) owned it and have a lot of respect for what he’s achieved, given how hard restaurant businesses are to make a success. We also really like how Jamie Oliver has got people cooking and encourages sourcing good quality meat. He’s been doing it so consistently for 20 years and we regularly have people call us to ask for specific cuts that he recommends.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Least enjoy dealing with HMRC. They aren’t very friendly. Most enjoy our music quiz and a beer with the team on Fridays. We always have a sense of achievement looking back on the week.
What advice would you give to aspiring food and drink entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Take the first step, so many people don’t do that when they should. You don’t know if you’ve got a good idea unless you’ve tried it out (even just on family and friends). Be agile in the early days, listen to your customers, manage your cash flow carefully, don’t invest in large amounts of stock, give people what they want and work hard, then work even harder.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I’d probably be working in a food business.
If you could get anyone to try your foods (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the various products would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Johnny Wilkinson would be a great ambassador, we’re both into our sport so he’s an obvious choice. Anthony Watson, amongst other professional rugby players has been ordering for a while and they all seem to like the service. People that are into their nutrition and understand the benefits of grass-fed meat are good to be involved with.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for the business? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
We’re pleased to still be here after seven years! So, we’d take another seven. We can’t get complacent. The business has already had a few potential buyers interested, so perhaps one day someone will buy a part of us and really help the business expand. We’ve always talked about taking it to America and Australia, mainly as we’d like to live their one day! So, who knows…
Where next for you guys?
We have a three-year plan to execute, so back to our desks…. We’re looking forward to some exciting new partnerships this year and bringing in some new members of the team in sales and marketing. We’re also launching an App for our customers which should make managing their subscription accounts even easier. We’re also organising our crowdfunding closing party so we’re looking forward to that and meeting our new investors.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to live on one kind of alcohol for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specifically adapted to use this as your sole source of calories, so you had to drink this to survive) – which would you pick, and why?
An obvious one, but beer. Such a versatile beverage! Red wine a close second.
If you were given an infinite budget but had to spend it all on entirely frivolous stuff, what are the first 3 things you’d buy, and why?
A hot air balloon. A bison. A football or rugby club.
If you could swap lives for the day with any fictional character (and you’d be guaranteed to return to your life after 24 hours), who would you choose, and why?
Neo, from the Matrix for James Flower. Baloo from the Jungle Book for me.