Paul Lindley spotted a gap in the market for children's organic food. And within five years his award-winning company Ella's Kitchen is targeting a £40m turnover
Television channel Nickelodeon engages children to such an extent that they believe they've made the programmes themselves, says its former deputy managing director Paul Lindley. Parents also love the network, he adds, because it's safe for their youngsters to watch. Lindley says he took "the heart" of Nickelodeon's philosophy—that you can appeal to youngsters and adults at the same time—and applied it to Ella's Kitchen, the children's organic food company that he launched in January 2006 after two years of research and development.
Spotting a gap in the market for healthy and fun food for babies and young children, Lindley put £20,000 of his own money into developing an innovative brand and making it stand out from the "very big companies" that he says have dominated the baby food market for 40 years.
"I came along with an emotional person-to-person brand, based on a real family, with a strategy to position kids first. People are prepared to pay more for a better and more convenient product now. That works for us as a business, and it works for our customers, the supermarkets, because it gets consumers down the baby food aisle where previously they would have made their own."
Ella's Kitchen has picked up an array of awards for customer service through to innovation. The 29-employee business beat off competition from big firms including Cadbury and Walkers to win The Grocer food and drink brand of the year in 2010. Lindley says it's great recognition for the team, and gives his business even more credibility. He describes the company's projected turnover of £30m to £40m as "incredible", adding: "It means every second of every day, someone is having an Ella's Kitchen product somewhere."
With a 14 per cent share of the baby food market, Lindley says he will continue to innovate—"we've brought the pouch format to baby food, which is more convenient and better for the environment"—and add to the company's product range. And he will keep on recruiting the best people to achieve that aim. "Our first 10 employees were consumers," he says, "and we have specialists from companies that have seen fast growth before. We've brought in a non-executive director, which has helped us to get our strategy right."
With hindsight, he reckons he should have released some of the pressure of building a company by hiring a good team earlier. Although working alone for 18 months gave him a great understanding of the business, he says it was exceptionally hard. "Perhaps I built a team six months too late," he reflects.
Ella's Kitchen hasn't become a victim of its own success, continues Lindley, because he's always been careful about managing finance. "For fast-growing companies the ability to manage cash is vital," he explains.
"It's about knowing the difference between profit and cashflow; understanding how fast growth can be a bad thing. We planned how we would support growth, and we built a great relationship with the bank."
Quoting the statistic that 30 per cent of children are clinically overweight, and 15 per cent are obese, he says he launched Ella's Kitchen to make a difference to children's health and wellbeing. As he points out, allowing youngsters to enjoy a wider and better diet in their formative years will create healthy habits that last a lifetime.
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