If Mark Duerr had worked a little harder at school, he might now be running Rolls Royce

Instead, along with younger brother Richard, he is the driving force behind Duerr’s, the £60 million turnover jams and spreads business based in Wythenshawe.

Mark and Richard are the fifth generation to run the family business having taken over the day-to-day running from their father Tony.

Between them, they have transformed the business from a company turning over £1million in the 1960s into a brand whose products are familiar on the breakfast tables of millions of Britons.

Although he may have dabbled with the idea of entering the luxury car industry, Mark had always been fascinated by the family business and started out by working in the warehouse. He then spent time abroad meeting customers and working alongside suppliers.

Mark says: “My father was keen for us to learn everything we could about what makes the business tick. This meant making mistakes along the way – at one stage I was involved in the labelling for Sainsbury’s strawberry jam but got it wrong and spent four or five weekends washing them off for no extra money!

“Something like that teaches you the importance of detail. Today’s business is more systemised than ever, but it is still a human business.”

One of the biggest and most successful decisions Duerr’s has made during Mark’s time in the family firm was the diversification into peanut butter. It now makes up half of the business and the market is growing at a rate of 15% a year.

Mark is in no doubt as to the importance of this decision, observing: “Peanut butter transformed Duerr’s. We will do 13,000 tons this year. Without it we may well have struggled to survive. We don’t do chocolate spread or marmite but we now have a nice spread of Duerr’s and private label products across jams, marmalade, peanut butter, mincemeat, honey and condiments.”

Like all true entrepreneurs, Mark is hungry for further growth. The latest business plan is aiming for a turnover of £75million and EBITDA of £8million within 10 years.

Despite its long history – the company traces its history to 1881 – and significant growth in the last quarter of a century, Duerr’s has only recently put in place a New Product Development (NPD) strategy. This has seen leading market research specialist Paul Cousins of Chester-based Cousins Davis and ex-Pataks Group MD David Page recruited as strategy advisers.

The first exciting product innovation, launching this month in Sainsbury’s, is a “world first” – a high protein peanut butter called Hi-PRO. Mark enthuses: “What’s really exciting is that this is genuine NPD – this has never been done before. We have found a way to produce a peanut butter with 33% protein in every serving, perfect for active, sporty people.”

Would Mark ever recommend selling the family business?

“History and the five generations are nice, but ultimately it is not really that important to a customer like Sainsbury’s. There was a time when selling the business would never have been on the table. We have an exciting 10-year plan. The business was a lot less complex when Richard and I started. If our children want to come into it, they will have to impress us!”

Wisdom of Mark

  • Avoid family fighting. You have to be driven by the same goal.
  • No protected species, family or non-family. You can’t carry people.
  • Never cross people – you never know when they will turn up into your life.
  • Embrace change and innovation – but cost it properly.
  • Work hard….but play harder.

This article has been published in HM Magazine, available here