Kate Finch is the founder and CEO of Junior's Pantry which provide range of delicious healthy nutritious meals especially designed for children.
Before starting Junior's Pantry, Kate worked as a Sales Director for an Investment Management house in the City where she travelled around the Country talking to Finance Directors about the way their corporate pension funds were invested.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I worked for many years in the City as a Sales Director for an Investment House before I started Junior’s Pantry. I had given up work to spend more time with my girls and to be a full time mum for the first time ever (my girls are 7 and 9). It didn’t last long, within six months I had started my business.
I live in a tiny hamlet in rural West Berkshire after living in London for many years so have all the challenges of rural broadband speeds!
Tell me about how you got into business?
It was a bit of a light bulb moment really. I had heard a BBC Radio 4 woman’s hour programme about female entrepreneurs and was thinking about it later that night and thinking about the situation I found myself in. I was basically running a canteen cooking for my children and then my husband, which I was finding a bit tedious. I thought about all the baby food available but what about food for school aged children, particular a meal that was healthy with one portion of veg.? Nothing like this existed so I sat down and wrote a brief and pitched it to my husband the next morning. He was really supportive and basically said go for it, so it all started from there.
How about Cooking?
I had cooked professionally in my early career, I am Cordon Bleu trained. But I quickly discovered that I didn’t want to make a full time career out of cooking, the hours are awful and the pay worse. But cooking is a fantastic skill to have, you never lose it and being able to cook confidently particularly for friends and family is one of life’s pleasures.
How did the idea for Junior’s Pantry come about?
Really from my own circumstances, and identifying a gap in the market. Many mother’s cook for their children and then again for themselves and their husband. There wasn’t a healthy alternative for those busy nights when there isn’t time to cook from scratch, so I thought I would create one for busy mothers like me!
What is Junior’s Pantry and what are you trying to solve?
I am trying to solve a problem all mother’s face. They want their children to eat a healthy balanced meal every evening but there isn’t always time to cook from scratch. Junior’s Pantry can be a meal on those nights which mother’s can use without feeling guilty. Our meals are made just like you would at home with fresh ingredients and no added nasties.
Tell me about the early days of Junior‘s Pantry, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Funnily enough the hardest part was doing things as quickly as I wanted to; I spent a lot of the first few months being scared that I would go into a supermarket and see that someone had done what I was planning! Getting a plan together was important and a structure for moving things forward when there was so much to do. My husband has his own business so he made me sit down and write down every task that needed to be done and a timetable for each, from Trademarking the name to running tasting sessions with children. This really gave me focus.
The hardest part was doing it all on my own, I had to motivate myself and make every decision without discussion with anyone.
How have you been able to fund it?
The business is currently funded from our capital
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Being introduced to an advisor who had years of experience as a supermarket buyer transformed my entry to market strategy. Her advice has been so valuable, she can explain the jargon and understands what a buyer is looking for and what might be the hurdles we have to over come.
Could you give us an example of a setback you had in the early stages of the business, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
It wasn’t a set back as such but I spent about 3 months trying to find someone to make my dishes. I knew from the start I was never going to attempt to make Junior’s Pantry myself, I needed a professional kitchen with all of the food regulation standards. Finding someone to take me on without a supermarket contract or an order book was hard. But we got there, it was through a friend of a friend and my advice would be if you are stuck on anything ask around. Amongst your friends and ex-colleagues you’d be amazed who people know or who have friends who know someone that might be able to help.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Having Junior’s Pantry available for sale within a year of starting the business. It was the target I set myself and I managed it with 4 days to spare! Hearing feedback from people who’ve bought the meals has been really satisfying, knowing that we are meeting a need in the market
What should we be expecting from yourself and Junior’s Pantry for the rest of the year?
I hope by the end of the year to have another listing in a physical supermarket (as opposed to being available on Ocado where we are currently listed), followed early next year by another listing in Q1.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If you believe in your idea and your friends and family say honestly that you should go for it, then go for it and don’t look back.
Ask for help, you’ll be surprised by how many people are prepared to help, in the food industry people are very friendly and helpful which was a refreshing changing from the financial industry which let’s just say is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to friendliness!
Never, ever give in – it’s going to be tough and at times very tough and you will question what you’re doing but if you believe in your product/idea you need to regroup and push on. I read the Innocent story and in the middle was a cut out and keep sign that reads “never, ever give in (find the way that works)” I cut this out and have it above my computer screen – I look up at it regularly when I need support!