Product idea #9: Sweetpea Pantry
Frustrated at the lack of healthy food for kids, best friends Philippa Askham and Tanya Mitchell created a business to “become a force of change" in children’s nutrition. Here, they talk hunting for investment and market testing…
Founders: Philippa Askham and Tanya Mitchell
Location: Putney, London
Date launched: April 2014
The product: Healthy baking mixes for kids
After going through school, travelling the world and starting families together, it seemed an almost natural progression for best friend duo Philippa Askham and Tanya Mitchell to launch their first business together.
Through their own experience and disillusionment with the kid’s food market, the mumpreneurs spotted a business opportunity that they felt could fit better with their lifestyles and passions (after previous careers in hotel sales and marketing). Both avid foodies, the pair developed their nutritious bake-at-home brand that encourages children to understand the importance of healthy eating from a young age – baking mixes with a healthy twist.
Sweetpea products focus on combining all natural super food nutrition with ingredients such as flax, chia and quinoa; plus it makes baking fun for children and easy for parents who may not have the time or inclination to bake from scratch.
Following 12 months of intensive market research and prolonged product development, the founders have come a long way from their initial idea and now have a strong and exciting brand, a plan to disrupt and scale the £1.7bn home-baking market, and secured placement in Ocado and retailers such as Yumbles, Planet Organic, Daylesford and notonthehighstreet.com.
With a mission to get healthy foods to the forefront of kids’ diets, here the team talk about the importance of managing cashflow and the challenges of raising finance and manufacturing…
Can you briefly describe your background?
We are best friends who have known each other since we were five. After growing up in Australia, we followed each other around the world, from Sydney to New York to London. When we both had children our careers, which involved a lot of travel, events and late nights (Tanya in her role as luxury hotel sales and Philippa in wine marketing) were no longer a great fit and we wanted to create a more flexible working environment and work on our own idea and passions.
Both big foodies, we were frustrated with the lack of quick and healthy options for snacking and baking with and for children, so we came up with our first product line – healthy baking mixes for children that get goodness into foods children like to make and eat.
Where did the idea for Sweetpea Pantry come from?
We had lots of different ideas all on the common theme of good food for children so we brainstormed our concepts, took a look at what was already in the market and spoke to a lot of potential customers.
In the end we went with the one we felt most passionate about and that we felt had the most potential to be disruptive and scaleable.
Describe how your boxes are disrupting the marketplace?
We want to make it easy for parents to have healthy options in the pantry. If you look at other baking mix options currently available, sugar is always the first ingredient. We wanted to have products that tasted delicious but were also full of good nutrients and whole-grains and we never have sugar in the top three ingredients.
A love and understanding of good food begins at home and we believe learning to bake from a young age is vital.
What market research did you conduct to learn more about the children’s snack sector?
We thought the most important thing was to understand what our customers were looking for. We made sure we understood the trends and gaps in the market (The British Museum is an incredible place to get detail on trends from major research papers for free).
We also spent a lot of energy and time researching our competition and their resources to understand what we are going up against.
What have you done to protect the IP of your products?
We have trademarked our name and branding and we own all of the creative, photography and website content.
How did you finance Sweetpea Pantry?
We were self-funded initially, but that cash didn't last long! So we took a start-up loan through a government scheme.
We are currently looking for investment from angel investors, as we have quickly realised to be a strong food brand you need economies of scale and a strong marketing and sales plan – a consumer needs to see your brand/product at least seven times before they feel comfortable buying you.
Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your baking mixes to bringing them to the market.
We worked on our product development for a long time as wanted it to be perfect before launching, but we know now that ongoing feedback from customers is vital and you will always need to be listening and adapting.
We have always had a very clear idea of what we wanted to achieve and the kind of products that are needed so we haven't made major changes, just tweaks as we move along the process to keep making us better.
Manufacturing has been one of the most challenging aspects of our business as you need to find someone who is willing to work with you while you are small. Finance and cashflow is the other area that needs specialist attention – getting ourselves an expert accountant in the food industry has been invaluable!
Do you manufacture the products entirely yourselves?
Yes, Sweetpea Pantry mixes are currently all made at our co-packer in Britain. We felt strongly that being a premium product with a strong health angle we wanted complete control over our ingredients and process.
We hope that we can keep it that way!
What sales channels do you use for Sweetpea Pantry products?
We sell through our own Sweetpea Pantry website and we were listed very early on in Ocado which has been fantastic to be available nationally from day one.
We are also stocked in key retailers like Daylesford and Planet Organic plus some online retailers e.g. notonthehighstreet.com, Kishnubbly and Yumbles. We are also accessing the smaller farm shops and delis through specialist wholesalers.
Do you have plans to take Sweetpea Pantry overseas?
Absolutely! We have a good understanding of the US and Australian markets, so we know our products would do very well there. We have also started speaking to European importers, especially Scandinavian countries who are very big on health and free-from products.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching their own food product business?
Cash and its flow is everything. Make sure to plan what it will cost to get your product ready for launch and focus your finances around the most important activities to get your product right and then drive sales. Things like events are fantastic and vital to brand building but only when you have the cash to spend, and remember that many retailers pay on 60 day terms (and longer for wholesalers) so allow for this delay.
Tap into all the industry contacts and knowledge you can find; plus talk to other food producers and industry experts as you'll be surprised how many are happy to give you their time and connections to help.
What are Sweetpea Pantry’s future plans?
We want to be a force of change in children's nutrition and we will be adding to our baking range to incorporate more savoury (sugar-free) and free-from options.
We are also introducing a healthy snacks range for older children – with a focus on nutrition and ease of use.