Jo Hilditch, the woman who turned down the dragons of Dragon's Den, joined the Herefordshire Conservative Business Breakfast Forum, (HCBF), as the guest speaker, at the Harewood End Inn.
She is a Deputy Lieutenant of Herefordshire and Managing Director of Whittern Farms and White Heron Brands Ltd
Mrs Hilditch was born and bred in Herefordshire and explained that as a child she grew up on the family farm. In her 20s she travelled the world, started a number of small businesses and spent some time in public relations, including jobs with Countrywide Communications and Powerhouse PR.
After marrying she returned to work on the farm with her father, following the death of her brother.
She applied her PR background and was keen to diversify. This expanded the business into chicken production, growing blackcurrants for Ribena, cider apples for Bulmers and a self-catering tourism operation with 70 beds.
Mrs Hilditch told the forum how she had directed the company through ups and downs in the last 20 years. While mistakes had been made, she had continually identified opportunities for grant funding and diversification - which led to her most famous product, British Cassis.
She told the group how she was encouraged to appear on Dragon’s Den as a platform for her cassis, and ended up refusing the offer made by three dragons because she did not like their terms.
She subsequently rebranded the product and it has gone from strength to strength. It was now a premium British liquor and sold as the “drink of choice” in the Royal Academy, she said.
Asked about challenges faced, she said: “Farming is a male-orientated industry, and being female has led to much prejudice along the way. Other challenges affecting farming include employment, the environment, Brexit and of course the unknown”.
Anthea McIntyre MEP, Chairman of the forum, later said: “Jo is a brilliant entrepreneur and a great ambassador for women in agriculture.”
Anthony Snell thanked the speaker and said: "Jo has an interesting, diverse background and her British Cassis is uniquely healthy and well marketed. We loved watching Dragons Den and how you turned them down.”