Interview with Dan Featherstone, founder of Made for Drink

Find out how Dan Featherstone perfectly combined his experience working for well known crisp and wine brands to launch Made for Drink – and transform our Friday nights!

What’s your career background?

I began life on a Walkers graduate scheme selling crisps off the back of a van before finally finding my way to the marketing department. From there I moved into the wine industry, working for a fantastic Chilean business called Concha y Toro, a genuine all hands-on deck role where I was empowered to make a real difference.

Looking back, it now makes perfect sense that my first solo venture would be launching an artisanal snacking business that saw the scope for snacks that paired seamlessly with the nation’s favourite alcoholic tipples. 

Where did the idea for Made for Drink come from?

I’d realised early on I had little interest in climbing corporate ladders as I never believed it was the key to making me truly happy. This was also a time in my life when my family was going through tough times and felt a career where I was truly in control of my destiny was the best way to ensure that my family and I were the happiest we could all be.

What started out as a slightly obsessive hobby to make the finest gastronomic snacks rapidly snowballed into something altogether bigger.

The first step change moment was when I pitched my first snack, Duck Fritons (think duck crackling) to Heston B’s Crowne pub in Bray. It was and remains to this day the best single meeting I’ve ever had.

They believed in my vision to create a range of gourmet snacks inspired by the very best World Cuisine, and agreed that if I could find a way to scale up without compromising quality that they’d get right behind me. 

Four years down the line we still take every new employee for lunch at our first listing not only to bring the story full circle but to help them appreciate that they’re part of an ongoing adventure that’s served in some of the world’s most exceptional food and drink establishments. 

Who’s your target audience?

Our snacks are both unashamedly indulgent and about ‘Friday night.’ There’s an overbearing tsunami of brands pushing so-called health messages and yet for me health is such a ‘personal thing.’  

Balance for me is the answer, true delicious moments must be craved and pursued on the simple proviso that they operate within a wider, healthier living framework. In other words, if you’re going to break ranks and truly indulge, don’t be half-hearted in your choices! 

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in building your business?

Self-doubt is a killer and in a small business like mine there’s a lot of thinking time moments when uncertainty and anxiety can take grip. 

On the flip side, nothing beats working with an incredibly close group of like-minded, snacking obsessives to achieve something truly monumental. 

How did you take your business from idea to reality?

Central to our original vision was being fully in control of our destiny, which in the early days meant being in control of our production from day one.

Establishing our own manufacturing practice was far from easy however it did mean we never had to compromise in terms of who we employed, the quality of ingredients we sourced or even the ‘man hours’ we put aside for new product innovation. 

From the outset we wanted an authentic sense of identity, a spiritual home which is why we remain so proud of becoming Windsor &Maidenhead’s first EU approved, food manufacturing business. 

Whilst the on-trade and hospitality is and always will our heartland, word was starting to spread. Fortnums introduced themselves to us at the Guardian Food & Drink awards, whilst Waitrose were adamant that we should become their first duel-sited snacks (snacking bays and wine bars).

That was merely the beginning, with various ‘retail heroes’ in their respective fields (Partridges, Selfridges, Daylesford, Amazon, Borough Box, Cook Stores…. to name but a few) rallying to our fine snacking cause. 

We were now winning awards (Great British Food, Quality, Manufacturing Excellence) for fun whilst success at Sainsbury’s inaugural Future Brands initiative led to a far-reaching listing that took us on to a new scale trajectory AND YET, something still felt missing!”

What’s your commitment to ‘caring capitalism’?

Initially we had dodged the ‘planet responsible’ packaging bullet by convincing ourselves that any well-intentioned tweaks might damage our all-important product integrity.

And yet questions from my inquisitive son Henry refused to go away. And the simple truth is when you’re the founder of a business, the brand represents you and your values. In July 20 (after 13 months of hard work) we launched a category first, home compostable/plastic-free pouch for our Salami Chips, which was soon rolled out to the rest of our range. 

Then we turned our attention to our CO2 emissions, having realised that even a fledgling business like ours was generating approximately 100 tonnes of unwelcome CO2 emissions a year. Today we’ve moved our production to 95% green energy and evolved our UK distribution to a CO2 net neutral model.  

Perhaps most excitingly of all is our sequestering of a sizeable plot of land ( whilst working alongside the Forestry Commission, guardians of our forest, Dean Wood an official ancient woodland (containing unplanted native trees, plants and invertebrates found nowhere else). Today only 2% Ancient woodland remains and once it’s gone it’s gone!

What’s next for Made for Drink?

Look out for our Tapas & ‘Chicken Salt’ Fries launching in Sainsbury’s and Fortnums (March 21). After four years raising the bar for upmarket meaty snacks perhaps it was inevitable that we’d take our unique brand of ‘Inspired by World Cuisine’ thinking into a set-in-its ways potato chips fixture. 

Find out more about Made for Drink.