OLLY Hiscocks told his parents they should sit down, for he had Something To Tell Them. He was in his twenties and working at a GP surgery at the time, having graduated in neuroscience from Manchester and secured a place to study postgraduate medicine at Bart’s to become a doctor — he’d been mulling neurosurgery or general practice as a specialism.
“But I’d changed my mind, so had a memorable conversation with my parents: ‘Mum, Dad — I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to sell olives!’ My parents kept asking if I was sure..”
But olives it was — with other snacks to follow — and Olly now sells more than £2 million-worth a year of them.
Inspiration struck when Hiscocks, now 31, went to a supermarket to pick up some olives as a snack after leaving a friend’s house. “I was amazed at how boring it all was — plain plastic tubs, no colour, no character and no innovation with flavours. I found myself taking inspiration from [popcorn brand] Propercorn, and thinking, ‘My name is Olly, I love Olives — Olly’s Olives.’”
He went to a local Chiswick market the next morning, “I bought loads of plain olives there and then went to a supermarket and bought anything I thought I could possibly marinate — ginger, chilli, spring onion, pineapple, vinegars, pesto, gherkins — and started on the first iterations of Olly’s Olives.”
That was 2016. He immediately started marinating olives at home — “massive tubs with various flavours; some wonderful, some shockers — pineapple and balsamic vinegar really didn’t work.” After testing them out on friends, Hiscocks launched with six flavours at Duck Pond market in Richmond. “I loved seeing the smiles on customers’ faces as they tried the olives for the first time, especially the sweet chilli, spring onion & sweet ginger flavour.”
It was time to professionalise: Hiscocks’ brother, Sam, joined at the end of 2017 after the travel start-up he was working on began to wind down. The duo found a warehouse in Bermondsey for stock and “just googled olive factories and emailed them all asking if they could produce an unpasteurised pouch of olives. Only one — in Greece — came back to me, and then we worked together on recipes and flavours based on what worked on the market stall.”
Some 18 months after its first market stall, Olly’s Olives ordered 36,000 olive pouches thatwere supermarket-shelf ready. The pair took their pouches to Olympia’s Speciality Food Show trade fair, and were swiftly on sale in Ocado, Brewdog, Eurostar and Sainsbury’s in the first six months.
There was no marketing budget at first: “My focus was on getting the olives onto as many shelves as possible, so a lot of calls, sales road trips, events and sampling — all documented in a lot of homemade content pushed via social media.”
After that initial burst, it wasn’t easy to attract retail buyers’ attention. “Getting on the shelves in the congested category of snacking is certainly not easy,” Hiscocks concedes. “Our method was to include a pair of ‘Olly’s socks’ with every sample, and a note reading, ‘We know finding good quality snack olives is just as hard as finding the last pair of socks in the wash — we’ve got both covered for you!’ It worked a treat!”
Five fundraising rounds over the last six years raised just under £2.5 million, but the first lockdown of the pandemic created a ruction for the business. “We had just launched on easyJet, and did a lot of trade in pubs at the time, plus contract catering of snacks in workplaces — so a huge portion of our revenue channels were turned off overnight.” The entrepreneur decided to expand into other snacks, launching seasoned nut mixes on Amazon. “Our family home became a snack-packing facility with mum, dad, my sister and Sam on the makeshift production line to launch pretzel thins and chocolate pretzel thins.”
Olly’s Olives was rebranded as just Olly’s (left); turnover doubled last year to almost £2.1 million thanks to three revenue streams: travel (easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways are stockists), the snacks sold in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots and Waitrose, plus export — Hiscocks’ products are available in 20 countries.
“We want to be the market leader in healthier snacks that taste good,” Hiscocks adds.
What’s his exit plan? “I’ve always loved the idea of being made an offer to buy a business I’ve created — that’s my measure of success. I’ve got a lot of ideas; this could be the first of many.”