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Turning a small company into big Breckland business

PUBLISHED: 09:17 12 March 2010 | UPDATED: 11:40 08 July 2010

Claire Martinsen gave up a successful career to launch a range of soft drinks - and spend more time with her family. And a year on she is a big step closer to making Breckland Orchard a million pound business.

Claire Martinsen gave up a successful career to launch a range of soft drinks - and spend more time with her family. And a year on she is a big step closer to making Breckland Orchard a million pound business. SAM WILLIAMS reports.

LAUNCHING her range of fruit drinks at regional food exhibition Feast East last year, Claire Martinsen had a name, labels, bottles, and by the narrowest of margins her products to show - but not a single customer.

Now one year on, the mother-of-two boasts a growing list of nearly 300 outlets stocking her drinks and a major industry award.

And with bold plans for expansion she is already a big step closer to achieving her aim of making Breckland Orchard a million pound business.

Mrs Martinsen, from Watton, joined confectionery giant Mars in 1997, performing a number of roles before becoming an account director for the company.

But after 12 years at the firm, with two young children, she was forced to reconsider her options, making the difficult decision to give up her job to allow her to spend time with her family.

She said: “I absolutely loved working for Mars. But with two children, then aged one and three, I realised that I couldn't keep the job, as there was lots of commuting to London.

“It was the most difficult decision I have ever made.”

And it was not long before Mrs Martinsen was planning her next venture. Inspired by her grandmother, who used to make fruit drinks from a small farm in South Wales, she decided to look into the possibility of producing similar drinks commercially.

Mrs Martinsen said: “My granny made fantastic fruit drinks when I was a kid, when she had a small farm, and I started thinking, is there a way of taking these fantastic drinks and making them on a bigger scale?”

Researching the idea through countless phone calls and internet searches, two early breakthroughs helped Mrs Martinsen make her dreams a reality.

Firstly, she got in contact with someone who could help her bottle her products nearby, and secondly she received help and advice with the recipes, making them suitable for production.

After coming up with the brand and designing the drink labels, she then faced a desperate rush to get the products ready for the Feast East exhibition in March 2009, an event celebrating excellence in regional food and drink.

While it was a huge task to get the drinks ready on time - and one she nearly missed - Mrs Martinsen said having that tight deadline set was a big benefit to getting the business up and running.

“I had to be ready for that date,” she said. “It was a panic but without that I wouldn't have got it done so quickly.”

Aiming her products at cafes, delis and farm shops, the past 12 months have seen rapid growth in demand for the bottled drinks.

All four flavours, Cloudy Lemonade, Cranberry and Rosehip, Blackcurrant and Raspberry, and the biggest seller, Ginger Beer with Chilli, have proved popular with the punters, all made with Norfolk spring water.

And last week saw the launch of two new flavours, Pear and Elderflower and Strawberry and Rhubarb, to add to the repertoire.

Mrs Martinsen added: “The thing I am most proud of is when people tell me how good my products taste, and knowing I have actually made the products and designed the labels. It makes me so proud to hear that.”

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