October 5, 2021
It’s safe to say that the past 18 months have been a whirlwind for most, and businesses are no exception. Like so many across the world, we’ve had to face unforeseen obstacles and regroup, rethink, and reshuffle to stay on track.
Covid-19 came with its unique challenges for my children’s food brand – be that to our supply chain, to shopping and cooking habits shifting, or to adapting to an expanding team as we try to keep up with continued digital and sales growth.
Although I started out as a children’s cookery author, I’ve now branched out into award-winning retail children’s food ranges and a number one-rated recipe app, partnerships with global leading brands, and a strong online presence – I engage with 1.5 million parents weekly.
Being so diversified is both a blessing and a curse and it certainly keeps my team and myself very busy, but it also meant that we could be agile with our business strategy in the face of Covid-19.
We all have a driving purpose and I believe that it is the ‘why’ you do something that equips and energises you to deal with the difficult times.
My career was born out of the grief of suddenly losing my first child Natasha at just three months. If it weren’t for this unimaginable loss and then my subsequent child, Nicholas, being such a fussy eater, I never would have had the motivation, nor perhaps purpose, to put pen to paper and write my first book The Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner.
I wanted to create a legacy for Natasha to give some meaning to her short life. I think losing someone so precious had a profound effect on me and drove me to dedicate my life’s mission to supporting parents as they try to help their child establish good eating habits for a lifetime.
Changing consumer behaviour
One of the many ways in which the pandemic impacted our lives was in how much time people were spending at home, cooking from scratch, and seeking recipe inspiration.
We saw a rise in traffic to our website and an uptick in sales from our revamped Healthy Baby & Toddler Recipe app.
With 25 per cent of total grocery shopping now being done online, we recognised this change and prioritised our focus to digital (including recruiting a new head of digital and sales director to drive this agenda).
As a company we live and breathe social – we now reach 1.5 million parents weekly via our channels and have 355k followers alone on Instagram.
I believe that success is because we provide valuable and honest information, as opposed to pushing our products. It’s so important to me that I’m striking a real and meaningful relationship of trust with parents – after all it’s the very reason I started my business, as my legacy to Natasha.
Out of your comfort zone
You can’t grow a business if you stay in your comfort zone. It’s the people who can survive failure that ultimately succeed. Every great entrepreneur has failed multiple times.
I should know, with my first recipe book I was turned down by 15 publishers before it was eventually published by Random House.
I realise now that the opposite of success is not failure, rather the opposite of success is not trying.
If I had been too scared to try, I’m not sure I ever would have been able to go from my kitchen table to the global stage, publish 48 cookbooks (and counting!), develop award-winning retail food ranges in supermarkets, create bespoke menus in some of the world’s leading hotels and leisure resorts, and have such an incredible digital following, as well as a best-selling recipe app in the UK.
Since my mission has always been to support parents feeding their children, I think it’s so important to share information freely online and not just in my books – sharing is caring after all. Not only do I want parents from all backgrounds to be able to access recipes, I also share expert advice, tips and more informative content.
As a smaller brand, we can be agile and innovate in ways that larger brands with layers of bureaucracy cannot. Whereas own-label supermarket brands perform well for adult meals, when it comes to children’s food, established and trustworthy brands rule. This has allowed us to build up the trust and loyalty of parents around the world and to stay on the right track. Business during the pandemic It’s amazing to think of the waves of change that we have moved through as a business in the past 18 months. At the start of the pandemic, people were stockpiling, leading our chilled and frozen meal sales to shoot up. While in many ways this was beneficial for the business, it was also difficult to plan production. Our normal pattern of sales was disrupted, but we still had to set our forecasts weeks in advance. In March 2020, we were excited to have just launched an extension to our business – a nursery catering business. Then, with nurseries being closed across the nation, we had to pivot. Instead of catering for nurseries, we used our kitchens to make meals for hospitals and vulnerable people. The camaraderie during this time was wonderful, with Uber drivers and professional chefs volunteering to help. In addition to the changes in consumer behaviour and ways of working during the pandemic, we also happened to switch one of our suppliers during this time.
This saw us move to one of the top frozen manufacturers in the country. We also chose to move to sustainable packaging. As a result of the work that we did on the development of the range and the introduction of our new sustainable packaging, our frozen sales grew by 25 per cent. During the pandemic we also gained new retailer listings, grew our performance in existing retailers and become the solus children’s food brand for Waitrose, replacing our main competitor. I also managed to write a new children’s cookbook, Fun, Fast & Easy, to encourage and teach children how to eat cook.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of diversification within our business. We’ve been able to come through this turbulent period positively due to the variety of products and benefits that we offer parents. With this in mind, we have partnered with the UK’s leading children fashion designer, Rachel Riley, to create a beautiful and unique clothing range. We’re also about to launch a brilliant new website to accommodate and better serve the enormous number of unique visitors that we now have to the site. Our innovation doesn’t stop there, we’re constantly cooking up new recipes and products to ensure that we’re giving parents and children the best food choices out there. For example this year we launched a chicken katsu chilled children’s meal and an organic yogurt (banana and strawberry flavour) in our baby food pouches. We have also just collaborated with Young’s to develop two new products in a bid to get children to eat more fish..
We were only able to do all of this because we rode the pandemic wave and didn’t try to build a dam of denial. I firmly believe that we need to constantly adapt and evolve as life unfolds around us, as we simply have no idea what’s in store – and the past 18 months are testament to that.
Annabel’s top tips to make your business thrive
- Always be authentic.I believe that ‘why’ you make your product is just as important as the actual product itself. It’s this motivation that makes your customer proposition stronger and provides another reason for customers to believe in you.
- Follow your passion.Figure out what you love, who you really are and have the courage to do that. I believe the only courage anybody ever needs is the courage to follow their dreams. You need that passion to give you strength to fight the battles that you will inevitably face in business.
- Go out of your comfort zone. You can’t be a true entrepreneur without taking risks. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. I believe that if you learn from defeat, then you haven’t really lost.
- Believe in yourself. As a mother, you can lack confidence, especially if you have been out of the workplace for a few years due to having children. It’s so important to believe in yourself. In many ways confidence is as important as competence. There are many skills you learn from having a family, for example multi-tasking or people skills. You can manage any adult if you have mastered the art of managing an irrational toddler. Leave your mum guilt at the door and make your own rules!
- Put yourself out there.Research the business awards suitable for you to enter and compile a strong entry submission. These awards are invaluable for not only brand awareness, but also brand credibility. If someone is choosing between your product versus a competitor, and yours has the award logo, it might just tip the balance. It’s also essential to promote your nomination once it’s accepted. It might feel a little presidential asking people to vote for you but more often than not your customers are more than happy to show their support!