Big Bear Cider, from Braintree, Essex, explains how the Group2Grow Peer Network programme came at just the right time for their business, helping them to take a step back and define a forward-thinking strategy.
In 2010 husband and wife Mark and Kathryn Hughes made a decision to rejuvenate an historic orchard that had been turned into a gravel pit during the 70’s. Bringing it back to life, they planted 20 varieties of apple trees and set to work producing 100% apple juice ciders for their friends and family.
By 2015, they had discovered a huge demand for their cider, and realised this could become much more than just a hobby. From there Big Bear Cider was born, and their vision to challenge the perceptions of both Essex and Cider began, offering a product that is sustainable, and both naturally vegan and gluten free. Big Bear is proud of its commitment to taking care of the environment, avoiding the use of pesticides, using recyclable cans, and nurturing their trees through the use of worm beds.
Their overall mission is simple, ‘to turn their passion for apples into quality cider available all year round.’
Now stocked at over 60 stockists across Essex and the surrounding areas, the business has grown tremendously, and they are now looking at how to make the next step forward.
In 2021, Abigail Brockwell who looks after sales and marketing for Big Bear Cider signed up for the Backing Essex Business ‘Group2Grow’ Peer Network Programme.
She told us
“The Group2Grow programme came at an ideal time for us. We had just launched our first retail canned products and had the reached a point where we needed focus on our next steps. The programme has helped me take a step back from my day to day and really think about our strategy and how we are going to take the business on its next growth journey.”
The Group2Grow programme is a Peer Network provided by business support initiative Backing Essex Business. The programme which is fully funded by Essex County Council, was created to bring business leaders together to discuss common problems and work together to share experiences and knowledge to help each business move forward. The free 8 x 2 hour sessions, are hosted by an experienced business coach who helps to guide each meeting, and provides their own valuable insight. In additional to this, each participant receives 3 hours 1:2:1 mentoring with the coach to discuss individual goals.
“Our Business Coach Sarah has facilitated some insightful conversations that has helped us to look at things in a slightly different way. She asked questions that really makes you think about if there is another way to achieve your goals. You think you know how to do something, but then when questioned, you realise that there is always room to learn more.”
The Group2Grow Programme is made up of cohorts of between 8-10 business professionals from a variety of backgrounds and industries. This provides each participant access to a diverse range of knowledge and expertise that they would perhaps not encounter otherwise, which many have found extremely beneficial.
Abigail told us:
“The challenges experienced by each member has been quite different, which has been really interesting, and giving me insight into how other businesses operate. Any advice given to me has been impartial which is invaluable. I’ve also found when listening and reflecting on comments made by peers it has sparked thoughts and opportunities for our business.”
What comes next?
Nearing the end of the programme, Abigail now has her sights set on her next steps, armed with a plethora of ideas and tasks she can put into place to align her goals and move forward. Planning to launch a new low alcohol cider in the near future and considering what additional products can be added to the range, she is now feeling ready to get started.
“The opportunity is now to continue using the learnings I have gained from the programme, and to make them live and breathe within our business. We will focus on our goals and use what I have discovered to achieve that.” she told us.
When asked if she would recommend the programme to others she commented:
“Absolutely. When you are a small business any opportunity you can get to grow your business you need to grab and embrace. I think I will come out of this getting more than I expected. It has been refreshing to be in a very open and frank room, but one where everyone is there to support each other which is fantastic. “
We wish Abigail and Big Bear Cider all the best in achieving their future plans.
If you think you could benefit from being a part of the Group2Grow Peer Network Programme, Applications for the next cohorts (starting 2022) are now open. Register on https://backingessexbusiness.co.uk/peer-groups