Opinion

5 ingredients for success from Ella's Kitchen founder Paul Lindley

7 min read

07 October 2015

Former deputy editor

Ella's Kitchen founder Paul Lindley has shared some tasty treats that foodpreneurs should swallow for business success – methods that have allowed his baby food brand to achieve $100m worth of sales globally.

The launch of the Virgin Startup Foodpreneur Festival was revealed in September, with Richard Branson fronting a search for the UK’s culinary champions with the potential of expanding their products and ventures further.

Interested parties were able to enter Street Food and Retail categories, with the prizes pitched as the following.

Street Food

One winner will secure a pop-up, rent-free, for one week – Monday-Sunday – at Old Street Underground Station via Appear Here, and one winner will receive a rent-free stall for three months – Saturdays only – at Urban Food Fest in Shoreditch.

Retail

Five winners will have the chance to meet buyers at Target in the US, as the retailer looks to trial new products in American stores. Distribution during the trial would be across 300 venues, with successful goods to be extended across all 2,000 of the firm’s stores after six months.

Why Richard Branson wants to sink his teeth into the UK's food and drink sector

The results were finally revealed in October during the grand final at the Vinyl Factory in London’s Soho, during which Real Business was present and announced the winners on Twitter.

The day itself comprised a selection of workshops, demonstrations and the chance to mingle with the finalists, while judge Paul Lindley, the founder of organic baby food business Ella’s Kitchen, offered a few words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Referencing French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, he said: “Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who we are.” The point he was making is that “food is such a massive part of the nation [that it is] at the centre of who we are”, noting that it accounts for 16 per cent of the manufacturing industry.

Lindley highlighted that the food industry is a solid part of the economy, but also recognised “we’re [foodpreneurs] creative, with ideas on supermarket shelves, in restaurants and pop-ups. Food is something everyone in the UK has an opinion on and that’s an opportunity to get through to everyone”.

He would know. After all, Ella’s Kitchen now achieves sales of more than $100m across 40 countries and Lindley noted that export was a key driver of the firm’s success.

Above all else, however, he had five key tips for the budding food entrepreneur – and some general business advice – to embrace. Read them on the next page.

The five key tips for the budding food entrepreneur


1. Taste

Never compromise on taste – that’s unique. No matter what, taste will trump everything else. If it’s not as good in taste, you’re not going to win. Even if you face economic pressure, don’t compromise on ingredients, look elsewhere and win on taste.

2. Values

Build a business based on values. Ella’s Kitchen had a clear outlook on how to treat customers and others, which was used to attract talent and during promotions, so the team is based on values. Consider whether a decision fits. He noted that it’s very easy in the beginning, but harder as you get more pressures during growth.

3. Teamwork

Don’t underestimate the value of a team. Lindley said the business is not successful because of an idea, but because the team brought in new ideas and worked day and night. Embrace teams and you will not be able to applaud them enough.

4. Instincts

Use your instinct. Entrepreneurs have all got to a point where they spot a gap and got products out because of a “good gut feel”. Never give that up, even when there are pressures from investors and supermarkets to change things with data and so on, which he admitted was important, but added “feelings are really important”.

5. CSR

It’s not all about the money. We have a purpose to our business beyond money, which he conceded is obviously a driver for companies, though explained Ella’s Kitchen is a business designed to improve children’s lives and a consideration with every decision. Referring the the brand’s range of cookbooks, he said they make money but also improve lives. “[We can be] a tremendous force for good, beyond money we can make”.

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Closing, Lindley said that America and Scandinavia were big areas for the business, while 50 per cent of revenue comes from outside of the UK. As such, he highlighted that food is also central to the lives of people that are overseas too.

And with guidance that can be embraced among all sectors, Lindley said the beauty of the UK is that English is “the international language of business”, while it also has a time zone where business can be conducted, free research access and cheap flights to visit markets and learn.

“Establish the business and know it works in the UK market, but as soon as it works, think about exports,” he said. “Food exports doubled in the last ten years – more than any other.”