It’s winter, and there’s a decided nip in the air. It’s the time of year for comfort food, such as thick, warming soup – and who better to set us on the right track than Ian Brackenbury, owner of Chester-based business Souperlicious.
Although Ian’s always been interested in food, he’s spent 29 years working in local government, most recently as an accountant.
“I’ve always had a hankering to go into some sort of food-related business, but I’m quite risk-averse and always decided it was too much of a gamble,” he says.
“A few years ago, my wife and I had an idea to start up a part time business called ‘Soup or a Smoothie’, with the idea of selling smoothies in the summer and soup in the winter, out of a trailer at food festivals. The idea fell flat, though, when we started looking into it and realised that a food trailer cost around £10,000.”
Around the same time, the pair began to go to farmers’ markets.
“We suddenly thought, ‘We could do this, and not have the same start-up cost!” says Ian.
They borrowed a gazebo and pans, and spent a little money on branding themselves as ‘Souperlicious’. They sourced fresh, local vegetables and set off to their first market at Christleton, near Chester, in 2012. They took two soup flavours with them, leek and potato and butternut squash, chilli and ginger, and the idea was an instant success.
With the emphasis of the company being on being as eco-friendly as possible, Ian sourced biodegradable, compostable cups from London Bio Packaging, and sold the soup cold in sealed pots, ready to take away for heating or freezing. He also provided hot samples for tasting.
They now attend ten markets a month, with the help of Ian’s sister who mans the stall at some events. As all the soups are seasonal, they change the flavours regularly.
Spring flavours include roast plum tomato and basil and new potato and Wirral watercress, while in Autumn leek and potato and honey roast carrot are on the menu.
Winter favourites include cauliflower and mature Cheddar and cream of mushroom, and the original butternut squash, chilli and ginger favourite is available all year round.
They currently don’t trade in the summer, due to the reduced demand for hot soup and the difficulties of keeping the batches cool and fresh.
“We developed a range of flavours, to include something a bit different for those with a more adventurous palate, while not ignoring traditional recipes like leek and potato,” explains Ian.
“Our company ethos is to be as fresh and local as we can, and all our recipes are free of any artificial additives, wheat or gluten. They’re also low in salt, as we use a very high quality stock. We must be doing something right, as when we’re at an event, eight out of ten people who taste the soup will buy some.”
Ian is currently working with Chester University to find a way of extending shelf life.
“I’d like to take the business to delicatessens and farm shops, but we need to have a tamper-proof pot. I’m resisting moving to plastic pots at the moment, and we’re exploring alternatives. I’d like to be able to ‘hot pot’ the soup, e.g. pour it hot into the container then sealing it, creating a vacuum which will help extend the shelf life.
At the moment, the soup lasts for three days in the fridge or can be frozen. With the ‘hot pot’ solution, it would last for 7 – 10 days in the fridge. I’d like to grow the business so that I can eventually make it a full time job, and let the soup take over my life!”
Ian’s tips for super soup:
- “Always use the freshest vegetables you can for soup. People are often tempted to ‘use up’ veg to make soup, but it does affect the flavour. We only use the freshest ingredients – we like it to have been harvested the day before we use it.
- Don’t overcook the soup, as it cooks the flavour out, and re-heat it in small batches so that you’re not constantly heating it.
- Re-heat over a nice gentle heat, and serve with some nice fresh bread.
Ian’s soup is available at farmers’ markets in the North West, and will shortly be available for sale online. For more information and a list of markets, please visit www.souperlicious.co.uk.