You asked, we listened

When you’re running a small business, listening to your customers the most important thing of all.

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It’s a cliché but of course, it’s true: without customers, we’d have no business. Happily, ours are a pretty loyal and supportive bunch. We know that the vast majority of our sales are to customers who buy our products regularly – and we very much appreciate that.

As a fairly new brand with associated relatively teeny-tiny marketing budgets, our packaging is our main touchpoint with most of those customers. So it’s incredibly important – a key part of our user experience; after the dips themselves:

It has to serve not only as an appropriate protective and serving environment for the dips; but also as our face to the world, the way we catch your eye on the shelf, tell you what we’re about, reassure you that our recipes are natural and full of healthy ingredients and give you all the info you need. So after extensive research, we moved from smaller, lidded pots to wider pots; because we know many customers use our dips in sharing scenarios – it’s much easier to dip in a wider pot. The new pots looked great and we got lots of positive feedback on the design. However, when we’ve been lucky enough to meet with our lovely customers, through social media and our live sampling sessions in Waitrose and Wholefoods; the feedback has been consistent: they tell us that would like a return to the old pots. Mainly because they want to be able to close the pots, to enjoy again later. So we’re more than happy to oblige. 

Smooth-ish

Our aubergine smoked dip

“Yay!!! Back on regular shopping list, rather than just entertainment” Moorish fan, Facebook, March 2015

Because it’s so important, our small team tend to spend a considerable amount of time making sure our packaging is as perfect as possible. We all get involved in this: normally kicked off by our MD, with our marketing director and designer driving the design; our Commercial Director knows all about the requirements of our retailers and we work closely with our technical experts on food labelling and nutrition. There are a few considerations though. Whilst we try to design packs which are perfect to use, uniquely gorgeous and as sustainable as possible, we do have a few restrictions:

– Some brands pay 10s of 1000s to licence their own specialist packaging.

But because making a dip with yummy ingredients as naturally as we can results in a premium cost, we need to avoid building in significant additional packaging costs which we’d inevitably have to pass on to customers.

smokey-ish

Smokey-ish: our truly original smoked humous

– As we’re only little, it doesn’t make sense to operate our own factory.

We work with the experts: a specialist dip factory who are as passionate as we are about delicious, natural products. They have a number of brands which they look after, using a variety of packaging types. We have to be efficient and “fit in” with what’s already being used, both for pack cost economy and production line efficiency.

– Because we like to keep things natural, we’ve also avoided things like gas flushing

– Which changes the atmosphere within pots so they can be kept longer, artificially. We use the natural route of smoking some of our ingredients, which helps “shelf life”; but a good seal is still critical.

This time, our customers tell us they’re happy. facebookSo we’re happy. Never be afraid to listen, for us the customer’s view is everything.

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Bonfire Night Mulled Apple Juice or Cider

In my life anyway, bonfire night is all about the kids; so when we have people over, it’s great to find recipes we can all enjoy. And what better way to warm up chilly hands and tummies than with some delicious mulled apple juice… or cider for the grown ups. Now that we live in Devon, we’ve even got an apple tree in our garden and a Cider Press down the road, how lucky!
firework_display
Mulled cider (or apple juice)
2l traditional cider or good quality apple juice
juice and grated rind of 1 orange
2 clementines, segmented
3 cinnamon sticks
a few star anise or allspice berries
2 apples stuffed with cloves
3-4 tbs honey
add a little dark rum for the grown ups, if the night is looking cold

Instructions couldn’t be easier: simple place everything except honey in a pan, simmer (don’t boil) for 30 mins; check taste and add as much honey as you need.

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Changing our look

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Updating our brand design was a big decision.

It wasn’t exactly broken, but it wasn’t exactly how we wanted it, either. And because we already have big product development plans underfoot, we need to make sure we have a look which can grow with us.

auberginesOur customers, both trade and shoppers, tell us we look “upmarket” or “premium” and that’s great; we do take special care with our ingredients and recipes and we’re really proud of them.

But it’s more than that. We haven’t come from a stuffy tradition – we’re all about putting a modern, innovative twist on really great classics such as humous, babaganoush and… well that would be giving too much away right now!

I like to think our humous has personality, rather than being a bland-and-boring, tried-it-all-before, just another flavoured humous product. So I wanted our packaging to reflect that.

Something vibrant, which would “ping” off the shelf but still feel smart. Something different, where we could use the packaging to give a better “flavour” of the “flavour” inside.

But not too different, because obviously there’s a risk our customers won’t recognise us on the shelf.

And a design that will grow with us, because we’re not planning to stop coming up with new ideas, any time soon.ORIGINAL HUMOUS

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Luckily we know some fabulous, talented, helpful people who were able to help. Especially Chris Martin of WPN>Chameleon and Marie of EveDesign. Thanks guys 🙂

Although I’m a great believer in gut instinct, it doesn’t do any harm to have a sense-check. The last thing we want to do is annoy our customers – I try to always have in mind how they’re the most important “ingredient” in our business.

So aside from asking family and friends for feedback, we also ran a little low level research online, pitting one design against the other, without saying which was the old and which was the new.

compare tubs

 

 

 

 

Happily both were well-liked, but the new one was felt to be more modern and striking – which is what we’re looking for. We also listened to some of the feedback from this research, tweaking it a little; for example making sure all the text is easy to read.

snackpots

Well, It’s great to see that British Airways Club Class passengers have already given us even some feedback with their feet and their appetites – we already have our snackpots on board in the new branded packaging, containing a small pots of our dips and delicious Crosta and Mollica breadsticks.

I hope you like our new designs as much as I do. Look out for our new pots on shelves soon.

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Our story shared

We love sharing our story, to help other business start-ups learn from our journey so far. Following Julie’s success at the UK’s leading small business competition in 2013, “The Pitch”, she was interviewed to talk about how the business has developed. Here’s the lovely article that followed; http://www.agreatplacetobe.co.uk/blog/the-skys-the-limit-from-the-kitchen-to-british-airways/

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Cracking the scale conumdrum: getting Moorish Smoked Humous onto the shelves at Waitrose

Taking our story back to 2012, we were delighted to have had Moorish Smoked Humous stocked in some gorgeous London retailers (Wholefoods and Planet Organic).

But now I decided that it was time to contact Waitrose, as with our premium “foodie” product; they were an obvious choice for getting our products out to more of our likely customers.

Plus, I was conscious that we’d be copied once people saw our success (we were, but a very poor copy so it helped rather than hindered) and I wanted Waitrose to hear about my smoked humous first.

Amazing luck – and a buyer with a great palate!

I thought it would probably take a year or two to get on the shelf at Waitrose, but a day after sending in my email, they replied asking me to come in. I brought samples to the buyer in the meeting and was delighted that she couldn’t stop eating them. A couple of weeks later I got the phone call any food entrepreneur would love: Waitrose wanted to list my products within the next couple of months. Champagne was on the menu at home that night; big smiles all round.

Getting on to the shelves was no mean feat; but the right combination of supportive help, friendly buyers, luck and sheer determination got us there!

Getting on to the shelves was no mean feat; but the right combination of supportive help, friendly buyers and luck, plus sheer determination, got us there!

The listing with Waitrose now secured, I suddenly had to find a way to fulfil large orders, improve the packaging and find a bigger smokery to take on the smoked chickpea work for me. Not surprisingly though, telling people I had a Waitrose listing made them much more interested in talking to me.

Steps to larger production

  1. First, I found a smokery and spent a fair bit of time there trialling the wood used, the length of time of smoking and the other technical aspects involved in making the end product just right.
  2. Naturally, I also asked my existing factory in Birmingham if they’d like the Waitrose contract. Unfortunately they were unable to take it on – they only made dips for me so they’d have had to invest in large machinery – not feasible in the space they had available. Fortunately my ever-helpful mentor was able to put me in touch with a manufacturing consultant who helped me to find the right factory to supply Waitrose. One of those we found seemed like a winner, as they specialised in dips and so had the machinery we needed. They also already had product going into Waitrose; which would make supply lines easier to manage.
  3. It’s worth mentioning the steps I took at this point to protect my idea: I know how important our unique recipes have been to our success. That’s why I always ask potential business associates to sign a non-disclosure agreement before discussing details. Only after this did I discuss my idea with the factory: after all, they already worked with a competitor firm.
  4. Happily, once we’d discussed my idea and the recipe, and i’d supplied raw ingredients; I was really pleased with the prototype the factory kitchen produced. More crucially, we all seemed to get on well, with an honest and upfront working relationship from the outset, which has stood us in good stead through the ups and downs.
  5. My manufacturing consultant then helped me draw up a contract to agree that the factory would source all my ingredients, make the products and help with distribution. Crucially this would all be to my specifications; for example, the quality of the ingredients is really important in our recipes. We also insist on Rapeseed oil as we can source it from the UK. And the recipe is only right when I’m happy!
  6. We then agreed on the costings and started working together – but nothing is ever-straightforward. Moving factory meant having to repeat some steps in the process I’d already been through, e.g. Shelf life testing, since every factory gets different results even with the same recipe. The packaging also needed to be re-formatted to suit the needs of the production line as well as the supermarket shelves.
  7. The last major piece of the jigsaw was to set up a distributor to physically get our products from the factory to the shelves. Luckily with a product already going along this route from the factory, the same distributor agreed to take Moorish as well.
  8. In October last year, excitingly, we started larger scale production for Moorish in London and started delivering in to Waitrose on a regular basis.
waitrose store

Moorish Humous (and now our new smoked aubergine dip) have been retailing in Waitrose since late Autumn 2012; thanks to their helpful buyer and store managers. And lovely customers of course!

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For the perfect bonfire party

If you’ve ever had trouble setting up a bonfire, need to check how to do it safely, or just love sausages; check out our infographic “how not to have a bonfire party” – with a great, easy and heart-warming recipe.

Hope you like it!

Thanks,

Julie

see image, download or share here (please!)

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Small business and the importance of efficiency

The article below is taken from an interview the Guardian did, with our founder Julie. The full version on the Guardian Small Business website can be found here; http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/apr/30/food-company-entrepreneur

The first efficiency in the success of The Little Smoked Food Company was its owner’s development of a unique delicious dip with no peers. The fastest way to find a market is with a product no one else is selling.

Starting with smoking some chickpeas in a wok, Julie Waddell’s response to the culinary demands of a fussy child has quickly become a thriving business – and efficiency has been a central tenet in getting her smoked hummus from the family kitchen to the fridges of Waitrose within months.

Waddell was working on a radio food programme when her research led to a quest for different foodstuffs to smoke. After some experimentation, she came up with smoked hummus and needed a streamlined approach to bring it to market.

The product’s uniqueness gave Waddell a head start. It’s easier to get a toehold in a market where no replica exists. But, the logistics of producing the hummus were key to the company’s textbook launch.

“Because smoked hummus had not been made before, we already had a place in the market. It was just about finding the right smokehouse and the right manufacturer,” Waddell said.

She sought, and – after a false start – eventually found, a hummus manufacturer in west London that already had a supply chain in place. Distribution costs were consolidated as Waddell’s product found its way to where the manufacturer’s existing lines were going. Needing an efficient way to the public, she jumped into the slipstream.

“An early efficiency was the move to our current manufacturer who had the right equipment set up. They also produce for another company with whom we share packaging, distribution and administration costs.”

“We passed cost savings onto our customers which reduced our retail price from £1.99 to £2.95. Immediately, our products took off.”

Another efficiency for Waddell has been to realise her limitations and find others who will fill the gaps in her knowledge and expertise. She has an “invaluable” mentor, and uses consultants in manufacturing and marketing. Her husband developed the company’s website. “It’s inefficient to attempt tasks which you know you’re not good at,” Waddell said. “I’ve been lucky to gather people with the right strengths in the areas I needed.”

Waddell says her greatest efficiency came from “inventing smoked hummus.” The genesis, she thinks, of her success was the appeal of the product; its quirkiness and the homegrown nature of its development. Waddell has had good press exposure “because there’s enough meat on the bones of the story behind the product”. Food editors were interested and featured the hummus in their pages. The timing of Waddell’s approach to national press was also efficient. She waited until her products were fairly widely available before the public read about them on food pages.

Through well-timed networking and “some delicious lines” it didn’t take long to get into stores. Waddell met buyers from Waitrose in July 2012. “The buyer couldn’t stop eating the hummus and we were on the shelves by November”. Other high-end retailers include Whole Foods Market and Fortnum and Mason. It is also stocked in independent delis.

More products will follow the fourJulie suit photo varieties that comprise The Little Smoked Food Company’s repertoire, and they seem as likely to find a swift passage to the high street.

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