Interview: JP Campbell, entrepreneur and philanthropist
WHAT are you having for lunch today? If it's a bit chilly (when is it not in Scotland?), chances are you'll be considering soup. It's the ultimate comfort food: warming, hearty, with a reassuring taste of home.
Who doesn't remember a giant pot of broth bubbling away on granny's stove?
Those were the memories JP Campbell (the JP stands for James Peter, but since both his father and grandfather share the same name, he’s initialised) tapped into when he left a life at the cutting edge of the financial crisis – trying to recover cash from struggling businesses as an insolvency lawyer – and start his own company.
Originally from Inverness, the 27-year-old came to Edinburgh to study, and worked with a large legal firm in the city. In the heart of the recession's storm, his job was both “interesting" and “challenging", he says tactfully. “I was very busy, and you see a lot of mistakes that have been made and where people have gone wrong."
You could say it was the perfect training ground for someone planning to start their own business. But, after four years, that wasn't the main reason he was ready to move on. Campbell’s father runs Highland-based charity Blythswood Care, which, among other campaigns, sends shoeboxes full of gifts to children in need at Christmas. “From the age of 15, I did a lot of charity work," says Campbell. “I went out to Romania, Bulgaria and the images of the desperately poor have never left me. That and the corporate world I worked in are polar opposites, and I wanted to marry the two."
He considered several business ideas until he thought, ‘What do I really like? The answer was simple. Food.
And so the Elephant Juice Soup Company was born. “People love soup," he enthuses. “It is a product the customer can really connect with – most people can remember the soup their mum or granny gave them."
Importantly, however, it also taps into the charitable aspect of Campbell’s business plan. Because every time someone buys a soup from his vintage Type H Citroën van, he has pledged to feed one hungry person, at home or overseas. His charity plans are still in their embryonic stages, but Campbell has lots of connections he hopes to use in order to achieve his goal. “Choosing a healthy product to deliver the promise of ‘one feeds two' was important as I wanted the customer to improve their own diet while also helping others suffering from malnutrition," he says.
Hunger has been cited by the World Bank as the most serious threat to the human race and kills more people than Aids, TB or malaria. “The problem is also a threat in the UK,” says Campbell. “Recent figures show over three million people are at risk.”
He plans to work with partner non-profit organisations already helping those in need, auditing how Elephant Juice donations are spent. “We're going out in July to visit one partner to be sure how the money is spent.”
So far, so noble. But doesn’t he have to make money too? “That's what the van is about,” he says. “It's a pilot to see how the model works, so it's a risk, but worth it. We're starting small because we need to test this.”
Campbell has a licence to be based in George Square, Edinburgh, but plans to keep mobile, alerting customers to his location via Facebook and Twitter.
He will also update the soup menu on social networking sites. Alongside traditional ham and lentil, you might also find haggis and sweet potato, or beetroot and lemon. “Soup’s really versatile I’ve had fun experimenting.”
So far, Elephant Juice is just Campbell – driving, chopping the veg, avoiding traffic wardens – but if things take off and “we become the number one fast food company in the world”, he hopes to launch a franchise or an incentivised management scheme.
Which is all very well. But what happens when the sun comes out? Gazpacho, anyone? “Well, in Scotland it's cold pretty much all year round,” says Campbell, “but we're looking at other products: salads, stuff like that.”
And what about that kooky name? “The phrase elephant juice, when mouthed with no sound, shares the same lip movement as I love you,” he says. “Given the business helps customers feed hungry people in need, I thought it made sense.”
• Elephant Juice Soup, @ejsoupco
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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