The final task before the dreaded interview week saw the seven remaining Apprentice candidates attacking the premium dessert market with gusto. But while Summit creamed some big orders, Tenacity made a pudding of their efforts, resulting in a double-barrelled double firing as Katie Bulmer-Cooke and Sanjay Sood-Smith received their just desserts.
Tea and trifle
Trifle versus tea cheesecakes
Oolong, yuzu, saffron flakes
Katie was the first to go
Sanjay next to leave the show
The candidates are summoned to meet Lord Sugar at Tate Britain, the museum founded by Sir Henry Tate of the Tate and Lyle sugar brand. Their task is to create a range of three premium puddings and pitch them to three supermarket chains, with the team gaining the most orders winning.
Sugar moves Daniel Lassman from Tenacity to Summit and brings Sanjay across in the other direction. He then names Roisin Hogan and Katie as Summit and Tenacity’s project managers respectively, as this task plays in an area close to both their business ideas: Roisin wants to go into the ready meal business, while Katie wants to open a healthy eating restaurant.
Sanjay cannot hide his relief at changing teams, criticising Bianca Miller for constantly covering her back.
The teams get down to work. With input from Solomon Akhtar, Roisin settles on the idea of incorporating tea and cheesecake. She picks Bianca to do the branding with her but after Solomon protests she takes him, leaving Bianca and Daniel to deal with manufacturing. As they bat around ideas in the Apprenti-Carrier, Solomon mistakes ‘camomile’ for ‘caramel’. Still, at least he doesn’t have to worry about anything being ‘antamological’ this week.
Katie researches ingredients such as truffle oil, saffron, yuzu (an Oriental citrus fruit), lavender and hibiscus. At a Michelin-starred restaurant, Mark Wright and Sanjay are advised to stick with something familiar that people will recognise – they settle on trifle. At the factory, Katie adds saffron by the bucketload.
Meanwhile in Soho, Daniel and Bianca taste high-end teas at French restaurant Gauthier. Daniel is out of his depth, while Bianca is much more at home. At the factory, Daniel feels there’s too much tea in their cheesecake mix while Bianca thinks there isn’t enough. They agree to meet in the middle.
The two teams take different directions on branding. Sanjay comes up with a play on words, ‘A Trifle Different’, while Mark creates a gingham patterned design which looks anything but premium. Nearby, an enthusiastic Solomon comes up with lots of ideas for Roisin’s ‘Tea Pot’ cheesecakes, and their design is more sober with a slightly old-fashioned feel conveying a sense of class.
The following morning, the teams set off to pitch to Asda, Waitrose and Tesco.
Katie takes a democratic approach to the pitches, with each of her team assigned to lead one pitch. Roisin is more ruthless, putting herself and Bianca on point in the morning with the clear intention of sidelining Daniel and Solomon.
First, though, both teams do some in-store taste testing with shoppers. Sanjay trials Katie’s trifles and receives mostly positive feedback, setting aside some negative comments questioning their branding. Daniel and Solomon get stuck in traffic going to their test store – Roisin and Bianca are unconcerned that they might not be there in time for the first pitch.
Both teams’ first port of call is Asda. Roisin and Bianca pitch their cheesecake range: lemon and Earl Grey, white chocolate and green tea with coconut flakes, and peach and oolong vanilla. They present well and are asked lots of questions. But Katie’s pitch of Tenacity’s trifles goes less well, as her black cherry, saffron and honey variant is judged to be overpowering with a strange after-taste.
Next stop: high-end grocer Waitrose. Encouraged by the response to their opening pitch, Roisin shuts the boys out, stating that she doesn’t want interruptions. in the presentation itself Daniel predictably cuts across Roisin, although in fairness he talks considerably more sense than he has in the past. Afterwards, Roisin is not happy.
Before arriving at Waitrose, Mark reminds Katie of his previous sales successes and gets himself switched to the final pitch. To be fair, although Mark is being a little sneaky again, he has a point. Sanjay ends up taking Waitrose. However, theIR food chef notes the high cost of using so much saffron and the team’s branding is criticised for not signalling a premium positioning.
Finally, the teams take a trip to an unassuming estate in Cheshunt, the head office of the UK’s largest retailer, Tesco. Summit’s pitch goes well, with Daniel and Solomon being allowed to contribute more. They like the idea of combining the nation’s favourite drink with one of its favourite desserts, the clear, confident packaging and the product itself.
Tenacity’s pitch, surprisingly, goes less well. Mark says before the pitch:
Do you go to the race-track and leave your prize stallion in the shed? No.
And to be fair to him he’s justified in his bravado, having sold well at every opportunity on previous tasks. But here he falters, choking both literally and figuratively. He may have been Tenacity’s prize stallion, but here he stumbles out of the starting gate and never really gets going. It’s a disaster, both for him and his team.
Advantage Summit again.
In the boardroom, Sugar wastes no time breaking out the jokes as he refers to Summit’s Tea Pot brand:
So you’re the first people to make a chocolate teapot?
Oh, how we rolled in the aisles!
Roisin receives a rougher ride than expected on three counts. Firstly, for allowing Solomon to wriggle out of manufacturing duty. Then she plays down Solomon’s role in creating the brand, but Nick Hewer is quick to contradict her and talk up his contribution. And finally it’s pointed out that, despite attempting to muzzle Daniel, when he did speak up the retailers seemed to like what he had to say.
That’s nothing compared to the grilling Tenacity receive. Karren Brady starts by firing a broadside at Sanjay, quoting his initial comment dissing Bianca. It’s unexpected and, to my mind, unwarranted. Things get worse for him as Sugar pulls him up for ignoring the negative in-store feedback, saying that he should have used this to pre-empt potential questions in the pitches. He has a fair point, although equally it’s also easy to place too much emphasis on the opinions of just one or two people.
Katie admits that one of the retailers’ response to her trifles was “not keen”, which Karren translates as “disgusting, inedible, throw it in the bin”. Finally Mark, to his credit, owns up to not doing well at Tesco and doesn’t even attempt to sugar-coat his failure:
To be honest I went in and dropped my bundle … The situation beat me.
With Tenacity down on the canvas, it’s on to the results. Asda didn’t like Katie’s pitch but, aside from the saffron variant, they liked the product and placed an order for 13,500 units. Summit was considered too niche and received no orders. Conversely, Waitrose felt A Trifle Different wasn’t premium enough, so Tenacity struck out. However, they ordered 5,500 from Summit. Finally – and most critically – Tesco rejected Tenacity for their confused branding but thought Summit were wonderful, placing an order for 20,000 units.
The result: Summit 25,500, Tenacity 13,500. Summit hit the Thames to sample macaroons and martinis, while Tenacity are sent to the Cafe of Broken Dreams to mull over where it all went wrong.
Back in the boardroom, Katie comes under fire for her overuse of expensive saffron. This leads to an examination of her business plan to open the first of a chain of healthy eating restaurants. Although she has worked in restaurants before, she’s not a chef and she has little business management experience. Hmm.
Sugar then turns his attention to the branding, which puts both Mark and Sanjay under the spotlight. The latter’s idea to establish a social network bringing together providers and customers in the fitness world soon has Sugar calling him deluded and Mark, whose day job is in digital advertising, coming out all guns blazing to trash his proposed numbers. Sugar takes heed.
Ultimately Sugar decides that Katie’s restaurant idea is too niche, too difficult to scale and that, despite being a hard grafter, she’s lacking in both food knowledge and the wider business experience to move up from being a sole trader to a proper business owner. And that means the Digit of Doom. In the Taxi to Obscurity, she says:
I’m really proud of everything that I’ve done in the process. I think I’ve learned skills that I didn’t even know that I had. I’ve outperformed people who do these skills as part of their job every day and I’m really proud of everything that I’ve done here.
And so she should. Her work ethic and common sense deservedly carried her much further in the process than many of those with superior qualifications and business experience.
With at least one more firing required to bring next week’s interviews down to a manageable number, it’s a straightforward choice for Sugar. Mark choked this week but has been a strong performer throughout, whereas Sanjay has failed to shine on any previous task and only survived last week thanks to Felipe’s error. Sugar tells him he doesn’t have confidence in his website proposal – in reality, it’s more Sanjay he doesn’t have confidence in – and so he’s next out of the door.
To his credit, Sanjay departs with a smile still on his face:
I’m really disappointed, however I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved over the past few weeks. And I’ve learned and demonstrated some skills that, from a corporate background, I didn’t know I had and I’m going to make sure I turn that into a positive.
A likeable, intelligent and pleasant enough chap, but like so many others in this process he never really showed any strong commercial skills.
That just leaves a perspiring Mark, who’s fully aware he isn’t safe. But Sugar offers him one last chance to prove himself – and rightly so, as it would have been harsh to fire one of this season’s most consistent performers for one catastrophic moment.
So now we have our final five: Bianca, Mark, Roisin, Solomon and … Daniel. Who’d have thought it?
As ever in this task, some pitches are more important than others. Here two factors came into play: size and customer demographics.
Tesco is by far the largest grocery chain in the UK, accounting for 29% of all grocery sales and with over 2,600 stores. Asda is the second-biggest grocer, commanding 17% of the market through over 500 stores. Waitrose has over 300 stores but just 5% of market sales. However, their customer base is more upmarket, making them a better fit for this task than Asda’s price-conscious customer base. Tesco sits somewhere in the middle.
Therefore Tesco was the must-win pitch. With that in mind, Katie’s initial decision to put Sanjay rather than Mark on to the Tesco pitch was baffling.
It’s no surprise that Summit won, although you have to wonder how much of a difference it might have made if Mark had been on top of his game. Given their size, any order from Tesco might well have produced an unlikely victory for the inferior brand. On such fine margins do Apprentice tasks rest.
Finally, a few other technical notes from this week.
Sugar’s focus on Katie’s overuse of saffron from a cost perspective was a point of detail, but a fair one. The production of ready-made foods involves a delicate balance between quality and cost. For a product which would retail at around £2 per unit, once you take off VAT and the retailer’s and manufacturer’s profit margins, the product cost is no more than 40p-50p, which includes packaging and preparation costs. It doesn’t leave a big budget for raw ingredients, and from what we saw Katie’s products looked too expensive to make economically. Incidentally, the same could be said for Roisin’s range – had Summit lost, we might have seen a similar discussion with them.
Sugar’s dismissal of Sanjay’s business idea appeared to hinge solely on a couple of comments by Mark, although in all likelihood there was a more detailed examination that we weren’t privy to. While Mark had a vested interest in undermining Sanjay, I have to agree with his assessment. Social networks are a crowded market, Sanjay’s proposal was niche and therefore difficult to scale advertising revenues, and I couldn’t see a compelling reason for fitness trainers and gym members to sign up.
There are many larger social networks who struggle to ever reach breakeven let alone turn a consistent profit – look at how long it took Twitter and Facebook to become profitable. The one potential upside that wasn’t discussed in the boardroom is that a number of enterprises have done well enough to merit acquisition by a larger rival, which would offer a lucrative exit strategy for an investor. However, it’s a high-risk area: for every start-up that succeeds in cashing out, there are hundreds who sink without trace. Would Sugar want to take such a big risk? Probably not.
Finally, we didn’t hear any detail about Mark’s internet marketing platform idea but it’s broad enough to have potential and it’s in his area of experience too. We’ll discover next week whether the combination of him and his idea is truly an investable proposition.
Next time: It’s the dreaded interviews. And who’s that poacher turned gamekeeper replacing Margaret Mountford? Why, it’s only season eight winner Ricky Martin!