Kate Finch, Founder, Junior's Pantry: Feel Alive, Be An Entrepreneur!
The NextWomen September Food & Fashion Theme.
We’re all aware of the importance of a healthy diet to youngsters, but working parents face a challenge finding time to cook nutritious meals from scratch every night. Kate Finch, Founder, Junior’s Pantry, has created a range of ready-meals for primary-school-aged children to alleviate this pressure on parents.
Kate was a cordon-bleu trained chef who became a city worker before she moved to the country to start a
family. She created Junior’s Pantry after being inspired by a feature on the
radio about the challenges and
stresses faced by women in business (something which chimed with her own experiences!)
When she heard the piece, she began to think about the difficulties of juggling the family routines without resorting to the old standbys of sausage, fish fingers or pizza. She confirmed through her market research that many parents were loath to give their children ready-meals for adults because they felt they contained too much salt, fat and sugar.
The result was Junior’s Pantry, a range of preservative-free convenient, wholesome ready meals approved by a nutritionist for primary-school-age children and containing a portion of vegetables, protein and a starchy staple in each serving.
Kate’s business has recently won a high profile endorsement from Ocado, the award-winning online supermarket delivering groceries direct to the home, which has agreed to stock Junior’s Pantry.
We spoke to Kate about the highlight in her entrepreneurial journey so far; the firefighting involved in running her own business; and the one thing she'd like to get off her chest about being an entrepreneur.
TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Junior’s Pantry and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
KF: I started Junior's Pantry in March 2011 after getting fed up of running a canteen at home. I was cooking from scratch twice a night for my children and then my husband. When I looked, I discovered that there were no healthy meals available for children of a primary school age, plenty of toddler food and adult food but nothing that catered to a child's tastes. I had relatively recently given up full time work so I approached my husband (who also has his own business) about turning the idea into a business and he fully supported me so I embarked on some research and here I am!
TNW: What makes your company different from your
KF: All our dishes are fresh and handmade, each dish has at least one portion of veg and they are made just like you would make them at home. Nothing nasty added, just good fresh ingredients. We target an older age child, most brands are for toddlers up to about 3 years old, but ours are for primary school aged children. Our recipes are slightly more adventurous to give children a broader range of tastes - our Chicken and Prawn Paella is our bestseller.
TNW: What is your business model?
KF: Really an outsourced model, although all of the recipes are mine, I don't make the dishes, they are made by a professional kitchen.
Everything else, branding, packaging, accounting, legal advice is done by a great team of advisors, many of whom are working mums too.
TNW: Who are your customers and partners now?
KF: My customers are firstly Ocado, so getting distribution through the supermarkets is key and then our ultimate customers are the children and the parents that buy our dishes.
TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the
most effective source of new customers so far?
KF: Whilst we only have our listing on Ocado we have naturally focussed on online marketing, so social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. I have also used email campaigns which have spread virally around groups of mums and class lists.
TNW: What is next for your company?
KF: To continue to expand our listings in supermarkets and then to expand the range of meals on offer.
TNW: Have you come across any other exciting startups
recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?
KF: There isn't anyone specifically but I love hearing others' stories. I'm slightly envious of those with business on the internet; food is a particularly complex business and I do at times think I could have chosen something "easier"!!
TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?
That being an Entrepreneur is a hard and at times lonely business but if you want to feel alive in your work then it's the thing to do.
I have been particularly bad at celebrating the small wins along the way which has meant I haven't ever really celebrated how far I've come. Every step, whether it was getting the meeting with a buyer, getting a yes from a buyer, is a fantastic achievement but I tended to just look at the next stage which generally meant a ton more work!
TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are
thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
KF: Go for it! If you believe in your product/idea and others (not close friends) think it's a good idea then go for it, otherwise you'll spend your time wondering what could have been. I spent my first six months almost scared to go into a supermarket for fear that someone else would have done what I was planning, once I got far enough down the line I realised I was going to be first to the market. I have never seen being a woman as a reason not to be an entrepreneur, I do the lion share of the house stuff which does bug me but when I worked full time I did this too so it’s just part of life.
TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?
KF: I have a couple of friends in the industry who are really helpful sounding boards; finding people who've done what you doing (or something similar) can be very helpful.
I can still remember having lunch with one of my mentors about 2 weeks before launch begging him to tell me it was going to get easier . . . unfortunately he was rather too honest with how tough it was about to get!
TNW: What does your day look like?
KF: During the school term, it's a case of getting the children to school and then the dog walked before sitting down at my desk. My day can vary if I'm out at meetings with buyers or at home focussing on developing the website, or social media. There is always some sort of fire fight going on and I find finding solutions enormously satisfying.
I had a great call yesterday; our new pots coming in from the continent had been stopped in the Port as they found illegal immigrants in the truck!
TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a
KF: Organisation! Just simple things like I never go to bed leaving the kitchen a mess, I make the children's bed's whilst helping them get dressed for school, I find it hard to settle at my desk (which is at home) if I know the beds aren't made! Being prepared to work at night, I take time to be at my children's sports matches, but then do more work in the evening when they're in bed.
TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the
company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?
KF: Yes! I would say it's the finance side that troubles me most and whether I am on target for where I thought I would be.
TNW: If you could get on a soap box and get something off your chest about the world of entrepreneurship, something you’d like to change, what would it be?
The banks attitude to lending just sucks, thank god for Angel investors and other private individuals who believe in small businesses!
TNW: If you hadn’t chosen entrepreneurship, what
alternative career path might you have pursued?
KF: I had been a Sales Director for an Investment House in the City for 15 years and although the thought depresses me I could have well carried on in this career for some time. In my dream land I would love to own a bookstore with a coffee shop attached!!
TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the
history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could
others learn from it?
KF: Finding a professional manufacturer to make the dishes without an order book was without a shadow of a doubt the hardest point and stalled our progress. It took asking anyone who knew anyone to find someone and it shows, never doubt that people can help you - ask everyone you know to ask everyone they know and somewhere someone will know somebody who could help you.
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which
you remember as the highlight so far?
Seeing the idea for the name, branding and packaging - it just looked perfect and that was a real high, up until then it was the company with no name. It all started to become a reality after this point.
TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?
KF: Not yet, a chilled food product can't be exported so we would need to set up production in each country which sounds pretty complicated!
TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?
KF: For further information on Junior’s Pantry please take a look here http://www.juniorspantry.co.uk/
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