A former millionaire who built an empire out of chips is now enjoying a “normal life” after losing everything.
John Mudd was the creator of Real Crisps, a brand that started in the Welsh valleys but was available in almost every trendy coffee bar and pub between Cardiff, London and Edinburgh.
The Welshman became a millionaire overnight when Irish chip giants Tayto bought him for £ 1.3 million in 2007.
With a healthy bank balance and a vacation home in Italy, John seemed to be living his dream.
But now the 73-year-old can be found in a “more modest environment” and lives in a small but fine bungalow in Caerphilly, as his fortune has largely disappeared.
The house in Camaiore, Tuscany, bought when the 2008 recession got a little harsh, cost him almost a quarter of it and he put a sizable portion of it into a few failed ventures.
He has yet to restore the magic – or the money – he found at Real Crisps, but the retiree is far from bitter.
“I regret nothing” he said Wales Online.
“I’ve lived like a millionaire for a decade and now I’m just living a normal life.”
John, who was born and raised in Cardiff, describes himself as “120 percent working class”.
At 15, he left school to work as a porter at a fruit market before he discovered his commercial flair and got a job selling sausages and cakes from a delivery truck.
But it wasn’t until he joined Smiths Crisps as a 28-year-old salesman that he built his career.
In 1972, he moved to rival Bensons Crisps – a move that allowed him to travel up and down the UK and become a marketing manager, first regionally and then nationally.
When plans emerged in the late 1990s to close the Welsh Bensons factory and relocate it to Preston, John – who had discovered a niche in the market for hand-cooked Welsh chips in smaller, individual packets instead of the large sharing bags – had offer – offered to take the factory and its 100 or so employees to try a hand-cooked crispy product.
But when the Bensons bosses refused, John insisted on figuring out how to get hand-cooked chips into the Welsh market.
“People said, ‘John’s hot – he’s still here at 9:00 p.m.,’” he said – although in truth he stayed longer to secretly consider how to start his own company.
“I bought the big bags of private label M&S chips that Kettle made at the time, put them in small bags, and then took them around the local pubs,” he said.
“They love a bag of chips in the pubs. That was my concept. “
John later founded Sirhowy Valley Foods, which later made Real Crisps, with a combination of hard-earned investments and company grants.
He used a third of his £ 100,000 investment to buy the contents of a Bombay mix factory in Manchester – including some “fairly primitive” equipment that “did the job”.
John was 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.
He remembered coming across Real Crisps’ bestseller, Roast Ox, and said, “I said, ‘Go and buy an Oxo cube and make me something with that flavor’.
“We couldn’t call it Oxo so I called it Roast Ox and it became a fabulous seller for us.”
Before long, bags of Real Crisps could be found in small shops and independent retailers across South Wales.
“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 did not prepay the amount we needed. It was so far that we had to close.”
Fortunately, Newport-based Bar and Restaurant Foods agreed to invest £ 50,000 in Real Crisps in exchange for an 80 percent stake in the company. With the extra money, John bought four new stoves and a new factory that made 5,000 boxes of chips each week.
In the first five years, sales increased fivefold and when the business was sold, 50,000 boxes were leaving the facility every week.
“We went from the founding in 1997 to the sale of the company in 2007, which had a turnover of 13.5 million.
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 percent of something great – before that, I had 100 percent of nothing.”
While his success and multi-million dollar lifestyle may be behind him, John hasn’t given up all hope – he’s currently working on a portable cabin renovation business idea.
But for now he’s happy with his lot – his family stays close, he has enough money to live on, and although he doesn’t have a mini orchard in the back, he has a well-tended garden in front of his bungalow.
He also admits that these days he’s more dipping into a bag of kettle chips than real chips.