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Q&A with Kirsty’s - ‘Britain’s Most Ambitious Business’ Runner-Up

Back in October, Datel launched its competition to find ‘Britain’s Most Ambitious Business’ and selected Kirsty’s as one of its runners-up.

Kirsty’s is an award winning free-from ready meal empire, providing healthy food swaps that are free from gluten, wheat and dairy. After successfully winning investment from Dragons Den in 2010, Kirsty Henshaw the Founder, has since bought back her shares from the Dragons and has won over 17 awards for her outstanding contribution to the food industry. Her brand continues to grow from strength to strength aided by the fantastic range of products available in supermarkets across the UK.

We caught up with Kirsty to find out what her biggest achievements are to date, how it feels to be a Kirsty’s customer and what 2019 has instore for the growing brand.

 

1. What does ambition mean to Kirsty’s?

We are an ambitious brand and have always strived to be well known for being not just free-from and healthy, but also tasty and appealing to our customers. That is our ultimate ambition, but we are also driven to still be around in 10 years time with a growing loyal customer base and diverse product range.

 2. What are your ambitions for the next few years?

Our focus is very much on the UK market and stabilising the brand. We believe there is a lot more room to grow in this market, with new products for our target customers and we have some exciting new ranges in the pipeline for 2019 and beyond.

 3. Could you tell us about these exciting new ranges?

Of course, we launched our pizza range exclusively in Tesco’s last year, which has since become our best selling product of the year. The exclusivity will soon be coming to an end giving us scope to promote the range to a wider range of  customers. Veganism is a growing trend that I believe we will see more of in 2019. We will therefore be launching some new vegan meals into our range this year.

4. What does Kirsty’s do best in its industry?

We are all about free-from convenience and this rings through in all of our products. Yes we are healthy, yes we taste great, but for our core customers, it’s being free-from that is really important to them.

We are not a millennial brand that’s trying to target a small pool of customers. We are a free-from brand striving to appeal to everyone by making our meals as convenient and accessible as possible.

5. What is your biggest business achievement/what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of surviving the past five years, as the food industry has to be one of the toughest to stand out in. There are a lot of brands that come and go and for us it has always been about stabalising and securing the business for our staff and looking after our customers.

I’m of course proud of the brand and this is because of the many loyal customers we have and the great team around me.

6. What does the Kirsty’s experience feel like to a customer?

We like to appeal to everyone and our brand is as much for working mums with children, as it is for retired customers wanting a healthy meal. Even though we are a medium-sized business, we really like to treat our customers as if we were a small business, and feel very well connected to them. Many come to visit us at trade shows and workshops, and most of the time I’m the one replying to tweets which this is something I really enjoy.

Our customers appreciate everyday food that is healthy, affordable, convenient and accessible. We want people to feel like they are getting food value for money, and we can be found in the majority of UK supermarkets.

7. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?

We recently moved from a licenced brand to being fully-managed in 2018 which was a huge change for us. Our turnover went 10x overnight which meant we had to bring on more staff and more resources. It was a huge transition but we have successfully come out the other end and survived!

 8. Are there changes in the industry that you’ve overcome?

The allergen requirements are getting more and more difficult and with this being at the forefront of our business we have to abide by all of the changes and legislations. This adds more complexity into our manufacturing. Finding dairy-free sites has been a real challenge which is why we are considering buying our own site.

We have also found that having an increased number of employees and trying to run the business has been difficult and a stretch. But, this is all part of growing and growth is great!

9. How does your passion and values echo throughout Kirsty’s?

My parents owned a couple of health food shops so I have been brought up very ethically and now being able to echo these ethics into my own brand is fantastic. My passion for the customer and caring about what they want continues to grow, and I like to educate people on how to be healthy and free-from.

 10. How has Kirsty’s grown throughout the years?

I’ve been in business since 2010 and in the first two years, a lot happened after I appeared on Dragon’s Den and secured investment. We had a bit of organic growth through that but the brand has all been built from the ground up.

We certainly haven’t had massive growth year-on-year. Last year we stabalised because we were managing the change to being fully-managed. But our growth has been manageable and organic over the years, and we have survived 9 years in one of the most saturated markets out there which is a fantastic achievement.

 11. What is next for Kirsty’s?

We will soon be launching some new products in February, and developing the food services side of the business - opening up to restaurants, airlines and food services providers in the UK. There are no plans to grow into new international markets just yet as we want to be sure that we get it right first time. We are continuing to focus on being fully established in the UK and to surviving another year!

Information on our winner can be found here.

Information on the other brilliant runners up, can be found here.

 

Here is our Marketing Director, Emma Pownall announcing Kirsty's as one of our runners up:

  

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