With the likes of HelloFresh and Gousto becoming well-known brands, recipe kits are now a familiar part of the food industry landscape. It's easy to see why. As modern palettes grow more sophisticated and we seek maximum convenience in our daily lives, recipe kits ensure we can enjoy the pleasures of cooking quality food minus the hassle of supermarket trips. Plus, we don't have to fork out on ingredients we use once and then never again.
The sector is estimated to be worth between $3 billion and $5 billion, and some predict this to grow to $22 billion by 2022. As with any fast-growing sector, entrepreneurs are spotting gaps in the market and bringing new twists and – in this case, spices – to the table. Since launching in 2016, Freshly Spiced, set up by husband and wife, Tom and Claire Ali, have built a steady foothold selling their spice-blend recipe kits online, via retail shops and at events. We caught up with Tom to get a flavour of what it's like starting a recipe kit business.
How would you sum up Freshly Spiced in a sentence?
A range of freshly produced, natural spice blends with simple, healthy recipes to make meal planning easy and full of flavour.
What was your background prior to starting Freshly Spiced?
I have always wanted to run my own business. After years of working within high pressured corporate environments, the plan was to get away from the 9-5 routine and put my passion into developing a product. I already had a background in catering and food development and a love for creating unique spice blends, so going down this route seemed like a good idea.
What was the inspiration behind Freshly Spiced? Was there a lightbulb moment when it came to you?
Customers should not need to compromise on old, low-quality spices from the supermarket that lack the flavour and punch of fresh spices. With the public being more aware of where their meat comes from or vegetables are picked, why shouldn’t it be the same for spices? A lot of shop-bought spices will have been ground months prior to them hitting the shelves or filled with additives meaning they will have lost the associated health benefits and will also be compromising on the initial flavours.
As I was already creating spice blends for friends and family, I saw the opportunity to develop this further by adding in simple recipes. This is how we came to create Freshly Spiced.
What were the challenges around launching the business? Where did you find your time being spent?
Initially, we needed to work out how we could be found by potential customers, as well as broadening our market by being able to sell in farm shops, delicatessens and garden centres. Having a clear plan on initial products, testing them at local events and through family members was key to development. It allowed us to develop our image over the first year.
In order to split our time effectively, we created a marketing plan to help us strategically approach the right people whilst also maintaining a physical presence at food events. As with any business, we know that social media is a great tool in spreading the word and this became our starting point for reaching out to potential customers.
How has the business evolved since your launch? Have there been any particular milestones?
Since we launched in 2016 we now sell in farm shops, delis and garden centres across the UK. We have launched a subscription service to allow our customers to be able to enjoy our variety of spices each month. Our recipe library continues to grow with at least 2 new recipes being released each month.
In 2017 we were shortlisted for the best small food producer by the Great Food Club and we also have a feature in the Nottingham Cookbook with our unique Indian Eggs recipe. Our biggest achievement to date was winning our first Great Taste Awards with our signature Sweet blend and also the Ras el Hanout (this was the first year we entered products to be tasted and we are very proud to have received this accreditation).
Thinking about social media and marketing, what are your tips for boosting brand awareness and ultimately sales?
Know your audience. Take the time to research who would want to buy your product and what sort of interests they have. Once you've done this, entice them with eye-catching, mouth-watering dishes. This will create engagement and encourage people to talk about and share your product.
Ambassadors are a focus for us at the moment. They help us to spread the word and also create lots of inspiring recipes that we can add to our recipe library too.
Also, have a human element to your social media posts. People don’t want to see robotic posts, they want to be able to relate and know they can create that recipe.
Winning a Great Taste Award - how important are those kinds of endorsements?
As the award is known nationwide it gives the customer trust and the willingness to try a new product as it will have been produced to a high standard. Each product submitted to Great Taste goes through a rigorous taste, smell and appearance critique, we are very proud of our two spice blends that have been awarded this endorsement.
The mail-order recipe kit market is growing, and increasingly competitive, how do you deal with this and mark yourself out?
We make sure we keep up to date with the latest trends in flavour that may come from certain cuisines/regions. Unlike some other recipe kit businesses we create and produce all our own blends. There is no outsourcing so we know exactly what goes into every single pouch we make.
One difference comes from our ingredients. We only use the very best natural ingredients. Whereas others may use garlic or onion powder as a bulking agent we would advise you to use an onion or crush a garlic clove. Fresh is always better! We also provide multiple servings per pack, meaning a couple can get around three meals out of each of our packs, providing value for money and they can view the recipes online to save waiting for recipe cards to be received in the post.
What are the challenges on a personal level running a business?
Time! There are never enough hours in the day. However, with lots of planning ahead, we are able to cover as many elements as possible for the business to continue growing. Being more proactive by having clear plans for product development, sales, website work and marketing helps there be less 'fire fighting' problems that you haven’t anticipated.
There will always be things we could do better, or spend more time on, but at the moment whilst we are growing organically and raising our two children we are very proud of how we are managing the business.
What are your proudest achievements?
Starting a business from nothing is a great achievement. Everyone will look at creating a business as needing to invest a lot straight away. We did it the sensible way and continued to work part-time whilst gaining a market presence without a big marketing budget.
What are your top three tips for someone looking to launch a business in your field?
Take the time and plan ahead (in detail). Decide what works for you. If it is a simple list that you can keep up to date, do that. If you need something more detailed like a GANTT Chart to plan workloads or social media - do that instead.
Don’t be afraid of asking for advice. Everyone is surrounded by family and friends, ask them for their opinion, however, be aware those close are often very supportive and will not see flaws. Ask other businesses, see what they are doing, what you could apply to your business.
Trust your instincts. Not everyone is always right, listen to yourself too and don’t be afraid to take a gamble from time to time. You will make mistakes but solving the problems will make your businesses strong
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