Telling the truth about SME life today

“Supermarkets don’t get Indian food”, says top entrepreneur

It was the early sixties when entrepreneur Tony Deep packed up his bags and boarded the plane to Britain. He was just 18, he’d never stepped outside his home country and he had a measly £3 in his pocket. “I was a ‘runaway graduate’,” he says. “I was a science student in Delhi but I turned my back on my studies to come to the UK. My father had lost a lot of money and I felt it was my duty to get a job and revive the family fortunes.”

He settled in Wolverhampton and started hunting for a job. “There were no immigration laws back then,” he chuckles. He did a stint as a cement mixer then “shunted trains” for British Rail before signing up for a secretarial course at a local college. “My teacher thought I was only interested in the programme because there were 25 women in the class,” he says. “She was shocked when I took the test: I typed 100 words a minute.” It was there that he met Barbara – now his wife – who helped him find a job as a door-to-door salesman, selling eggs to Asian housewives.

He started to make a tidy little profit. Chatting to his customers each day, typically about the curries they were preparing for their evening meal, Deep started to realise the potential of the food trade. He decided to take the plunge and set up his own wholesale business. “I knew a little bit about Indian food so I thought why don’t we buy some spices from importers and sell them on?” He convinced his older brother Trilok, who had just arrived in Britain to train as a barrister, to join him. “I told him I had a gem of an idea. He wanted to finish his training first but I used my powers of persuasion and talked him into going into business with me.” So, in 1972, the siblings set up East End Foods.

Today, The East End Foods brand can be found in 80 per cent of the UK’s independent Asian “corner shops” – that’s a whopping 1,800 stores. Major supermarkets such as Morrison’s, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s account for around ten per cent of sales. “The heavyweight grocers still don’t get the size or the potential of the Indian food market,” he sighs. “They think it’s about stocking a few jars of Patak’s on the shelves. They’d never concede that Indian food could be as popular as baked beans.”

You can read Tony Deep’s full profile in the March edition of Real Business. To get a copy, email Cassandra Donovan on [email protected]

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