Ella’s Kitchen has been cooking on all cylinders

Philip Salter
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ANY parent fighting against the near-impossible battle to keep their toddler’s diet healthy will have heard of Ella’s Kitchen. Gracing the shelves of the nation’s supermarkets, Paul Lindley’s gastronomic creations are a contemporary take on uniform baby food and a healthy alternative to sweets for snacking kids.

Lindley claims the success of Ella’s Kitchen is built upon three pillars. Firstly, as a former deputy managing director of Nickelodeon, he is able to take a child’s perspective: “Although the parents buy the food, it’s the children that spit it out,” he says. Ella’s Kitchen – named after his daughter, through whom he saw a gap in the market – tries to make healthy food fun. The second pillar is the company’s challenging and innovative approach, exemplified in the original pouch packaging (which was swiftly copied by rivals). Despite the copying, the third pillar gives his business legs on the competition. Because Ella’s Kitchen is built around a real family – Ella’s face adorns the marketing – the brand is trusted. He explains that in the past baby food was packaged and marketed in a unvarying style to exemplify safety. He noticed that the world had moved on and there was a gap in the market for a premium-brand children’s food that broke the mould.

Lindley’s first career was as a KPMG accountant. As such, when starting out he could get to grips with the financial side of running a business with relative ease. He knew that “growing too fast can be dangerous because you can easily run out of cash.” He says besides having a really bad idea, the greatest cause of failure is being unable to manage the cash cycle. Ella’s Kitchen has grown at breakneck speed, so Lindley has used invoice financing to keep it cash rich.

The big break for Lindley came in getting his products into supermarkets, but he admits “it’s very difficult to meet the right person and getting your foot in the door requires tenacity.” Once you get that meeting, he advises that in the hour you have to pitch your idea “make sure they remember you”. He ponders on the fact that if he hadn’t been successful at this, Ella’s Kitchen would not be here today.

As well as taking UK supermarkets by storm, Ella’s Kitchen has an international presence: Sweden; Norway; the Baltic region; the US; Australia; the Middle East. Lindley thinks “people around the world are more similar than they are different”, so sees no reason this international growth needs to slow. His aim is for Ella’s Kitchen to become “the first global premium-brand children’s food.”

Ella’s Kitchen wasn’t Lindley’s first idea for a business, but he certainly chose the right one in which to invest his time and money. Plenty of people are tempted to start a business based on experiences in their daily lives; few remortgage their home, as Lindley did, and actually do it. He was driven by the thought of his future self looking back and regretting the decision not to take the risk. For Lindley there was no choice: failure appeared better than not trying. Now that’s certainly food for thought.

Company name: Ella’s Kitchen

Company turnover: £44m

Job title: Founder, CEO and Ella’s Dad

Age: 45

Born: Sheffield

Lives: Reading, Berkshire

Studied: Economics and Politics, University of Bristol

Drinking: Can’t beat a good red wine

Motto: “Learn from the past, plan for the future, but always live for today.”

Heroes: Robert Kennedy and Nelson Mandela

Awards: 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, National Business Awards. 2011 Business Person of the Year, Oxfordshire Business Awards. Entrepreneur of the Year for the South, EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, 2010 Food & Drink Brand of the Year, Grocer Gold Awards, 2011 International Business of the Year, Growing Business Awards. And on Wednesday, finalist for the Exporter of the Year, Grocer Gold Award (fingers crossed).

First ambition: To farm coffee in Africa