Home Business Heroes: Kate Finch

Home businesses generate £284bn of the UK's GDP making them the true heroes of our economy. So to continue Smarta and Viking's celebration of these brave entrepreneurs, we tracked down Junior's Pantry founder, Kate Finch.

Name: Kate Finch

Location: West Berkshire

Business: www.juniorspantry.co.uk

Can you sum your business up?

Junior's Pantry provides healthy one pot ready meals for children aged 4 years and above. Perfect for busy mums and busy children.  Our yummy dishes are available on Ocado and we hope to be in other supermarkets during the course of 2012.

How did you come up with the idea?

I was inspired to start Junior's Pantry after hearing a BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour programme on Women Entrepreneur's; and one  lady was talking about a baby food business that she had started some years ago.

In my experience feeding my baby had been easy but feeding my now primary school aged children was more of a challenge.   I was cooking from scratch twice every week night for my children and then for my husband as he is not home in time for us to eat as a family.  When I looked for a healthy children's ready meal there weren't any, lots of things for toddlers but nothing for primary school aged children.  Using my previous experience as a chef (in my early career I cooked professionally) I started to expand the recipes I used for my children and then embarked on research around the idea of producing a healthy ready meal made especially for children.  The results of this convinced me that I was on to something.

Junior Pantry boxset

How did you fund it?

From my own capital.

What's the business model?

It's really an outsourced model, I manage and own the brand and intellectual property but I don't actually cook the food.   I knew right from the start that I was not going to attempt to cook the meals myself, if Junior's Pantry was to be successful I knew that it had to be stocked in a supermarket.   Therefore I needed a professional manufacturer on board to cope with the anticipated volume.  I have since learnt that trying to manufacture yourself is a minefield of Health and Safety requirements and very expensive to set up, so early on I made the right decision.   I have surrounded myself with a team that includes an accountant, a design team, a pr specialist, a web designer and a trade consultant - all have been instrumental in getting Junior's Pantry to where it is today.

How do you source the ingredients?

It was critical to me that the dishes reflected the way that mother's cook at home so they had to include store cupboard ingredients and most importantly no preservatives or added salt. The sourcing of the ingredients is done by the food manufacturer, though I have had significant input on specific ingredients; for example the pesto and curry powder we use are bespoke to Junior's Pantry. We decided on them after taking into account children's tastes and tolerances for spices.

How did you find manufacturers?

With difficulty, this was without a doubt the biggest challenge I faced.  I didn't have an order book or even a listing with a supermarket so most manufacturers wouldn't even answer the phone to me.  It was very important to me that I find a manufacture who would cook the food as I would cook it at home, no machinery just big pots and talented cooks who care about producing high quality meals. I used a specialist consultancy firm to develop my homemade recipes into commercial recipes and they were able to help with the manufacturing search, but we ended up finding a company through a friend of a friend.  This was a valuable lesson, when you are stuck ask around and get friends to ask their friends if they know anyone that could help.  Somewhere along the line you'll find someone who will know someone however tenuous the link.

Why did you decide to work from home?

It was a decision based on cost and how I was going to juggle running the business and looking after my children.  I don't need an office away from home at the moment, I'm lucky in that I do have space for someone to join me in my office a few hours a week to help with admin etc. I recognise that this situation won't necessarily last as the business grows but I'm happy to work from home for as long as I can.

What's the hardest thing about working from home?

Living in a rural area means that internet access is not particularly fast which can be frustrating at times but that's a West Berkshire problem not one confined to my property!


Where in your home do you work?

I use what was a dining room (though we had never used it as such), and kitted it out with a couple of desks and shelves from a certain Swedish retailer!

Do you have set hours?

Not really but I work most of the day until the children are home from school and then I do a couple of hours in the evening if needed.

How do you start the day?

With the school run and a dog walk.  I find walking the dog is a good way to sort through various issues buzzing through my head - I make a rule of never taking my phone with me as it's my time to think and plan my day or the week. Anyway who wants to listen to me chatting whilst breathlessly climbing up a hill?

How do you manage to ensure you don't end up doing household chores?

I had to solve this one as it was a real distraction for me. I found in the early days that by the time I'd done the school run, dog walk and chores I wouldn't be sitting down until 10.30am which was far too late.  But I found I couldn't settle if I knew that the beds weren't made or the kitchen wasn't cleared up after breakfast (I'm sure this is a female problem, it's certainly not something that ever concerned my husband when he worked from home!)  I now have a housekeeper who comes in a few hours everyday, so now I can walk back in the door from the school run and go straight into my office.

Is it easy to be distracted when working from home?

Now I have someone doing the chores I find it less so.  I try to take a short break at lunchtime and eat away from my desk - today for example I planted some Horseradish and Asparagus that I'd been given!

Do you ever go the whole working day without talking to anyone?

I can do, and one of the most surprising things for me was that I don't miss working in a busy office environment.  The only time I miss it is when I see something on TV, like The Apprentice, that would have provoked an office discussion in the past but now I don't have anyone to share that with.

How do you tackle loneliness?

Well being active on social media sites like Twitter takes away any feeling of loneliness generally, but I also have the radio on in the background, sometimes in my office or in another room so at least there is some other noise in the house and not just silence. I feel loneliest when I face big decisions or frustrations, not having anyone to share that with can be very tough.  I was prepared for this as my husband is the owner of a business and he had told me (and I've seen) how lonely it can be. Having an advisor or mentor to talk to can really help combat any feelings of loneliness.  The flip side of working on your own, is of course I can make decisions very quickly, I'm not having to take into account anyone else's view or debate the merits or pitfalls of a particular issue.

Do you find it hard to switch off at the end of the day?

Yes, so I don't really attempt too.  My work and home life are completely linked, but I'm used to this as my husband's business  has been part of our family life for many years now.  I'm sure some people would say it's not very healthy but I know many people who work for big employers and they spend most of their evenings and weekends on their Blackberry's.  At least my focus is about building a business that I am in control of and being in charge of your own destiny and that of your family is very empowering.

Do you speak to other people who work from home?

Not specifically, I have a girlfriend who also works from home but as a consultant so her work is not necessarily full time.

Will you ever move to an office?

I suspect I will have to at some point, but at least it will be my office and I can plan it as I wish.  It will also be a very positive step as it will mean the business will have grown to a significant level that warrants an office and more staff.

What's the best thing about working from home?

The lack of commute. I also find living in a rural area is very calming, when I feel stressed a walk around the garden listening to the birds singing or watching the neighbours sheep happily munching on the grass in the field has a very calming effect.  Also my dog is a friendly companion who doesn't have any irritating habits or make rubbish cups of tea!

What's the worst?

The ready availability of chocolate biscuits!

What would make your home working life easier?

Super-fast Internet access

What were you doing before this?

I was working in the City as a Sales Director for an Investment Management company, a role I had done for over 15 years.  I had worked all the way through having my children and had turned into the character from Alison Pearson's book "I don't know how she does it".  I do know how I did it; by being very stressed and ending up pretty unhappy.  Now although I'm busy and at times stressed, I absolutely love building my business.  By working at home I can have a better balance of time with the children and working, I don't feel like I'm wasting time getting to and from work.

For more information about Junior's Pantry, click here

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