Annabel Karmel MBE is proof-positive that you don’t need a business degree to build a successful brand
After growing her business empire from scratch at her kitchen table, the mother of three has become a trusted and inspiring resource for mums in feeding babies and children.
Since launching with ‘The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner’ in 1991, Annabel has written 40 books in over 25 languages. A regular contributor to the media on child nutrition, she has also put her name to wholesome food ranges and cooking equipment.
An inspirational role model for women, she is now empowering other mums to become their own boss with her new book ‘Mumpreneur’, (Vermillion). Drawing on her own extensive experience in juggling motherhood with building a thriving enterprise, she equips mums with the confidence and tools to turn their start-up dreams into a reality with the help of a host of leading women in business.
What was the first dish you experimented with on your son Nicholas?
“He was a very difficult eater and wouldn’t eat any protein, but would eat fruit. I mixed chicken with fruit, made it in to a puree and he ate it! He was about six months old at this point.”
Did you enjoy cooking as a child?
“I didn’t really have the chance to learn to cook as a child. School was about academia! However, when I went on to study music, I had to cook for myself. I even did a Cordon Bleu course to gain more skills!”
Is it ever too late to start introducing your recipes to young children?
“NO!” ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ as far as vegetables are concerned. What’s the best way to ‘hide’ vegetables in a meal? “Children are quite stubborn, if they don’t want to eat something then they simply won’t eat it. I used to disguise vegetables with tasty sauces and minced beef or chicken to make a very fine pureed Bolognese. If I’m honest, hiding the good bits in a meal didn’t always get past my children, but I found it really important to hide my frustrations. Instead, I gave them lots of praise when they ate well or tried something new.”
Why do you think there are so many conflicting ideas about nutrition provided by varying ‘experts’?
“I don’t think there has really been enough research into children’s food. When I toured the country writing my first book I was given so much conflicting information, such as when to introduce fish…at six months? A year? At six months, the iron you receive from your mother runs out, so introducing fish, chicken and meat is really important. ‘Experts’ were saying that babies only like bland food. Breast milk is sweet, not bland and the more I experimented, the more proof I had that children actually enjoy tasty food and different flavours. I blew away some of those ‘old wives tales’ and started to change the way that people thought in relation to feeding their children” Your first book was initially rejected on numerous occasions.
Did this provide you with the fuel to surge ahead to get it out there?
“I was turned down by over 15 publishing houses. Each rejection letter could have been enough for me to doubt the viability and worth of my idea but I continued to believe in my pitch. Fortunately, I was introduced to a small dynamic book packager, who ended up selling it to US publisher Simon & Schuster, who ordered 25,000 copies.
This deal unlocked doors that had previously remained shut, and I’ve since gone on to write 40 books, selling more than four million copies worldwide. Persistence and determination is essential.”
What’s your favourite recipe to cook?
“It’s a chicken dish, with honey and thyme under the breast. Roast some vegetables, pepper, onion and garlic, put the chicken on top of the veg, pour in some wine and bake. You don’t have to spend long cooking tasty meals, which leaves you time to get on with other things.”
What’s your favourite restaurant or type of food?
“I genuinely like lots of different types of food; Italian, Japanese and the more simple side to French cuisine. My favourite restaurant is ‘La Petite Maison’ in London. The food there is so fresh and it isn’t messed about with.”
How important do you think it is to have the family together at meal times?
“I think it’s very important. Kids are usually too busy to talk to you which can mean you lose touch with what’s going on in their lives. If you can all eat together at least a couple of times a week it breaks that distance.”
How do you separate work and family time?
“Being an entrepreneur isn’t a part-time job, it’s not even a full-time job, it’s a lifestyle! Having said that, I think it’s incredibly important to have down time – I love to cook for the family or watch a good film.”
Do your children enjoy cooking?
“Yes they do. When they were growing up, Friday nights was their time to cook and I only got involved by helping out with the dangerous or difficult bits. They loved it, being part of the adult world.”
What advice would you give to mothers who have to fight battles with their children at meal times?
“Try not to turn meal times into a battleground, it isn’t the end of the world if they won’t eat something. But I do believe that a hungry child is a less fussy child!
Variety is important too. If you always give them the same things then the situation will never get any better…”
What drives you to succeed?
“My children are my motivation – and my first child Natasha who died at 13 weeks. I started out on my food journey wanting to give some meaning to Natasha’s short life and my first book was a legacy to her. My passion to succeed continued from there.
I do also believe that you have to remain your biggest advocate to fully optimise your potential.”
How do you relax? “I have three gorgeous dogs and I love to cuddle with them on the sofa or go on long walks with them. I love travel and often combine work with travel. I also really love skiing holidays.”
Do your dogs have their own special menus?
“If they aren’t well, I do cook them chicken, carrots and rice. Generally they do eat a lot of leftovers and they love sardines and sea bass! They have had some quite good meals in their time.”
You have an active community on Facebook, do any of the comments or suggestions inspire any part of your books?
“There’s nothing more rewarding than cooking up a new recipe or food product, and often the types of meals I launch are very much determined by what my followers are asking for – especially when it comes to new flavours within our baby and toddler meal ranges.
I’ve built up a large following of loyal, engaged mums and they love to be involved in product development.
The great thing about tapping into our followers is that they are honest; if they don’t like an idea, we’ll know about it!”
How do you find filming with children?
“I absolutely love children, but it can be very stressful. You can never predict or be sure about what they are going to do next.”
What advice would you give to a mother thinking of starting her own business?
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been. You have to live your dream as you wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself if you didn’t try something. You can always start out in your spare time.
You have to be prepared to take calculated risks but you don’t have to come up with an amazing invention. Look for a gap in the market, what has already been done, but not so well? Mums are great at discovering what does and doesn’t work for children!”
How did you deal with building your career and raising your family?
“You have to have a threshold for the guilt. It’s hard at times, but guilt is a negative emotion. I think it’s important not to beat yourself up; you can still be a Mum and create a life you want for yourself. Also, working from home makes a massive difference, you can still be there for your children, even if it means working once they are in bed. Some women love to be a full time Mum and some don’t. You can’t be what you’re not.”
Twitter or Facebook?
Countryside or Seaside?
Steak or fish?
Savoury or sweet?
Creative or logical mind?
“Creative but with a logical streak.”
What made you write Mumpreneur?
“So many of my Mum followers were approaching me for advice on starting up a business. With childcare costs spiralling, it’s no surprise that these highly intelligent, savvy mums are looking at new ways to follow their passions whilst earning a living and raising a family.
So I wanted to do something to help these women. I used my experience in juggling the demands of work and motherhood to help equip other mums with the confidence and tools to do the same thing.
Mumpreneur reveals the secrets to my own success as well as insider times and learnings from top business leaders and working mothers including; Chrissie Rucker MBE, founder of The White Company, Wahaca’s Thomasina Miers and Nails Inc founder, Thea Green.”
Do you think that the successful women you interviewed in the book all have something in common?
“I think they have drive and passion, you definitely can’t achieve that level of success without passion. If you truly love what you do then it isn’t like work. I have made mistakes in business and have learned from them. I have always created my own work so have never had a boss! It’s all about mind set. All these women also have a huge amount of energy that they are able to channel!”