Junior’s Pantry: Kate Finch
Meet the Cordon Bleu trained chef filling a kid-sized gap in the ready meals market
Founded: 2011 Founder: Kate Finch Turnover: Undisclosed
First there was Innocent Drinks. Then there was Ella’s Kitchen. Now, there’s a new healthy eating brand to tickle young taste buds, and it’s called Junior’s Pantry. Launching straight into Ocado, the brand fills the niche between toddler food and adult-size ready meals. Bringing her one pot meals for busy parents to market within just one year of conception, former City exec, Cordon Bleu-trained chef and mum Kate Finch plans to launch the range in two more supermarkets before the year is out. And that’s just the beginning.
The market opportunity
The start-up scene has seen a swarm of baby-centric brands of late. However, certainly in the food industry, the market’s offerings have only catered for the first four years of children’s lives. The primary school-age market, by contrast, has been neglected, despite boasting a customer base double the size.
This is where Finch has found her niche – busy, primary school-age children who need access to healthy, quick meals but are too grown-up for toddler food and don’t have the appetite for an adult-size ready meal.
“Until you have primary school-age children yourself, you don’t realise how sociable they are,” Finch explains. “Between picking the children up from school, swimming, Brownies and getting them to bed at a reasonable time… This is a brand that is going to appeal to mothers that are time poor and cash rich.”
As well as catering for the ABC1 yummy mummy, Junior’s Pantry accommodates for families that are living apart – single dads and grandparents who help out at the weekend – allowing them to provide a quick, healthy meal, while introducing the children to new flavours.
Junior’s Pantry’s closest comparable is Ella’s Kitchen, which – despite primarily catering for the relatively short weaning process - turned over more than £30m last year. Although Junior’s Pantry is operating within the chilled food market, while Ella’s Kitchen is an ‘ambient’ food brand (which can be stored at room temperature), its success gives a strong indication of the market opportunity.
As a former sales director for a City investment house, Finch has taken a savvy approach to start-up capital, self-funding to date.
Having brought the product to market with a five-figure savings pot, Junior’s Pantry is now on course to turn over a six-figure sum in its first (partial) year of trading, having benefitted from a close team of advisers including Finch’s husband, an experienced entrepreneur.
The growth strategy
As well as doubling her product range to 10 recipes – including seasonal specials – Finch is also aiming to cut costs for mums through the launch of Junior’s Pantry sharing pots, which can be split between several children. Beyond that, she’d like to introduce the brand to foreign markets – but is aware of the challenges.
“Italy and Germany are the biggest buyers of baby food. That’s fine if you have an ambient product, but much harder with fresh. You need local factories to comply with local health and safety and quality control laws,” she says, adding: “The dishes are international but may not be ‘authentic’ within their home market, eg paella in Spain.”
For now, Finch’s focus is on gradual, controlled growth, with marketing efforts focused on social media rather than TV advertising (“those days are over”), as well as testing the water at carefully selected exhibitions. With an experienced retail trade consultant on side, Finch is aware of the perils of building volume too quickly, and says she would rather stock more product in a small number of stores than face untargeted listings in 200 stores of one supermarket – and risk losing a contract if the meals don’t thrive in every location.
However, don’t take this conservatism as a lack of ambition. Finch’s original brief to her branding agency strategically omitted the use of the word ‘meal’. Her aim is to expand to include other products – from breakfast cereal to lunchbox snacks – so that Junior’s Pantry may become the number one healthy food brand that parents trust.
Junior’s Pantry was recently ranked number 83 in the 2012 Startups 100
Kate Finch has spotted a gap in the market for convenient, healthy meals for children. With impressive and relevant experience, a market double the size of that of Ella’s Kitchen, a team of experienced advisers on board and scope for growth both from new product lines and overseas expansion, Junior’s Pantry is one to watch.