Kent Crisps, is a brand that is now reaching out beyond our county borders and looksset to expand into new markets in the future. We went to meet Laura Bounds, of AMC foods, who are also the company behind Kentish Oils, to dig a little deeper into how she went from working for Quex Foods, as it was known then, to being part of a management buyout in 2014.
“I was working for Quex Park since 2012–well it was Quex Foods back then–until 2014, when I was involved in the management buyout. It must be time for a party, as we are coming up to our second anniversary. We actually do love a party here and have two each year for the staff; one at Christmas and a summer sports day. This year it will take place on the beach!”
Q.Where are Kent Crisps produced?
“We have set up the production of Kent Crisps to ensure we have full control of the whole process. I realised quite early on in business that it’s crucial to be in control of operations. Our seasonings are produced for us by a company in Essex, but we develop and create them ourselves, including the laboratory work that goes into making a new flavour. We buy in all the raw materials to produce the crisps but then it all gets a little bit complicated. For example, we have just bought 20 kilos of Ashmore cheese that then has to be grated, sent to be spray-dried in order to be broken down, and then incorporated into the seasoning. The logistics behind getting the raw materials ready is quite complex but all the produce we use in our flavours comes from Kent suppliers. We use Biddenden for the cider and Chillis from the Kent Chilli Farm, as we really want to support local producers which helps put both the brand and the county on the map a little more.
The idea of using local suppliers for flavouring is more than just us selling a brand, it’s about promoting the producers of Kent and to promote the county landscapes for tourism.
Our producers also have tourist attractions that people, who become familiar with the brand, may well come and visit. I want to be part of the movement that really puts Kent
on the map as a ‘foodie’ county.
We have four producers at the moment, although we have six flavours. Sea salt is just sea salt and our oyster flavour is a matched flavour because of the allergens
involved. There is one flavour I particularly want to do in the future but all I can say at the moment is that it is a meat flavour.”
No matter how much we tried to dig, Laura wouldn’t spill the beans, although she did tell us about a neighbour of hers who loved baked bean flavour crisps and wanted her to
produce them; “Where am I going to find a baked bean producer in Kent? It’s all very
well coming up with a great idea for a flavour but, for us, it has to match
the brand, and that means using local producers!”
Laura and her team have another brand under their belts, Kentish Oils, producing rapeseed oil that is grown down at Woodchurch Farm, near Margate, and bottled in a tiny
unit with just two members of staff involved in the whole process.
“The rapeseed oil is a beautiful product that can be used for so many different things. The Kentish Oils side of the business is diversifying, with the introduction of our own
mayonnaise and, at the moment, we are developing a range of dressings. We will explore rapeseed products in the future but for now, it’s one step at a time. One of the challenges
is educating people about just how good rapeseed oil is for cooking; it’s versatile, and retains its properties when you cook with it. It looks pure even in a deep fat fryer! Now that more chefs are starting to use it, this will change people’s perception. With people starting to buy into the product, we wanted to create a brand that was sexy, that stands out on the shelves and makes people want to buy it. The packaging we went for is
bright and definitely stands out!
I realise now, that when I was involved in the management buyout in 2014, I was treating the two brands in the same way. Fortunately I had a reality check! The crisps market is much more corporate and, in order to be taken seriously, we have to match that environment. With regard to the oils, it is a much more artisan environment. A client wanted to visit our rapeseed ‘factory’! It hit me that, rather than the small scale of physical operations being something to hide, it is something to be celebrated.”
Q. Are any of your products in supermarkets?
“The multiples, or supermarket strategy, is clearly defined in our company. They can either make or break a small supplier. We made a decision to work with the multiples,
only with selected lines, in order for us to raise brand awareness. We lead busy lives and not everyone is likely to go to farmer’s markets and food festivals, which is where
our local market would have seen our products. It’s a way of life, and the supermarkets are there for convenience. By only having selected lines in the stores, it opens the way
for independent stockists to offer the fuller range. For example, we only have the larger bags of crisps (150g), on their shelves and the 500ml standard rapeseed oil. If people want to explore the other flavours or sizes of both products, they can purchase
locally or online directly with us.
What is more noticeable now is that the multiples are playing a little fairer with the smaller suppliers. Our margins are the same as smaller stockists, as is the RRP. It was a key part of our strategy to make sure of this.”
Laura has worked within the food sector since she graduated from University. Her degree is in Public Service Management and then a Masters in Sociology. Her decision to get in to Marketing initially came from her involvement in events while at University;
“I worked for a nightclub, and also for the University doing marketing and promotions. I wanted to tak this much further than just handing out flyers about events. I really loved getting involved and found that social media was an amazing portal for promoting and building engagement. Fortunately, it isn’t the discipline you graduate in that will always dictate your future but the skills you learn while there. My parents were extremely supportive of my decision to ‘get a job in marketing’, although, at the time, I didn’t really know in which direction I ultimately wanted to go. My first job was based in Ashford and was my introduction to the ‘foodie’ world.”
Q. How have you found the process of exporting?
“We joined the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) a few years ago, and I started to understand just what it would take for us to be ready to export. At that time our brand wasn’t ready. Kent Crisps didn’t have a long enough shelf life. This has now been extended to nine months, which puts us up there at the top end of the sector. Some of our competitors only have six months. It’s a massive selling point for us. Our packaging wasn’t right either, so we worked on that too.
Our advisor at the UKTI has been brilliant, and we have had so much support and encouragement to stretch ourselves and our brand. We went through a rebrand and
launched it in October 2014. We made sure we knew which countries we wanted to export to, mainly where there wasn’t a lot of competition, and therefore they wouldn’t be big
enough markets for our competitors, yet, they would be perfect for us.
After identifying the target market, we looked at the legal obligations, translations etc. This was key, as when you are in front of a client you then have the answers to any barrier questions that may come up.
We first started exporting in January 2015, so have completed our first financial year. Some of our clients have taken years to get on board. For example, it took two and a half years to get the Singapore account live and we have been looking at exporting to China for longer than that! We are now in Singapore, Taiwan, Dubai, Sierra Leone, Germany and Bermuda, with Mexico launching in the very near future.
The world is our oyster. I only have to look at the map of the world on my office wall and my mind starts looking at where we can expand into next. Watch this space!”
Laura’s tips for growing your brand in Kent?
- Make sure you identify who you want to sell to and how you are going to get your products in front of them
- If you are a producer, then food markets and shows are where you should be to get your brand out there as much as possible. Shout about it!
- Your own network is important and you should use it to increase your brand awareness.