How to launch a food startup – and crack the supermarkets » SMEInsider

How to launch a food startup – and crack the supermarkets

A few years ago, Dave Gannon was running an Indian restaurant in the French Alps when he hit on a great idea for making quick, hearty meals for staff with little time to eat them: curry on a naan bread, with a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese. These deliciously moreish Indian-style pizzas proved so popular with his team that, a few years later and back in the UK, Dave began to wonder why supermarkets didn’t stock them, too. After extensive research and plenty of refining, the curizza was born.

Taking its brand name from its founder’s alpine nickname, Curry Dave celebrated its official launch this week, following the news that Ocado and Tesco will be the first supermarkets to start selling its currizza range. But how did the product make the tricky transition from Dave’s kitchen in Glasgow to the supermarket shelves? For that, it took business growth expert Kathleen Sutherland.

Kathleen, who specialises in helping small Scottish brands to break into big retailers, happened to be at the Tesco Local head office, working on a different brand, when the buyer asked her if she’d like to try a product from “a very persistent chap called Curry Dave.” After a lengthy conversation on whether the currizza would appeal only to the Scottish market or could be rolled out more generally, they agreed that could potentially sell throughout the UK. The next day, purely by coincidence, Kathleen received a call from Dave.

Bizarrely, he said that someone had passed on my card, could I come and see him and help him, he wanted take the product into the multiple retailers,” she says. “So we met up, and it wasn’t just his passion, his love of what he’d created, but I also realised that the Curry Dave brand could go places.”

Kathleen admits that the convenience food market is particularly a hard nut to crack. “At one end, you’ve got the real foodies and at the other, you’ve got people who can’t cook and don’t want to cook. And then you’ve got to try and position your product to suit both,” she says. “It’s got to be a big enough product to appeal to the foodies and an easy enough product for the non-foodies.”

And then you’ve got the supermarkets, and today, where we are now, that’s also a real challenge, because there are so many promotions out there,” she adds. Consumers of all demographics beeline straight for price reduced bargains and this, says Kathleen, means investing in the brand in such a way that you can offer promotions to tempt them with.

At the pitch, it’s about saying, this is our proposition, this is our promotion offer, this is our calendar, this is how much we’re going to spend on marketing the product,” she  says. “When you pitch, it’s not just about a great idea, you’ve got to know how to make it into a great brand. You’ve got to know that your manufacturer has the accreditation to go into that retailer. You’ve got to be able to understand their speak.”

The pitching process has been tough,” adds Dave. “Eventually you do get into those scenarios that you see on the apprentice where you are face to face with buyers, but there’s an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing before then in terms of emails and sending in samples and badgering people and just being tenacious with it.”

Although the company is thrilled to have been picked up by some leading retailers, the challenges don’t stop there. When it comes to pizza products, most supermarkets promote their own labels heavily – with the few additional chilled brands, like Pizza Express, wielding serious marketing budgets in order to compete. This, says Kathleen, poses a particular challenge, and the company is working hard to raise awareness and create demand, taking a “sample trailer” to food stalls at music festivals, approaching prominent food bloggers and stirring up interest through social media.

Whilst he wishes he’d known more about shelf life, logistics, gap analysis and the etiquette of dealing with supermarkets, Dave says that the one thing he would tell his younger self about entrepreneurship is to “remain passionate.”

You can always learn things, and if there’s a skill you might have a shortfall in, then you ask someone else to help you,” he says. Passion, on the other hand, can only come from you.