When Meriel Kehoe and her friend Lucy Woodhouse couldn’t find any healthy ice lollies to wean their children on, they created their own from Greek yoghurt – and won a 12 month contract with Sainsbury’s! Meriel tells us how they did it.
What are your career backgrounds?
Lucy worked in marketing and branding for big companies like Talk Talk, Telegraph Media Group and Nickelodeon before leaving to work for her family’s manufacturing business FlowerWorld.
I worked as a TV producer and director on programmes like Location, Location, Location, Made in Chelsea, Gardener’s World, Gok’s Fashion Fix and Kirstie’s Homemade Home.
How did your careers change after becoming mums?
Lucy hung up her marketing hat for a little while to take care of Claudia full time and whilst on maternity leave came up with the idea for Claudi & Fin.
After Fin, I gave up directing to work solely on post-production – writing the voice over scripts for TV shows. It was full-time and when I went back I had the shock of my life! I know you always hear about how tricky it is juggling parenthood and a full-time job but I had no idea it would be THAT hard!
How did you meet?
We met at a playgroup called ‘Baby Sensory’ which, amongst other things, was supposed to teach babies a few bits of sign language so they could communicate before they learned to talk.
The parents had to do the sign language too and Lucy and I bonded over the fact that we were completely rubbish at it. We were always giggling when we should have been concentrating.
What inspired you to make your own lollies?
Lucy came up with the idea when she was weaning Claudia. It was the height of summer and she wanted to give her daughter a healthy ice lolly but quickly discovered there was nothing that fitted the bill.
She started making yoghurt lollies at home and thought ‘If Claudia likes them, maybe other children will too?’ She told me about her idea and I loved it. From then, every spare moment was spent mixing and whizzing, trying to come up with an amazing recipe.
Our chief taste testers were our children Claudia and Fin, who went crazy for the flavours we dreamed up, which is why we called our company after them.
When did you realise you could turn it into a business?
Good question! There were quite a lot of teething problems. Once we’d got a recipe that worked, we borrowed an ice cream machine and started doing trial batches in the kitchen at home.
What quickly became apparent was that it took an absolute age to make each lolly by hand, so we started to look for suitable partners who could make them for us.
When we were told by the people we approached that the minimum run was 100,000 lollies, we got really scared – it was a huge financial risk to take, so we started thinking about producing our recipe in tubs instead, which we wanted to sell at local farmers’ markets.
In the meantime, we applied for a competition called ‘PitchUp with Sainsbury’s’ which invited food start-ups to share their ideas with the retailer and if selected, get the opportunity to pitch ‘Dragon’s Den’ style to a panel of buyers and industry experts.
400 companies applied and from those, we were thrilled to be amongst the ten shortlisted to Pitch our lollies. After an agonising wait, we were absolutely speechless when we were offered a 12 month contract to supply 250 stores! From that moment on 100,000 lollies didn’t seem quite so scary and Claudi & Fin was born.
What skills and experience from your careers have helped you in your business?
Lucy’s marketing and branding background and as her experience in manufacturing have been an absolute godsend. She already knew about supplying supermarkets from working alongside her dad who supplied flowers to supermarkets, amongst others. Her marketing experience meant she had the experience to spot a gap in the market and know exactly what we needed to do to fill it.
My background in TV has given me the skills I need to turn things around with no money or time, which is what you need when you are starting up. I’m a real doer and a communicator but I can turn my hand to whatever’s needed.
What have you learned from working with a huge supermarket chain like Sainsbury’s?
Sainsbury’s have been incredibly supportive of us and we’ve had the benefit of some real mentoring as part of winning the competition.
It’s an incredibly competitive environment with a lot of big players, which can be scary but we’ve decided to go for an honest approach – making a product we would happily give our own children day after day, which also tastes great. Our feeling is if we stick to those principles, other parents will trust Claudi & Fin for their children too.
How do you split your workload between the two of you?
We both work four days a week, so there’s an inevitable cross over, so that we can pick-up anything pressing for each other. However, Lucy deals more with marketing and branding and I do more copywriting, social media and recipe development.
How do you balance your business with your families?
Erm..I think my husband might say ‘rather badly!’ I know he gets fed up when I’m fiddling about on my iPhone responding to Claudi & Fin’s Facebook messages at 10p.m!
The flipside of that is that Lucy and I work from home, which means we are home a lot earlier for our children than we would be if we were commuting each day and working for large companies. We have more flexibility, which is great.
What do Claudi and Fin think of having ice lollies names after them?!
Early on, I told Fin he was the mango lolly and ever since he’s said “I want to be Claudi!’ because Strawberry is his favourite. Lucy tells me Claudia is the exact opposite and prefers the mango, so for now, I’d say they are a bit underwhelmed!
What advice do you have for other mums who think they have a great food product?
Do you research! Don’t just rely on friends and family to tell you it is a great product, ask your potential customers too.
Arrange a tasting session and get people to give you feedback on your product and packaging and keep asking questions at every stage of your development. Once you’ve got good feedback, get your product out there – farmers’markets, delis – there’s never been more opportunities for artisanal food producers.
If the product isn’t too perishable (jam, salad dressings etc) then the internet is your perfect shop window but you’ll need some pretty clever marketing and branding to compete in a crowded market place. With determination, passion and a bit of luck you can make it work!
You can read more about Claudi & Fin on their website.