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We've written a lot about food based businesses over the last few months. This is why we've chosen this week's Startup Snapshot as a business that wants to help food based businesses succeed. We caught up with Kitchen Table Project founder Tara Mei to find out more about her and the business' recent partnership with M&S.
I caught the entrepreneurial bug quite early on, when I left my job as a chef to start my own business. It's such an exciting prospect to be able to create something from the ground up and I decided to study Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Imperial College, London.
It was fascinating to learn about how to make things happen. I then joined the first cohort of a prestigious tech incubator, Wayra, and saw how tech start-ups were being supported and what a difference having a supportive network and guidance can make to a growing business. I wanted to develop something similar for food producers.
I started Kitchen Table Projects because I knew that running a successful business is so much more than simply having a good idea. We started our journey in June 2015 when we launched a pop-up shop at Old Street Station and ran the first round of the Artisan Springboard, a 12-week incubator for food start-ups.
Since then we've organised a number of training and networking sessions, all geared towards supporting food business growth. Having a great idea or a great product is just the beginning of a successful food business. I wanted to give producers access to the tools and opportunities that were tailored just to them, with support that really understood what they were all about.
I've helped some great businesses to take the next steps at the pop-ups and networking events, but Stoffell's Ltd, makers of no-added sugar ketchups and sauces stands out for me. The founder, Tony Peck is a diabetic and he couldn't find any decent alternatives to sugar-laden ketchups, so decided to make his own.
He really tapped into a trend and has since seen his products on the shelves of a number of smart London Delis, bakeries and independent shops. The popular gluten free bakery, Romeo's, in Islington only has Stoffell's on the tables in their cafe.
This year he's been shortlisted for the Free From Food Awards as well as receiving accreditation from Sugarwise, the government campaign promoting low-sugar and no-sugar products for consumers.
One area in particular that we helped Tony with was honing his core market. He initially thought it was young families and kids. However, at the Old Street pop-up, young adults and professionals were more interested in his ketchups because sugar-free is trending right now.
This led onto a change in his packaging so it's more contemporary and more appealing to that demographic. He's now developing his range and has just brought out a chilli ketchup and BBQ sauce. It's exciting to watch Stoffell's as it develops and see where it will be in the next 12 months.
I was lucky enough to attend Grub Club, a fantastic networking event run by Vhari Russell, The Food Marketing Expert, held last year. I struck up a conversation with Tussie Collier of design agency, Hurricane Design, who absolutely loved the idea behind Kitchen Table Projects and she introduced us to Kirsty Grieve, the Deli Product Developer at Marks & Spencer.
Similarly, Kirsty loved the concept and was happy to collaborate. It's all moved pretty quickly from there!"
Setting up pop-up shops is something I was already familiar with, long before they were even called pop-ups! I set up my first one in Birmingham - a restaurant on a 90-day lease that turned into something permanent. Pop-ups are a fantastic, low-risk way to test out your ideas, see what works and learn from what doesn't, particularly these days when the idea of 'popping-up' is no longer something you have to explain to the public.
They're fast-paced, demanding projects that focus you so you become really good at making tough decisions fast and improvising with the properties that come your way. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, but there is everything to gain for the ambitious.
We're always on the look-out for exciting, innovative products from producers with real entrepreneurial drive and a great story. Food start-ups can find out about our events by joining our newsletter through our website.
It can be a tough, scary world out there for anyone starting out, man or woman - it cuts both ways. I've been in situations where I've been misjudged, underestimated or held back because of my gender but I've also definitely been in situations where being a woman has helped. I think the most important thing for a woman in business is to be self-aware.
Know your weaknesses and - sometimes more importantly - know your strengths and what makes you unique. If you are secure, strong and have a clear idea of your goals in mind, there's little that can stop you, whatever gender you are.
We're really interested in broadening our support for emerging food producers and one of the things we pride ourselves on is delivering industry specific guidance. We'd like to develop incubator programmes that are even more targeted, such as looking at exports or food businesses with social missions.
Have a good idea for a Startup Snapshot? Email us: [email protected] or comment below.