Growth Stories: Anishya Kumar, Founder of Zinda Foods

08 July 2020

On the way to success, the path of many a business is paved with all manner of trials and challenges. Our Growth Stories series talks to the companies and organisations who have grown from start-ups to industry insiders, providing insights and advice to help you start your journey.

In this instalment, we're talking to Anishya Kumar, the founder of Zinda Foods. The UK’s first health-conscious, food-to-go innovator, Zinda Foods produce delicious, nutritious sandwich wraps, made with zero preservatives, palm oil or trans fats.

From humble beginnings in her kitchen to some of Britain's best-loved supermarkets, read about how Anishya turned Zinda Foods into what it is today…

To begin, could you tell us a little about your business? Specifically, its history and how it has changed since you first launched?

Absolutely! Innovation has been the central aim of Zinda Foods since its inception. We wanted to create different products for the food-to-go category that were principally consumer-driven. The product was conceptualized in my home kitchen using simple store cupboard ingredients and initially sold in small independent convenience stores. Due to the increasing demand, we moved into a factory and scaled up from producing 250 wraps a week for the local stores to 15,000 a week for 62 Tesco stores in 2019.

Because of this growth, our focus turned towards consolidating growing consumer demand within these stores. Understanding our loyal consumer base within the fixture has played a key role and has helped us stay grounded while trying to scale up and grow. The brand brings something unique to the food-to-go category which is exciting to watch as the months roll on.

Growth is without question one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. What challenges did you face as a business leader, and what strategies did you employ to overcome them?

The key challenge we’ve faced has been getting practical and sound advice on the things that hit you the most when you’re an entrepreneur.

In terms of finance, tapping into initial capital that's needed to get you going, such as local, is important. As a start-up, no supplier is willing to give you lines of credit and raw materials are based on pro forma payments. So, managing cash flow is critical in the early years.

There's no such thing as a free lunch either, and every retailer that lists you will want their terms met. As a start-up, often you’re eager to get that listing but have no negotiating power to look at the profitability and margins of that sale. We had to learn quickly whether to walk away or shake hands – negotiating our way through difficult commercial agreements was key to sealing deals.

growing a business

Identifying a clear route to market is critical in bagging key accounts, too. Generating interest has been easy, but converting this interest into commitments from supermarkets has been challenging.

Crucially, I'd say that planning has been crucial in managing these challenges. Attention to detail on all aspects that impact growth and developing contingency plans are essential while running a business. As an entrepreneur, one must take a multi-functional and multi-dimensional vision of how to support growth and mitigate risks that may arise. This would mean understanding all aspects of your business and making sure that all departments are functioning in tandem to support growth.

But as they say “no amount of marketing can help a bad product”. What’s helped us the most, in my opinion, is the quality of our product. Even though we haven’t had large marketing budgets, our products speak for themselves and the amount of positive feedback we get from our happy customers is only increasing week by week.

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To what extent have external factors (like changing trends, the financial landscape) affected your business over time? And what can businesses do to future-proof against these kinds of peripheral shifts?

Change is the only constant, so as a small company we enjoy being adept and flexible since this allows us to keep evolving with changing trends. We're largely consumer-driven, so it's important for us to listen to our customers and give them what they need, not what we think they should have.

To future-proof against changing consumer perceptions, one must understand how the product could leverage on current food trends such as veganism, flexitarianism, and clean eating. Also, more and more people are challenging brands on the grounds of traceability and sustainability.

So, while manufacturing has remained a core component of the business, we’ve also become more ambitious in what we hope to bring to the industry. We have plans to soon replace our current recyclable plastic tray with a 100% compostable one, and we will continue to use alternatives to the palm oils and trans fats typically used in similar products found in supermarkets.

Can you identify three lessons you’ve learnt in your time as a business leader? And how have they affected your role as a manager and owner?

  • Understand your product category well, including your competitors and retailers who could potentially stock your product.
  • Understand the gap in the category that you intend to fill and how this will incrementally help the retailers in generating more sales, or bring in new customers into that fixture and increase their basket spend in that store.
  • Never lose sight of the core values of the business. It all begins and ends with the product, so as a manufacturer you must make sure that your product is consistently good. This sets a benchmark both in the industry and for yourself.

Another key tool is to follow your instinct. It’s what’s got you to this stage in the first place so don’t lose touch with it.

fruit in supermarket

Healthy business growth often relies on several factors. What facets of business would you say have promoted growth in your organisation the most? And what should SMEs look to improve/develop to maximise their chances of success?

I think there’s only one factor that will determine the success of the business and that’s leadership. Clarity in the vision of the business and implementation of that vision comes from the top.

A strong leader should:

  • Stay committed to your mission, focused, clear-headed
  • Discount sceptics along the way who shoot ideas down instead of solving problems
  • Develop a thick skin, tunnel vision and die-hard attitude as you persevere with achieving your goal
  • Look after your health and learn to have some downtime as running your business will consume you
  • Look after your team! A happy, motivated team will lead to a happy working environment, which will resonate in the products you produce

What one piece of advice would you give to other business leaders looking to grow their business?

Don’t give away equity of your business. Try and hold on to it, and let the business sustain itself for as long as you can. Growth will then be organic and genuine.

business planning meeting

If you were to start a new business tomorrow, what would you do differently and why?

Perhaps I would have developed the core of the business so that we had a more diverse product offering from the start. This would have allowed consumers to better appreciate the differences in our offerings and allowed us to better market the variety of products as a result.

It would also have made it more accessible to consumers who wanted to use the AirWrap just as an ingredient at home. It’s taken me a year to realise this strategy – but I guess better late than never!

Thanks to Anishya for contributing the journey of her business to our Growth Stories series. You can read the rest by clicking the links below:

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