Jimmy’s Iced Coffee has brought a taste of Australia to the UK and amassed an army of fans along the way
Many an entrepreneur attributes their success to a flash of inspiration. For Jim Cregan – the founder of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee – a chance stop at an Australian petrol station was the catalyst. Having ventured down under with now-wife, Sophie, to escape the harsh British winter, he stumbled across a carton of Farmers Union Iced Coffee and the rest, as they say, is history. “I had never really heard about iced coffee before but I just thought ‘this looks really nice’ so I cracked it open in the sun and drank it right next to my van,” he recalls. “I pretty much necked the whole thing because it was just incredible and I remember immediately thinking ‘how on Earth am I going to get this back in the UK?’”
Sure enough, as soon as he landed on home soil, Cregan got to work exploring what the UK packaged iced coffee market had going for it. “The first thing I did was go to the supermarket and find out who was selling iced coffee and came across Starbucks, Illy, Emmi and all these other companies making ready-to-drink iced coffees, but it was all horrible,” he says. “I find all their products really sickly and way too sweet. I think an iced coffee should be really mild and really cool and really refreshing and just super easy to drink, almost like a thirst-quencher as opposed to drinking custard.”
Cregan soon convinced his sister Suzie to come on board. He had no doubt that she would make the perfect business partner. For one, she was already running her own café in Christchurch, Dorset, where Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is based. Sadly though, like all independent high-street ventures, it was becoming a struggle. “We had Caffè Nero and Costa on the high street so she was basically just being swallowed up and not making enough money,” says Cregan.
Moreover though, the siblings already had a fair share of wheeling and dealing experience between them. Growing up in the UAE, the pair partook in a couple of cheeky money-making endeavours. “We used to live in Sharjah, which is the emirate next door to Dubai and is a lot cheaper,” explains Cregan. “We went to all the Indian hang-outs. There was a place called Rolla where they sold fake Quicksilver and Billabong bags. I just bought them all up, went into school and made up some story that my uncle had flown over from the States and had bought over a whole load of backpacks. I said they were for sale for 100 Dirhams even though I had bought them for 20 Dirhams.”
Another scheme saw them buying alcohol on the black market and selling it into schools; a risky move if ever there was one. “It was pretty naughty but we made good money out of that,” Cregan quips. This foray into the booze trade continued when Cregan and a friend established a venture called Spit Delivery in the UK a few summers back. It entailed rowing supplies of alcohol across to Mudeford Spit, a stretch of land near Christchurch comprising 345 luxurious beach huts. “That was quite a fun little business too,” he laughs. “We went round to every hut and gave them a menu of our drinks and a fridge magnet with our phone number on so that they could call up and say ‘I want a case of Budweiser’, ‘I want a bottle of wine’, ‘I want this that or the other’.”
Cregan clearly had all the makings of a successful entrepreneur, but until that fateful day down under, he hadn’t had a solid enough proposition to turn his skills into serious bucks. Now, though, he did. “The iced coffee idea dragged me out of bed,” he says. “I was driven by that one thought of ‘you have to do this every single day until you can go and pick up one of your iced coffees wherever you go in the world’.”
Soon enough, Cregan had secured a handy £100k from his parents and a contract was signed with a manufacturer. As for a name, that came easily enough. Cregan wanted to stand out from the crowd and how better to do that than to give the brand a personality, even if it was essentially his own? “In Australia, I was just called Jimmy the whole time so I just thought it was an ode to Australia to say ‘thank you very much for introducing me to iced coffee’,” he says. “Jimmy also has a nice ring to it, as opposed to Jim’s Iced Coffee or James’s Iced Coffee.”
Needless to say, social media is the ideal sounding board for this personality. Anybody who happens to visit the Jimmy’s Iced Coffee Twitter page will have the pleasure of Cregan’s company as he responds to each and every tweet in his own unique way.
So confident was Cregan in his iced coffee brand that he set his sights on upmarket department store Selfridges as a first port of call. “I was just so happy that we had created something so amazing and I just wanted to share it with so many people,” Cregan explains. “It was really a no-brainer picking up the phone to Selfridges, because we were thinking ‘let’s go big and have a really fun launch.’ We just thought Selfridges was the best bet.” The decision paid off, and Selfridges became the first retailer to stock Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. That was April 2011 and now, three years later, Cregan has just secured the company’s biggest deal to-date with Tesco.
It’s not to say there haven’t been challenges along the way. The packaging has undergone some refinement to fulfil the needs of retailers and, more compellingly, drivers. Cregan explains that upon approaching BP, he was told their original 500ml square-shaped cartons didn’t fit inside a car’s cup-holder. A resize and reshape later, Cregan has a product that not only tastes delicious, but can also be consumed on the move with ease. “Without devaluing the brand or the packaging or the ingredients in any way, we still managed to retain everything and open up bigger doors for distribution,” he says.
Indeed, success would not have been possible if the coffee itself wasn’t up to the mark, but an emphasis on quality over quantity has served the firm well. Available in three varieties – original, skinny and decaf – every carton contains a mere five ingredients. “Why would you put anything else in an iced coffee apart from iced coffee?” asks Cregan. And with the coffee and Demerara sugar ethically sourced from Central America and Mauritius respectively, it is little wonder retailers and consumers are lapping it up. Cregan adds: “If you are going to bring a nice product out for someone, they have got be happy knowing that what they are drinking, and the vessel that it is in, is from happy people as well.”
To describe Cregan as happy would be something of an understatement. His larger-than-life personality has been instrumental in driving the brand into hearts, minds and mouths. Nothing demonstrates this to a greater degree than the costumes sported by himself and Suzie on a regular basis. The giant coffee carton outfits have come to encapsulate what Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is all about and have helped convince the likes of Tesco to invest not only in the brand, but in the siblings themselves. Likewise, ‘Keep your chin up’ – the slogan adorning every carton of Jimmy’s – captures the feeling that Cregan wants every drinker to experience upon consuming one of his coffees; whatever the weather. “They are not interested in the fact that it is not hot,” he says. “They have got a great drink that picks them up, it gives them their energy and also makes them happy at the same time.”
Granted, Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is not outselling the big guns just yet, but Cregan is ever the optimist. “We have got some catching up to do, but it won’t take too long,” he says. “You can’t be a big fake corporate brand trying to be young and sprightly forever. You will just get caught out. That is where we will succeed, just by being the underdog and keeping doing exactly what we are doing.”