Living the dream – Peppermongers
Meet the double act bringing proper pepper to people’s plates (try saying that quickly after a few drinks). Tom Alcott and Pete Gibbons are the bosses of Bristol-based company Peppermongers.
How did you two meet?
We’ve known each other since we were four – Pete lived at number 46 and I was across the road at number 45, on a street in St Ives in Cambridgeshire. We bonded over The Muppets. I come from a foodie family – I was scared to bring friends home from school because my mum would be there, sawing
off a pig’s head.
How did you get into pepper?
Five years ago we were both working for Tom’s wife’s ethical water company. At the end of one
of our trips to Kerala in India we spent three days learning about pepper. It was fascinating.
Yes, a fellow Bristolian suggested we went to check out pepper growers. We did and are so glad we did – it was a revelation to learn about good, proper pepper, and we couldn’t understand why it was so hard to get in the UK. We pooled our skills and went from there. I’m interested in the history of pepper, too: the East India Company and all that. You get a sense of the old spice trade when you visit places like Kerala.
What’s the key to your success?
You’re buying from Tom and Pete. For the big companies, pepper is a commodity for making as much profit as they can. We want to focus on respecting the soil, getting away from mass consumerism and getting back to a more ethical way
of farming. We work by the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia. It’s about doing right by everyone – suppliers, customers, farmers – not doing the bare minimum and trying to get away with it.
What challenges do you face?
It can be difficult to get people to taste the pepper – they can’t see the value initially.
It’s like someone saying champagne is just sparkling plonk. On one level that’s true, but it’s a matter of education about how much better pepper can be. Our challenge is that our stuff needs to be tasted to be believed and there’s no scratch-and-sniff internet yet.
What traits have helped you succeed?
Ignorance has helped. We don’t have any baggage, so we’re full of enthusiasm.
And delusion. Why else would we be taking on the big boys? You soon come to appreciate the reality, but wanting to navigate obstacles helps you to keep going.
As does a huge dose of good luck.
Do you have any advice to give to would-be spice mongers?
Don’t do it! I’m joking, of course – the more the merrier. Dealing with customs, international currency trading, the whole supply chain – it’s a huge challenge but it’s rewarding. We’re rediscovering proper pepper.
Peppermongers products are available at Harvey Nichols in London and in farm shops. The range includes Tellicherry Black Pepper, Indonesian Long Pepper, Javanese Cubeb Pepper and Sichuan Flower Pepper. Each pack costs £4.