Turning Food into Business
When you love food – love tasting it, love creating it, love others enjoying it – and you’re good at making it, perhaps it has crossed your mind that food in some form could be your career; that you might even be able to make a business out of it. We asked some of the best and brightest culinary stars around the South East to tell us a little about their own business, and whether turning your foodie hobby into something that earns you a crust is a good idea.
by Lisamarie Lamb
Sally Newall // Simply Ice Cream // www.simplyicecream.co.uk
“I had been catering for weddings and parties for almost 20 years, and having had four children decided that I would like a little more time with my family as the events/weddings mainly took place on the weekends. Selling into retail looked like a good way to try to reclaim the weekends but that was very naïve as we are now at trade and consumer shows every weekend from May to October! It’s been a very steep learning curve as although I have always run my own businesses, selling a product into retail I have had to learn so much about marketing, PR, advertising, print, brand values and positioning, accounting, HR, legal regulations, staff management, the list goes on…
“My biggest tip would be always taking advice from the experts. Whilst I had the ideas and knew how I wanted to grow the business, I have always sought help and advice from specialists in various areas. There are so many regulations in running a food business that you need expert advice and guidance in all areas – areas that are constantly changing. Your friends and your family are always going to be your biggest fans but that doesn’t necessarily translate into sales in the consumer market. Therefore, go to as many farmers’ markets as you can, get feedback from people, and give away small samples. Ask questions such as would they pay for your product, and if so, how much? Would they return to buy it? Would they recommend it to friends? Try asking a local farm shop to stock it for a trial period so you can judge how it may sell going forward.”
Jane Jones // Chilli Jam Factory // www.chillijamfactory.co.uk
“The recipe came first, and the business came from that. I hadn’t deliberately set out to start a business but it seemed like the next logical step to me, and so I took the plunge. As for the first batch, that was made one evening when I was bored and the family loved it. It was they who suggested I start marketing it, and since then it has become a success story. Now I have six varieties and heats, as well as sauces and chutneys too.
“My biggest mistake was paying a small fortune for a stall at a big event that lasted five days, as we lost out on an awful lot of money. I’ve learned from it though, and I’ll do my research before ever signing up to anything like that again. My biggest triumph was getting my five-star grading from the council – that was a really wonderful feeling. And that leads me to my bit of advice: make it legal. Tell the council what you are planning and let them check out your cooking area and procedures. It’s an amazing feeling to get a five-star grading, and it opens up a lot more doors as well.”
Christine McGrath // Cake Innovations // www.cakeinnovationsltd.co.uk
“At Cake Innovations, we believe good customer service is key for business. In our small retail shop, we support hobby bakers, cake businesses and professionals alike. Although Internet shopping is generally very popular, the advantages of talking through ideas, giving specialist advice or problem solving face to face, cannot be underestimated.
“As bespoke cake artists, Cake Innovations is committed to supplying quality products, whether that is cake, icing or equipment. Tried and tested in our own kitchen, we can confidently make recommendations. In this era, we recognise that website presence is vital for business; however, we have to admit we found this very challenging, resulting in a costly mistake. We recommend researching your website consultant thoroughly before embarking on such an investment and agree precisely what they will deliver for you. Now we have a fantastic website that is mobile-friendly and easy to use.
“Our best piece of advice is to do your research! Contact Environmental Health at your local council for help and advice on registering your business; consult the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website; and get insured. Remember, you may be good at cake decorating but now you will have to be good at marketing, advertising, finance, customer service, paperwork and, the biggest issue to contend with, time! Where does it go?”
Richard Wise // Wise Owl Cider // www.facebook.com/wiseowlcider
Richard Wise has had over 20 years’ experience in the fruit industry, managing orchards across Kent. He has been interested in cider making for many years and decided to produce his own cider to fulfil his ambition and creativity. Wise Owl Cider was first bottled in June 2014 and started trading in August 2014.
“The biggest thing learnt is to have faith in your product, get your branding right and learn by your mistakes. Our biggest triumph was winning the award for Best Cider or Perry at the Taste of Kent Awards 2015. And our biggest mistake? I don’t think we have made too many, but we didn’t get enough recommendations on a company before using them for an integral part of our business.
“The best advice we can offer is to become members of a support network. We are members of Produced in Kent, CAMRA, and Tenterden Chamber of Commerce, which provide support and services to champion and support the growth, development and future of businesses across Kent. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Stick with it!”
Caroline Spiby // Caroline’s Dairy // www.carolinesdairy.co.uk
“We’ve been running a dairy farm in Sidlesham for over 40 years, but were finding that we weren’t being paid the cost of production for our high-quality milk. We recognised that we needed to add value to our milk, and so, in 2007, we decided to make ice cream – but not just any ice cream! We wanted to create a high-quality artisan product that was made here on the farm. As well as the practical reasons behind setting up the business, I have always loved cooking and as farmers, we are obviously passionate about using local produce. Therefore, to create something using the milk from our cows for everyone of all ages to enjoy is a dream come true.
“Since launching we’ve grown from supplying just two local farm shops to today selling ice cream in over 180 outlets throughout Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Using local fruits and other ingredients where possible, we have become known for our amazing flavour combinations that we continually develop. Last year we celebrated a hat trick of wins at the prestigious Great Taste Awards, earning two stars for our Stem Ginger, Lime and Chilli Ice Cream and a star for both our Belgian Chocolate Ice Cream and Raspberry Sorbet. At the National Ice Cream Competition in 2015, we were awarded the gold medal for our Salted Caramel, and in 2014, we scooped a silver medal for our Mascarpone and Amarena Cherry Ripple and the bronze medal for our Mango Sorbet.
“As well as having passion in what you do, you really need to ensure you have a viable business plan. Make sure you do your market research and look to get industry approval from organisations such as SALSA, which help to authenticate everything you do. There is so much more to running Caroline’s Dairy than making ice cream and each stage in our development has been a huge learning curve. I also believe in working closely with other local businesses to support each other and help drive the local economy.”