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As Tom recalls: ‘The conversation about what we’d call the company was a very quick one - Norwich Porridge are two words that go well together.’
They had registered the name back in 2015, although only launched The Norwich Porridge Co at the end of last year. ‘It’s very new to us and something neither of us had ever done before,’ says Tom. ‘My background is in hospitality - I used to be GM of Adnams Hotels - and now run a chef recruitment consultancy in Norwich.’ Gavin, meanwhile, is a sculptor who works in the film industry. Tom says of his co-founder: ‘I’ve known him since I was a child - Gavin was best man at my wedding. At the time of us setting up the company, we were both training to do the London Marathon and, both being quite busy, very quickly got tired of cooking porridge on the hob.’
Rather than resorting to instant porridge pots, or ‘dust-in-a-pot’ as they would describe it, they decided to make their own version, using oats, skimmed milk powder and freeze-dried fruits. Tom comments: ‘The common perception is that porridge is boring, but we disagree!
‘It then became clear that there was a gap in the market, so what started as a hobby turned into a business.’
There’s been trial and error on the way, with Tom saying: ‘The best bit was taste testing and getting the recipes right. We decided to launch two flavours: Real Raspberry and Banana and Blueberry. Both are free of sugars, sweeteners and artificial flavourings.’ The Norwich Porridge pots are made lovingly in Norfolk, and are produced at Crush Foods, in Salle, after they approached Stephen Newham, a friend of a friend. Tom says: ‘We don’t say the ingredients are from Norfolk but we are as local as we can be, especially with the fruits.’ So expect British whole-grain gluten free oats, British skimmed milk powder, freeze dried whole fruits, chia seeds and ‘no artificial nonsense.’
The launch was helped along by having a pop up stall on Norwich Market. ‘It was great fun, we were down there every day and it went really well. Although part of me was nervous: wondering whether people would like the porridge and think it was sweet enough.’
Winter has been the perfect time to launch the product: ‘I eat porridge all year round but you’ve got to be conscious of the fact that it’s a hot breakfast,’ notes Tom. However, market goers can still get hold of a pot via the Jakey le Bakey stall. Plus, Tom adds: ‘We’ve got about 10 stockists already.’ They include Cupcake and Co, Aroma, and The Surrey, all in Norwich; and, further afield, Creake Abbey, and Yare Valley Oils in Surlingham. And he adds: ‘We’ve got two stockists already in London.’ In fact, Tom has visions of The Norwich Porridge Co being a success story rather like the New Covent Garden Soup Co!
The boxes of 12, which can be ordered online, are already travelling well, as Tom explains: ‘We’ve done orders to places such as Melbourne and Berlin. One guy from New York has ordered twice now and has sent pictures of his kids eating it.’
Indeed, the bright yellow pots with the Norwich skyline in the bowl of oats (designed by Tom’s wife) are so photogenic they have caught the imagination of people on social media. ‘That’s really helped with the launch,’ says Tom.
‘I said to my wife, ‘would you buy groceries and post pics on Instagram?’ And yet that’s exactly what people are doing. ‘There was one on a bike in Amsterdam which I thought was fantastic.’
As for plans this year, Tom says: ‘We are going to grow the range because people like choice. Everything we’ve done so far has been due to feedback so we would welcome people to send in their recipe ideas.’
They are also planning to take Norwich Porridge on the road, to music festivals and food festivals around the UK. ‘And we are also thinking of developing a porridge bar - like a flapjack but without the syrup – for the summer. It doesn’t sound as though they are going to give up their day jobs anytime soon. ‘I’m going to keep doing what I do and Gavin is always going to be a sculptor – we are not looking to be millionaires. This is a passion of ours.’
It’s not for nothing that the hashtag for Norwich Porridge is #honestenergy. Tom signs off by saying: ‘Everything we do is about honest energy.’