Chandra was an engineer for 24 years and his wife, Rekha, is a cancer research scientist. However they have both always loved food and it was this shared interest which developed into “Kitchen Guru”.http://www.kitchenguru.co.uk/
Rekha was always giving out recipes to friends and then began to include ingredients as well. She began to wonder if this basic idea could be developed into a business. They both understood product development and the importance of marketing. They carried out some of their own market research in 1995 and felt that this was positive but because the market was dominated by ready meals they felt it may be too early for their product, and as Chandra said, timing is vital.
Initially using market research reports available in the library and then doing some consumer surveys they kept an eye on changing trends and were particularly keen to find out what consumers didn’t like. Testing out their ideas on consumers was a vital step.
Very few Indian food products on the market were authentic and Indian cooking can be quite complex. Their research and testing of existing products confirmed their view that there was a market for their product which gives exact amounts of the relevant spices. They realised that they needed a well-designed product and filed a patent application which was granted in 1998. Very little in the food sector can actually be patented and their success created interest.
They had to make a decision as to whether they should sell or licence the invention, or do the whole thing themselves. They chose the latter and got to work in their garage, often working till the early hours. Chandra’s experience as an engineer came in handy – at one point converting a pie-making press into a sealing machine.
In 2002 Chandra left his job to concentrate full time on the product. A limited company was set up under the name “Kitchen Guru” which they also trade marked – choosing the name “Guru” because that is someone who teaches you something. That year they attended their first trade show and received their first orders. Initially they targeted independent stores and by the following year had not only increased sales but had also been approached by four investors interested in helping them grow the business. They were able to choose an investor who was interested only in investing, rather than trying to influence the business. Doing so was a big help, not only on the financial side but also in adding business expertise as Chandra and Rekha were quite inexperienced. They were able to move into business premises and the following year expanded again, bringing in more equipment.
Having greater capacity enabled them to supply the supermarkets and large chains. Last year they branched out into Thai and Mexican food products. Chandra commented that to maintain market share you have to continue to develop and improve. They carry out regular customer surveys and doing so helped them to improve their packaging after customer comments alerted them to certain issues with the existing packaging. They got quotes from some design companies for the job of updating the packaging – one company quoted £60,000. In the end Chandra went to a freelance designer and was able to have much greater input in the process. Changing the packaging increased sales significantly.
Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls and Harrods all take “Kitchen Guru” products now. Chandra commented that they don’t make a large amount of money from these stores but it’s good for the reputation.
Within two years of starting, “Kitchen Guru” products were being exported to ten different countries, including Europe, China and Canada. It’s been important for them not to overstretch themselves. They have also utilised spare capacity in their quiet times by producing packaging for plant seeds for a seed company and also greeting cards which have flower seeds attached.
The company has won 12 awards altogether, including small business Exporter of the Year. The value of awards is the recognition in brings – it’s free publicity.
Chandra summed up by reiterating how important it is to research the market, time the launch of the product well, be persistent and also delegate and get expert advice when it’s needed – you can’t know everything!