A man who grew up in a social house and made his fortune selling chips has revealed that he has lost everything – but has no regrets.
John Mudd, the man behind Real Crisps, became a millionaire overnight when Irish chip giants Tayto bought him for £ 1.3m in 2007.
John had a full bank account and vacation home in Italy for a while but now lives in a small bungalow in Caerphilly at 73 – reports WalesOnine.
John says a quarter of the money he made was used to buy the house in Tuscany – right before the recession – and he has put much of the money into a number of failed businesses.
He said, “I have no regrets. I’ve lived like a millionaire for a decade and now I’m just living a normal life. “
John Mudd became a millionaire overnight when he sold Real Crisps in 2007 (Image: WalesOnline / Rob Browne)
In the early 1990s, hand-cooked chips were still considered a premium product. Born and raised in Cardiff and “120% of the working class”, John founded Real Crisps in 1997.
At 15 he had left school, worked at a fruit market and then as a delivery driver.
He got a job selling sausages and cakes from a van, and when he was 28 he joined Smiths Crisps as a salesman.
In 1972 he moved to rival Bensons Crisps and rose nationally in marketing.
John Mudd turned Real Crisps into a £ 13.5 million company (Image: WalesOnline / Rob Browne)
Frustrated with plans to close Bensons’ Welsh factory, he offered to take over the Newport site and its 100 or so employees and try a hand-cooked crispy product, but the Bensons bosses declined.
Undeterred, John, who was then working in the new Preston factory, was trying to figure out how to bring hand-cooked chips to market.
He said, “I bought the big bags of M&S private label chips that were manufactured by Kettle at the time, put them in small bags and then took them through the local pubs.” A bag of chips, that was my concept. “
After a stay in Italy, John and his wife Lorena are back in a bungalow in Caerphilly (Image: WalesOnline / Rob Browne)
He moved Mrs. Lorena and her two children back to Wales.
John founded Sirhowy Valley Foods – which would later make Real Crisps – with a combination of hard-earned investments and company grants.
John needed a name for his burgeoning, crispy company. He thought of his two daughters – Rebecca and Rachel – and rearranged the letters to find Real.
He used a third of his £ 100,000 investment to buy the contents of a Bombay mix factory in Manchester – including a “terrible” stove. “The equipment was pretty primitive, but it served the purpose,” he said.
Real Crisps were created by a Welshman who craves the nostalgic taste of Chipmunk Oxo Chips (Image: WalesOnline / Rob Browne)
He was also responsible for flavors, drawing on his Welsh heritage and years of experience in the industry, as well as his knowledge of how chips are sold locally.
“Flavors are very local – we’d sell hundreds and thousands of bags of Bovril chips in Cardiff, but we couldn’t give them away in Swansea,” he said of his time at Smiths.
“I remember Chipmunk Oxo Chips – they were all the rage 30 years ago,” said John. Golden Wonder eventually took over Chipmunk and discontinued the flavor, though they introduced beef flavor due to the popularity of Oxo.
Changes to the more traditional flavors also turned out to be an inspiring idea – salt and malt vinegar, as well as strong cheese and onions. Real Crisps was the first brand, alongside M&S, to offer salt and black pepper.
Before long, bags of Real Crisps could be found in small shops and independent retailers across South Wales. Contrary to the trend towards larger sharing bags, Real Crisps were competitively priced and available in three pack sizes – 35g, 55g and 150g – that appealed to the pub audience.
“We were fine, even though we lost money, but we had started developing sales.
“We had to expand, but we didn’t have the money,” said John. “We had only been out for about 18 months and the banks didn’t advance the amount we needed. It came to the stage that we had to close. “
But then came a stroke of luck. Newport-based Bar and Restaurant Foods agreed to invest £ 50,000 in Real Crisps in exchange for 80% of the company’s shares.
With the extra money, John went ahead with four new stoves and a new factory, producing 5,000 boxes of chips each week.
In the meantime, Real Crisps had signed a contract for the production of its own brand for Asda and Somerfield and had also entered Tesco stores – first regionally and then nationally. John set out on his own, bringing his product to Starbucks and Caffé Nero stores across the country. Sandwich bars in Cardiff and London started stocking Real Crisps and then Castell Howell wholesalers called.
In the first five years, sales increased fivefold. John originally wanted to sell 500 boxes of chips a week, which he knew would make good money. When the business was sold, 50,000 boxes were leaving the factory every week.
“We went from the foundation in 1997 to the sale of the company in 2007, which had a turnover of 13.5 million companies.
John received approximately £ 1.3 million from the sale for his 16 percent stake in the company.
“It was a lot of money for an Ely boy,” said John. “I had 16% of something great – before that, I had 100% of nothing,” John shrugged. When he’s brutally honest with himself, he wishes the business he built from scratch was never sold.
“There is no such thing as passion,” he said of Real Crisps today. “Small businesses are run by passionate entrepreneurs, but they can’t buy that passion. I was very excited about Real Crisps, I knew it was going to work. But you have to love it to make it work. “
Straightforward John enjoyed “the rich tapestry of life” (Image: WalesOnline / Rob Browne)
He is currently working on a business idea around the renovation of portable cabins.
He is satisfied with his lot – his family remains close, he has enough money to live on.