How a volcano jump-started a £40m business

In 1992, William Chase had hit rock bottom.

It was the year after Mount Pinatubo erupted and the fallout meant much of the world had no real summer to speak of… and the UK had some of worst rainfall on record. Chase could only watch in horror as his potato crops rotted in the ground.

Image of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

William Chase didn’t let a volcano eruption and a failed potato harvest stop him.

Always a shaky business because of price fluctuations Chase’s potato farm sank, he declared bankruptcy… and ran away to Australia.

But it wasn’t over for William Chase. Because although he couldn’t do anything about the weather or the failed harvest, he knew that what happened next was up to him – so he picked himself up, pulled himself together, and marched back home.

Where he borrowed some money and set his farm up again – back on the family land near Leominster in Herefordshire. Not much had changed, though: the supermarkets were still treating farmers like crap and prices were still flaky, so our intrepid farmer started spud trading. The problem was – and still is – that supermarkets were rejecting 50% of his potato deliveries.

Not because they were rotten.

Not because they were infested.

But because they didn’t pass the beauty parade.

You may have gathered that William Chase is not the kind of man who’ll take this kind of shit lying down… and he didn’t. He did a little digging (ahem) and discovered that Kettle – the posh crisp company – was buying up the rejects and making a killing.

“Well, if they can do it, so can I! Plus, Kettle is an American company!” declared Chase.

But there was a problem. He didn’t know anything about the crisp industry, and none of the crisp makers in the UK would talk to him about the process. Undeterred, he flew out to the US and learned about crisp-making (or potato chips, to the Yanks) over there.

When he came back, he created Tyrrell’s. I don’t know about you, but I love a packet of Tyrrell’s crisps with a pint of real ale…

And so did a whole swathe of middle-class crisp-munchers, because after a couple of years Tyrrell’s was turning over £14m a year at a 35% profit margin.

Not long after that William Chase sold Tyrrell’s for a neat £40m.

Go and have a look at their website. They’re exceedingly English and their website is crammed with…


Which William Chase believes in wholeheartedly. In fact, he attributes part of his success to the power of a good story. Who knew that the poshest crisps in the land started life as ugly potato rejects?

The power of a good story, eh? Which is something I talk all about in my book, Business For Superheroes I show you exactly how to write stories that’ll hook your reader in, and convince them to buy from you.

No information overload; no dense theory; just a few simple ideas. You can get your copy here.



Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

PS William Chase’s story didn’t stop there… Want to know what he did next? I’ll share tomorrow…

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