The Piper Podcast: Charlie Bigham on how the financial crisis strengthened his brand

Charlie Bigham, founder of his eponymous gourmet food brand, has revealed how a ‘painful correction’ during the 2007 financial crisis forced his business to sharply refocus its priorities.

Our stuff was just taken off the shelves because everybody panicked,’ says Bigham in the latest podcast from Piper’s second season of ‘How I Grew My Brand’ interviews with leading entrepreneurs.

Sales dropped by 40%, which meant we had to restructure the business very quickly – a third of people left. We did that in about a week. It was very painful but it was a good time for us to focus on our real strengths and stop a load of stuff that we weren’t doing very well. Within six months, we were back in growth.’

Until that point, the brand had been growing strongly every year since its launch in 1996 – a trajectory that continues to date, with sales approaching £70m. The business employs more than 250 staff on its ‘Food Production Campus’ in Somerset and its dishes are sold in supermarkets including Waitrose and Tesco.

In an interview with broadcaster Mary Nightingale, Bigham, a former management consultant, recalls how his idea for the brand was born on a camper van ‘as I was unable to go to sleep one hot, sweaty night crossing the border from Iran into Pakistan’.

He also tells of his ‘ridiculous mistakes’ when hiring staff, explains why he hates the terms ‘ready meals’ and ‘HR’ and argues that ‘most businesses take 100 years to become great’.

In Season 1 of Piper’s How I Grew My Brand podcasts, Cassandra Stavrou, co-founder of Propercorn, Alex Reilley, co-founder of Loungers, Nicola Elliott, co-founder of Neom Organics and Ajith Jayawickrema, founder of Turtle Bay share their stories about growing successful brands.

All the Piper podcasts can be streamed using the link above, or downloaded on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud