“We had to put our wedding on hold” Andy Howie,
co-founder of premium milkshake brand Shaken Udder, speaks about the sacrifices
of starting a self-funded business
Husband and wife duo, Andy and Jody Howie launched Shaken
Udder in 2014, and reveal the obstacles and challenges they faced along the way
before reaching astounding success
“Getting our factory off the ground took years of hard work, we even had to put our wedding on hold and use the funds to buy a new labelling machine – it meant we were engaged for 6 years before finally tying the knot!” Andy Howie, co-founder of Shaken Udder, tells me. “When we began producing milkshakes, Jodie and I usually started working on production from 3am until about lunch time, after which we’d then be in the office catching up on our day’s emails. It would mean we were out the house from 3am until 6pm, and then we’d do it all again the next day. Sacrifices like this are all a part and parcel of owning your own business.”
Andy Howie and his wife, Jodie Howie kickstarted Shaken Udder in 2004, which begin as an events-based business selling fresh milkshakes from a cart at music festivals. The pair realised there was a lack of high quality and fresh ingredients with catering at these events – and that’s where their idea for Shaken Udder began. Shaken Udder milkshakes contain only real, great tasting ingredients and fresh British milk without any additives, delivering nutritional benefits with added B12, calcium and an extra protein boost, along with a delicious sweet taste. Shaken Udder has seen major success this year, recording their highest sales ever with a 75% increase to £5.2 million, stocking their products across UK’s biggest supermarkets, including WHSmith stores, Boots, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.
“Initially we saw a gap in the market for freshly made, high quality milkshakes at festivals and events,” Andy explained. “At that time there was nothing similar and food or drink offerings at these types of events were really limited, unlike today. Shaken Udder was therefore first born in 2004 as an events-based business, but customers soon started to ask where they could get their milkshake fix all year round.”
The dynamic duo also noticed how major supermarkets only appeared to stock milkshake products loaded with artificial ingredients and sweeteners, and soon realised they could also fill a gap in the retail market.
“When we looked at the retail shelves we quickly realised the limited number of bottled milkshakes available had never seen a piece of real fruit or chocolate and were packed with artificial ingredients,” Andy said. “We wanted to make a premium milkshake packed with lots of lovely real ingredients – and we’ve stayed true to this ever since.
“All our recipes are made with real fruit of chocolate (for example our Chocolush contains two types of Belgian chocolate). They contain no artificial colours or flavours, contain less than 5% added sugar which means they’re school approved, plus they’re also gluten free and suitable for vegetarians.”
Beginning their business from a music-festival milkshake cart, Andy and Jodie were able to gain first- hand experience meeting customers face to face. Through this, they were able to conduct valuable market research by testing out their branding and quality of milkshakes, gaining a vast amount of knowledge about their product through valuable customer feedback.
“There were lots of learnings taken from selling milkshakes directly to the end consumer, which certainly helped us when launching the bottled range as we could essentially use this as a platform for market research,” Andy tells me. “First and foremost it told us that our customers loved the branding, name and the quality of the milkshakes. We therefore knew we had a strong base from which to move forwards.”
However, starting out wasn’t so easy. Andy and Jodie, who were engaged when they first launched their business, worked tirelessly for months and even had to make serious sacrifices for the sake of their company. They ended up using their wedding fund to buy a new labelling machine, postponing their ceremony for almost 6 years.
“The early days were incredibly tough and we faced a lot of difficult decisions or obstacles,” Andy said. “Getting our factory off the ground took years of hard work, we even had to put our wedding on hold and use the funds to buy a new labelling machine – it meant we were engaged for 6 years before finally tying the knot!
“When we began producing milkshakes Jodie and I usually started working on production from 3am until about lunch time, after which we’d then be in the office catching up on our day’s emails. It would mean we were out the house from 3am until 6pm, and then we’d do it all again the next day. Sacrifices like this are all a part and parcel of owning your own business.”
In business, failures are inevitable. But Andy refuses to look at setbacks in a negative light, and instead called them “learning curves” and chooses to see every obstacle as a challenge to overcome.
“There have been many failures along the way, although I prefer to view them as learning curves because each one teaches you something different,” Andy said. “As we grow, we continue to evolve which brings more challenges and learnings.”
In one of their biggest learning experiences, Andy and Jodie decided to hire a factory space to produce their signature RTD bottles, and had a verbal agreement with the factory owner to use the space for a fee. Out of the blue, the factory increased their rental prices and demanded a percentage of their business – so they ended up dropping the deal.
“One of the first major learnings we encountered when trying to launch our RTD bottles was if your doing a deal… get it on paper and signed away! Naively we had relied on a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in the early days when trying to find someone to bottle the product for us.” Andy said. “The deal was for us to buy most of the necessary equipment and have it installed in someone else’s factory, who would process and bottle for us. We purchased the equipment, which was being built for us in Germany. Once it arrived in the UK the factory then increased the prices that had previously been agreed and also demanded a % of our business. Major deal breaker!”
Instead of looking at the situation as a setback, Andy and Jodie maintained a positive outlook and focused on their end goal, which was to develop Shaken Udder as a retail brand and distribute their products across various stores.
“We walked away, we had lots of shiny equipment and nowhere to put it (not to mention a huge hole in our pocket), which was unbelievably stressful,” Andy explained. “We eventually had to spend more money and build a production room on the family farm. We had many issues like this along the way but if you maintain a positive outlook while keeping focused on the end goal it is amazing what you can overcome.”
Husband and wife duo, Andy and Jodie, work incredibly well together each having a very different skill set and area of expertise. Instead of focusing on their individual weaknesses, they play up on their respective strengths within their roles, with a joint goal of bringing Shaken Udder to greater heights.
“We both have very different skill sets while maintaining the same goals and ambitions,” Andy tells me. “It’s important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are as it enables you to prioritise or own certain projects, allowing the business to move forward at a faster pace. We have to ensure there is a decent work/life balance which is vital in any relationship but even more so for ours. We do make a good team, it’s also great fun smashing targets we set for the business and growing together. We both have mixed roles which sees plenty of cross over on the larger commercial decisions. Jodie heads Sales and Finance and I’m Commercial, Production and NPD.”
Through sheer hard work, Andy and Jodie built their company independently without outside investment. With a small team based in the countryside near Maldon, the pair have taken the retail world by storm with their products now selling in UK’s major supermarkets and across hundreds of independent stores and cafes in the country.
“A lot of people see us in the supermarkets and assume that we’re a big city-based company, but actually a small team based in the beautiful countryside near Maldon,” Andy said. “The company is still owned 100% by Jodie and Andrew. It’s taken ten years of hard work to get to get to this point. Although securing outside investment can be tempting and help grow the business quicker, it can be risky especially if mistakes are made on a much larger budget. It also ensures we keep knowledge and control within the team and again allows us to move quickly in terms of decision making. Being patient and playing the longer game has certainly started to pay off for us.”
In business, Andy stressed the importance of being tenacious, focused and willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve success – and insisted on grabbing any opportunity that arises instead of waiting on sheer luck.
“You need many things to be successful commercially, you need to work hard, be tenacious, focused and willing to sacrifice parts of your life that others wouldn’t,” Andy said. “Some say you need a bit of luck too, but luck is often just an opportunity that presents itself. If you haven’t done all the work to get yourself into a position where you can take advantage of an opportunity you will never get any luck!”