Featured

Starting a food business: idea versus reality

Let’s go straight in with a hard-hitting fact: nine out of ten new food and drink businesses fail. Life for food startups – and indeed life for those behind the brainwave – is far from easy, so what is it that makes those that get off the ground thrive, and those that fall at the first hurdle sink? insideKENT spoke to four local food and drink entrepreneurs to dig a little deeper into their highs, their lows and their advice for budding food and drink businesses.

 

Lorna Wilks, Terlingham Vineyard, www.terlinghamvineyard.co.uk

 

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

We fell in love with Terlingham Manor Farm and its vineyard and winery! We had no previous knowledge of grape farming or winemaking and have been on the most incredible journey ever since; it’s a wonderful story for our family that we think reflects in our wines.

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

Graham, my husband, completed a short course in winemaking at Plumpton College and we urgently found a winemaker that we identified with – Kobus Louw, and an agronomist – Julienne Searle at Agrii.

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

The vineyard was hugely overgrown and we didn’t have the faintest idea how to successfully farm vines or make wine! We personally attended to the pruning, tying down, vine topping and tucking etc. to make sure that we understood our vineyard. It’s taken years… And we pretty quickly realised that the vineyard and winery was not a working business model, so we had to change the business plan substantially.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

Two things actually. Firstly, in 2015, we changed our farming and winemaking methods to follow the principles of natural farming and winemaking – a bold step for us! Secondly, our successful crops of 2016 and 2017. We now have a few years of experience and feel confident that we can grow our varieties of grapes on our terroir.

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

It’s simple – it has to taste wonderful, be a product you really believe in and, certainly for us, look good in a glass. We’re delighted that our daughters have started a business hosting Terlingham walks and wine tastings for the summer months – a fabulous environment to be introduced to Terlingham wines accompanied by a delicious ploughman’s platter lunch.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own food or drink business, what would that be?

Find a product that you really enjoy and are totally committed to, or simply fall in love with an idea and run with it. Deep pockets and plenty of time and patience also help!

 

Sally Newall, Simply Ice Cream, www.simplyicecream.co.uk

 

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

Simply Ice cream was set up in October 2005 on the back of a catering business that I have run for the last 28 years. I started thinking about trying to get some time back, especially on weekends, to spend with my husband and four children. The idea was to create a product that could be sold into retail that was produced and distributed throughout a normal working week. It turns out this was very naïve as I quickly realised that all the promotion and marketing that comes with building a business needs to be done through market stalls/events/trade shows/sampling in store etc. which predominantly take place over the weekend, so I ended up working harder than ever – regularly working 12 -18 hour days and every weekend.

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

Initially, we approached a local farm shop to see if they would sell our ice cream for us and then gauge how it sold; it’s very easy for friends and family to tell you to launch a product that they enjoy but you need to cover a wide customer base who will be constructively critical. The initial packaging was just a plastic tub with a sticker on top in a range of four flavours – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and honeycomb. We spent over a year deciding how we wanted the tubs and the general overall company branding to look and the range now includes 32 flavours. In the first six months, we supplied one farm shop; the following year five outlets; 16 the following year; and in 2008 we went into Waitrose and decided to devote more time to the ice cream and less to the catering.

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

In year two, we changed from plastic tubs to paper and introduced the current look of the brand. We had to order 50,000 pots initially, which were being printed in Italy by a company based in the UK. When they arrived they were all out of register and the whole lot had to be redone, which set us back six months and delayed our launch into Waitrose; very disappointing at the time! Growing the company in our existing space is a constant challenge but doable – I firmly believe you should maximise on what you have available and not overstretch the business. Our biggest challenge to date was a restructure we made to the business two years ago enabling me to start working on the business again and not in it.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

Still being in business! The food industry is a tough industry to work in ­– regulations change constantly, costs are going up, and challenges as a result of Brexit will impact for a good few years to come. However, we believe we have a loyal growing fan base and wonderful staff who are committed to seeing the company continue to achieve success.

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

Packaging is key, followed by taste – a consumer’s eye will be drawn initially by packaging. Getting that initial sale is key and something that stands out on the shelf is half the battle in getting your product picked over a competitor. Once bought, the product needs to deliver so it needs to taste good. You need to think about quality, ingredients, where you sit in the market place, how you get it to market, supply chain, and marketing spend etc. Social media influences are huge these days and we all need to look at these platforms to market to the next generation too. Initially, promote the product as much as possible at events, markets, and instore samplings to get people trying the product and gain a loyal fan base – if you don’t have consumers on board, you won’t be selling anything.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own food or drink business, what would that be?

Running your own business is a constant learning curve. It never fails to amaze me how many curve balls get thrown on a daily basis especially when you are trying to wear many hats in a small company. I have ensured that I seek specialist advice along the way which has been invaluable. Think about logistics too – frozen distribution is a nightmare; if I had my time again I would seriously think twice about a frozen product!

 

Matt Sworder, The Corner House Restaurants (Minster & Canterbury), www.cornerhouserestaurants.co.uk

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

I knew I wanted to run my own restaurant as it had always looked like one hell of an exciting job. After working in some inspiring restaurant concepts, I felt I wanted to deliver a restaurant that focused on getting all the simple things right while celebrating beautiful Kentish produce. My team and I focus completely on the guest experience and in the kitchen we like to do all the simple things really well. Our bread is made by hand fresh every day; all our sauces are made from proper stocks and reduction; and all of our ice creams are homemade and made properly. Building a reputation for simple done really well has always been the mission.

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

My site search in 2013 started in London and I had two unsuccessful bids for sites in Clapham and St Albans before my father – who ran a restaurant in Kent – was handed back the keys to his restaurant in Minster. It just made sense for me to come home and open my first restaurant in my home village of Minster.

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how have you overcome it?

Finding quality staff is the biggest challenge. I spend a lot of time working on developing staff to ensure their Corner House journey is working for them and that they are being developed and inspired. Personal staff development is crucial at maintaining a low staff turnover and happy consistent restaurants. I am very fortunate to work with fantastic teams both in the kitchens and front of house; great restaurants are quite simply made by great teams of people with both front and kitchen teams working together on delivering a fantastic guest experience.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

When I took The Corner House concept to Canterbury there was a risk it would not work as well in the city as it does in Minster. I have been very fortunate that the residents of Canterbury have welcomed The Corner House into their dining scene and I am very grateful for that – it’s never something I take for granted. I would love to take this opportunity to say thank you to all our supporters from both Minster and Canterbury; we are so very grateful for your support.

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

It’s important that restaurants have a clear identity; that they know who they are, what they do and where they are heading. In such a competitive restaurant industry with new concepts coming up all the time, the ones that survive are often the ones that are clearly defined.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own food or drink business, what would that be?

Ensure any risk is a calculated risk and know your numbers.

 

Laura Bounds, Kent Crisps, www.kentcrisps.com

What sparked the initial idea for your business?

I was very fortunate to get involved in the brand early on. Firstly, buying the product to sell while working as a fresh produce wholesaler and then being offered the opportunity to work for the brand a couple of years after it launched. I always knew the brand had potential; the concept around promoting Kent as a destination and working with other local producers to use their lovingly made products in our seasonings was always a something I was passionate about. Now I am in the fortunate position of taking ownership of the business, we have built on this original concept to focus even more on our producers, destinations and Kent as a county. As well as the crisps being delicious, of course!

What was the first step you took in getting off the ground?

When I took the business over it was like having to start again, which can be harder than starting a business from scratch. For us, it was ensuring we created a sustainable business, that was lean but effective – making sure we could create realistic budgets and stick to them to ensure that we can continue to grow.

What’s been the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far and how did you overcome it?

The hardest part of business is ensuring you keep your niche, which for us is about promoting our county and using provenience in our seasonings to make the best tasting crisps available. We continue to work closely with our local producers to make sure our flavours stand out from our competitors.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

Most certainly the growth of Kent crisps in international markets as well as in the UK. Kent Crisps are now available in 10 countries around the world, as well as being available on board some well-known airlines.

In your opinion, what separates a product that will be a success from one that won’t?

I think the success of any product is to identify its uniqueness and ensure that its quality is exceptional. To create a successful product, I think passion is the biggest factor; building a team that is as passionate about the products as you are.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of launching their own food or drink business, what would that be?

Ensure that everything you do, you do to the highest standard. Being a perfectionist is only a good thing within business and even more important in the food and drink industry. Your branding and marketing sells the product and the quality of the product ensures it is bought again and again. If you’re going to do something, do it well!

Previous post

KENT WORLD GOURMET

Next post

The Set Bar: A New Standard for Seasonal Small Plates

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *