Crisp entrepreneur in private equity deal

Will Chase, the founder of Tyrrell’s Potato Chips, is reported to be doing a deal with private equity house Langholm Capital.

The company is expected to be sold for around £40m, according to the Independent

Tyrells was founded by Will Chase in 2002. The Chase family had owned a mixed arable farm in Herefordshire for 60 years. William bought the business from his father in 1980 and by 1998 had a turnover of £1m, selling high-quality, general-use potatoes.

But with margins being “dramatically eroded” by supermarkets, he realised that some major business engineering was needed. The inspiration for the new direction of Tyrrells Court Farm came when Chase travelled to the US looking to find a new use for his potatoes.

The answer was “chips” – or crisps as we call them. But no ordinary crisps. Chase discovered that “hand-made” crisps in the US were growing at 15 per cent a year. He had his answer: to create a gourmet organic potato chip “from field to packet, all on the same site, delivering ultimate freshness.”

Using existing staff at the farm, and a modified fish and chip fryer, Chase produced his first batch of crisps with which to approach local retailers. That was in spring 2001.

The response was so positive that he brought in a research company to assess the potential market and local management consultants to help him write a business plan.

With this evidence, Chase raised £1m in bank loans and a small food and processing grant from DEFRA, and converted a potato shed into a manufacturing plant. The Tyrrells Potato Chip Company was born in early 2002.

At the end of last year, Tyrells won a £5m interest-free loan in the Bank of Scotland Entrepreneurs’ Challenge.

Real Business recently reported on Chase’s diversification into vodka production. See our recent story on Tyrrell’s here.

A tie-up with Langholm would make good sense, as the firm is already successfully backing the niche cereal manufacturer Dorset Cereals.

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