A Conversation With Asiri Hall From Asiri Foods Ltd
In episode #005 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show I was delighted to be able to talk to award-winning Sri Lankan food specialist Asiri Hall, founder and owner of Asiri Foods Ltd, which is based in Malvern, Worcestershire, England. Topics that Asiri and I discussed include SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval), the importance of professional label design, food wholesalers and product margins.
Listen now to the Episode of the Show With Asiri Foods Ltd
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If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #005: Asiri Foods Ltd: On SALSA, Label, Design, Food Wholesalers and Margins. You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
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Asiri Foods Ltd Got Listed in Waitrose Within Two Months of Launching
Asiri set up Asiri Foods Ltd in 2010 and within two months of trading she landed a deal to supply Waitrose. And then, within a year, thanks to international orders, she moved her business from her home into a production unit. As you’ll hear in the show, it was never Asiri’s plan to start out selling her products at farmers’ markets, a route to market that many artisan producers take.
It is Possible to Achieve Volume Sales While Maintaining Quality
From the outset, Asiri focused on volume sales. This is hardly a surprise considering her previous career as a senior manager in Finance and Category Planning for FTSE 100 companies (aka the 100 largest companies in the UK, by market value). And her focus on the numbers: gross margin, net margin and costs comes across very loud and clear in the show. An important point to make here is that none of this volume is at the expense of quality because Asiri Foods Ltd continues to garner recognition for the quality of her products, including multiple golds in the annual Great Taste Awards.
Just Because You Started Out Making Savoury and Spicy Doesn’t Mean You Should Only Ever Make Savoury and Spicy
Having started with five chutneys, Asiri then developed curry sauces, two of which are free from fat, sugar, and are low in salt. She also produces marinades, table sauces, and curry pastes. From what Asiri said on the show, she has plans for more products, maybe even a traditional sweet Sri Lankan coconut- and jaggery-based cake.
Key Points from this Episode
- Know what customer needs your products are meeting. For example, Asiri Foods Ltd is appealing to time-poor people who want a convenient as well as a healthy product.
- When selling to retailers you should consider the cost of good (i.e., professional) product packaging and product labels as an investment rather than an expense.
- Hitting the ground running with good product packaging rather than waiting to develop it later may be the better strategic option.
- Like retailers, wholesalers need margins. Find out what these are and use this knowledge to inform your pricing strategy.
- Perhaps even more than product range, you need to focus on your numbers, including margins and costs.
- Having the SALSA accreditation gives your (retail and wholesale) customers the peace of mind that you have validated production procedures in place and that you are meeting high food safety standards.
- Understand that while growth is a good thing, it places big pressure on your funds.
- Do write a business plan. Revisit it all the time.
- Don’t have a romantic view that setting up and running an artisan food or drink business is ever going to be easy. It’s going to be tough. Face the challenges and don’t be phased by them.
Very Sound Bites from Asiri Hall
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Asiri Hall during the show.
Thanks to Asiri for generously giving her time to come on the show and talk about her business success. To connect with Asiri online and to find out where you can buy her products (I highly recommend her award-winning Hot Aubergine Pickle) check out the Links and Resources section next.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Show
- Asiri Foods Website
- Asiri Foods on Twitter
- Asiri Foods on Facebook
- Guild of Fine Foods
- Duimir Sauce with Tamarind
- Pineapple, Molasses and Chilli Marinade
- The Midcounties Cooperative Group
- The BBC Good Food Show
- Ludlow Food Centre
- SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval)
- Ludlow Food Festival
Thanks for Listening
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Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello. Welcome, everyone, to episode 5 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host, Catherine Moran.
In this episode of the show, I welcome Asiri Hall who is the founder and owner of Asiri Foods Ltd. Asiri Foods is a company that specialises in Sri Lankan cuisine and makes a range of award winning spicy foods including chutneys, pickles and curry pastes.
Asiri Foods doesn’t just supply the independents like fine shops, delis and other fine food outlets. It also supplies the multiples including Waitrose and the Co-op. On the show, you’ll hear Asiri talk about her previous career as a senior manager in finance for FTSE-100 companies.
You’ll be right, therefore, in thinking that Asiri will have not only a good grasp of her own figures but she’ll have some good things to say about the importance of knowing your figures for running a good business. Let’s now listen to my conversation with Asiri.
My guest on today’s show is Asiri Hall, founder and owner of Asiri Foods Ltd. Welcome to The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, Asiri.
Asiri: Thank you, good morning.
Catherine: Good morning. It is lovely to see you despite the fact that it’s a horrible day outside. It’s very warm here in your production unit.
Asiri: Thank you.
Catherine: Before we talk about your business and your products, I was wondering if you could tell us briefly what you did before setting up Asiri Foods?
Asiri: Well I used to work for FTSE-100 companies as a senior manager last being at the largest food manufacturing in the world. I did Finance as well as Category Planning. I’m coming from a food and drinks background before, previously to this. Its long hours and hectic lifestyle, stressful jobs so this is a different change.
Catherine: Yes, but still continuing with the food theme.
Asiri: Yes. I love food. I like manufacturing food. Even when I used to work long hours, I used to leave about 7:00 o’clock in the morning, and didn’t come home until between 8:00 and 10:00. We’ve always cooked our own food. I’ve always wanted to bring my children up eating healthy food even when they were babies. I used to make their baby food, freeze it and feed them with all the natural ingredients. That’s the ethos I want to follow in my business, really.
Catherine: That is something that you’re very, very clear about on your website about I suppose the ‘cleanness’ of your label. The cleanness, so to speak, of your ingredients. We can come back to that in a minute.
Catherine: You worked in Finance for very large companies, which undoubtedly has stood you in your own stead for running your own business. But what was the catalyst for setting up Asiri Foods? Was there any one particular moment?
Asiri: I always wanted to bring food that is convenient but healthy option food for people who are busy and haven’t got a lot of time to cook their own food. I also wanted to bring a little bit of what I enjoyed as a child, eating Sri Lankan food, which is not so common in the UK, which I wanted to bring into the supermarkets really for the consumers to enjoy.
Catherine: I think you’re absolutely right; it seems to me that it’s not so common a sight, Sri Lankan food, in the UK. Presumably that means there’s an opportunity and you’ve proven that that’s an opportunity?
Asiri: Well yes, I think so. I think people think that Asian food is always very ‘same, same’. We are very different to Indian food. We use the same spices, possibly same ingredients, but our cooking styles and flavours are very different.
Catherine: Right. My understanding about Sri Lankan food is that, in a way, it’s the original fusion cuisine. A lot of people say, ‘Oh Australia, it’s all about fusion. It’s the latest thing.’ It has been the latest thing, in Australia for a while. It seems to me that actually, it’s in Sri Lanka that you get the fusion concept, would you agree with that?
Asiri: Yeah, because we’ve been invaded by the British, the Spanish, the Dutch. So we have quite a variety and influence. Been influenced by them as well and possibly using our own spices because all the spices grow quite well in Sri Lanka. Yes, food Infusions probably I would say is quite ripe and also different regions of Sri Lanka have different flavours. We also have a little bit of Indian influence in our food as well. A little bit of Thai and Indian influence because we have the Tamils in Sri Lanka who are living now in Sri Lanka from India. I suppose it’s a bit like a Bangladeshi food here.
Catherine: Yes. You mentioned that the techniques of cooking in Sri Lanka are very different to those used in India?
Asiri: Yeah they are. I think times are changing in Sri Lanka with housewives working I suppose, but the olden method was everything is cooked from fresh. Even the curry sauces and the curry pastes everything for the day is cooked on the day using raw ingredients which have a totally unique flavour.
Catherine: Lots of wonderful cinnamon and coconut, I guess?
Asiri: Yes. One of the things I would one day like to bring is some of my favourite food I used to eat when I used to go to Sri Lanka. There is a cake that they use with coconut, young coconut, which my mother used to make or my relatives used to make. One day I would like to develop that here.
Catherine: All right.
Asiri: It’s quite nice. It’s really nice and yummy with lots of jaggery and honey, coconut and made out of coconut milk.
Catherine: It sounds like a wonderful sweet treat.
Catherine: That would be a departure from your current products?
Asiri: Spicy foods.
Catherine: Yes, yeah. Would you give us a brief overview of your current product range then?
Asiri: Well, I have fairly big range now. I started off with the chutneys, five flavours and followed on to curry sauces. There are two types of curry sauces that are totally free from fat, sugar and low in salt, no added water. Curry sauce for the healthy option. Then we have marinades, table sauces and curry pastes.
Catherine: Right. Yes, quite a broad range there. I see from your website that I think it was in July this year, that you released a marinade which you’ve called Pineapple Molasses & Chilli. I’m intrigued about the molasses in there. What does that bring to the party?
Asiri: Molasses has a different flavour. It is sweet but it also has that bitter taste, caramel taste. Yes it’s blending the flavours together really. It’s putting flavours that are unique and that are different.
Catherine: Yeah. I haven’t seen that at all, anything like that on the market. That’s good. It’s perhaps a first which is a good thing, isn’t it?
Catherine: One of your condiments that contains tamarind which is a lovely, fascinating ingredient. You call it… is it Duimir?
Asiri: Duimiri Sauce.
Catherine: Is that a traditional Sri Lankan recipe?
Asiri: Yes. We use tamarind quite a lot. I love the flavour of tamarind. That sweet and sour taste combination of the two together in sauces, we use it for curry sauces as well. Yes blending that. It came by accident actually, the recipe, but yes it’s really nice.
It’s an everyday table sauce that you can eat with grills, barbeques. It’s a table sauce, which I think is very different to what’s in the marketplaces in terms of spices. It has quite a concentration of tamarind in there, so you got that sweet-sour taste to go with the spices and the chili.
Catherine: A bit like HP Sauce, but on a different level?
Catherine: It sounds absolutely wonderful. It’s quite striking to me that … Actually we should have said earlier that you established your business only four years ago?
Catherine: So I guess in the grand scheme of things you’re still a relatively young business but you’ve achieved some fabulous awards for your products over that period of time. I think you should blow your own trumpet and just tell us about your awards.
Asiri: I’m very, very proud of the Guild Awards because they are for artisan producers. I’m very proud because I never thought I was such a wonderful cook but then you have 10,000 products being showcased for awards. You’re competing against these artisan producers who have been established so far in advance — more than I have been.
To win an award for a product that I only brought out two months ago, and to win the two gold stars because that’s only won by about 100 producers or about 1200 products, I was delighted. Every year we have won awards by the Guild of Fine Foods. We’re very proud of all those awards because that tells me that I’ve got my flavours right.
Catherine: Right. You mentioned that the two gold stars that I think your Pineapple & Chili Chutney is one of those winners?
Asiri: Yes. I just missed the three-star on that.
Asiri: Next time.
Catherine: Next year. Is it something you plan to go into every year?
Catherine: It’s expensive to do but presumably the return on investment for entering these awards if you win is good?
Asiri: Yeah, I think so. It’s more so it gives you the seal of approval. I haven’t got any formal qualification of cooking. I’ve never gone to learn how to cook. It’s all just sheer practice and just putting flavours of my own together from my head. To win these awards for me is fabulous because it’s telling me that I’m standing in good stead and I’m amongst all the top chefs or top producers. It’s good for an amateur.
Catherine: It is very good for an amateur, yes. You’re clearly doing something right, aren’t you?
Catherine: Yes, yeah. What about Giggy & Goo? Have I pronounced that correctly?
Asiri: Yeah. That came by accident because this is just in the first year of my trading after winning the awards and after the products being listed in Waitrose. I had an order from Aldi wanting my chutney. At the time it would have been very foolish of me to give the same products as I had in Waitrose, so I created this new label called Giggy & Goo, which are my boys’ nicknames.
In the long term what I’m going to do is hold fire developing any more products under the Giggy & Goo label. I think what has happened is by winning Guild Awards it has kind of lost its momentum, really.
What I wanted to do was to bring affordable products that were at a different price point. But by winning awards on that label as well, what has happened is that it became an artisan product as well, so it’s competing with the Asiri Foods label. It’s a bit silly really and my marketing budget gets bigger as well. We’re trying to combine both labels into one label. Perhaps in the long term my strategy is to use that label to do world food rather than just concentrate on Sri Lankan themed products.
Catherine: At least you have something there that you can develop in whatever particular strategic way you sort of see fit in the future. That’s quite an interesting thing to have done. Your production happens here?
Catherine: Are you hands-on with your own production?
Asiri: Yeah. I develop the recipes. I cook most of the recipes, or final approval has to come from me to make sure that all products or all manufacturing is done to the highest standard. Yes, I’m hands-on. I do most of the sourcing ingredients, to manufacturing, to selling.
Catherine: Right, so you wear the glamorous blue hairnet?
Asiri: Yes. There’s no glamour in the food industry.
Catherine: No, there isn’t is there? I think you are SALSA accredited and also BRC accredited?
Asiri: I’m not BRC. I’m only SALSA.
Catherine: How have you found SALSA? The getting it, maintaining it?
Asiri: I think SALSA is more beneficial for small producers like me. BRC, I think is a little too cumbersome for us, really. Yes, it has put me on a better grounding having the SALSA accreditation. It was very costly to have the SALSA accreditation but I don’t regret having it because it gives the consumers the peace of mind that the procedures and the standards are met at all times. It’s good to have some benchmark on the standards.
Catherine: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. This is something — of course we should say SALSA is Safe and Local Supplier Accreditation — and that’s something you renew every year? You have an audit every year?
Catherine: Yeah. Moving along now to change the subject a little bit, I’d be fascinated to know what other artisan food companies or non-artisan food companies you most admire?
Asiri: I don’t know really. I love food so I love all the artisan producers because they all have something to give, really. I haven’t got any favourite as such but I admire all artisan products and producers.
Catherine: Of course I think you do a lot of food shows?
Asiri: The last couple of years I’ve only concentrated on a few that I wanted to do. The first year I did a lot to get the brand awareness really. Now I only do the few that I can manage the time.
Catherine: Of course a very important aspect of getting your product to market — well, fundamental really — is distribution. It can be quite a headache. I’m wondering how you distribute your products.
Asiri: Well, we distribute everything from here. We use different couriers. We have a ‘small parcel’ delivery company; we use a separate company for that. Then we do the pallet deliveries through another courier company. We have a few that we have links with but we control everything here. We do everything from designing labels to developing products to distribution. Everything is in-house.
Catherine: Right. Do you find generally the distribution side of your business runs smoothly?
Asiri: I would say that’s the bane of my life.
Catherine: Interesting, yeah.
Asiri: Good courier companies are not that easy to find, especially when it’s products that are fragile.
Asiri: The due care is not there.
Catherine: Fragile and heavy?
Catherine: If you could change something that would possibly be something you’d change and get a highly reliable distributor?
Asiri: Yes. No matter what price we pay, I don’t think we get the quality we are looking for.
Catherine: Yeah, unless of course you were to do it yourself; which is another other kettle of fish.
Asiri: Unfortunately I don’t think I can afford a juggernaut at the moment. We sometimes shift four or five pallets at a time. We have to use distributors really, courier companies.
Catherine: Maybe someday I’ll see HGVs with Asiri Foods written on the side bombing down the M1 and up the M6. You never know. Very interesting. Let’s move away from your products and talk about your sales streams. You said you don’t really do so many food shows anymore, and that includes I guess things like farmers’ markets?
Asiri: Well I never did farmers’ markets per se really. I did some large food shows really but I’m not going to have the time to do those anymore. I will still continue shows like Ludlow Food Festival, which I love. I think it’s one of the best shows I ever do. The consumers, oh fabulous!
Asiri: It’s a treat to be there; such wonderful people, who are such foodies, walk through the door. Just love it really. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Then I might do other shows depending on time really. Our main stream of sales is selling it to the retailers really directly.
Catherine: Right, yeah. Can I ask you why you didn’t do farmers’ markets initially, simply because it’s often the traditional route to market for small producers?
Asiri: I think it’s probably because I have been one of the lucky ones. After setting up my business, after two months of setting it up, I managed to get into Waitrose. Then subsequent to that I got into the Mid Counties Cooperative Group. so the volume was going through. It’s a matter of time, as well, really, the cost versus sales. For me the volumes… if you’re comparing standing in a farmers’ market to selling one jar at a time to 50 customers wasn’t so economical as selling it to the supermarkets, basically. This is all a matter of cost versus sales, really.
Catherine: That was quite a good strategic decision you made very early on?
Asiri: It suited my business at the time.
Catherine: How did you get into Waitrose so quickly?
Asiri: I don’t know. I suppose I had a winning product and the buyer liked the products, liked the labels and we never had a problem getting into Waitrose. I don’t know. I think it’s just having a product that somebody liked and that was different.
Catherine: The door was open and you walked straight in.
Catherine: Actually we’ve got some of your products here. Looking at the Spicy Beetroot & Orange Chutney and in a way your trademark is a beautiful large ‘A’ on the label which, of course, is the ‘A’ for Asiri and in a way that’s your trademark graphical element?
Catherine: It is very beautiful. Did you have these labels right from the outset?
Asiri: Yes, yeah. I was very keen to get my labeling strategy in the first instance right. I think that was one of the reasons why I got into Waitrose as well, having the right label. It was very important really to get the labels right, so I was very lucky really to have someone who was at university doing Multimedia Technology. He of course took the photographs and worked with his friend who is an artist. Did the ‘A’ just freehand and he put it onto the computer. He of course designed the label, so it was done all in-house. It was very lucky really. I had an idea what I wanted as a label.
Catherine: Oh I see, yes. There is a lovely flourish on the ‘A’. It’s a very flamboyant thing. A lot of producers do this retrospectively. They have what you wouldn’t call optimally designed labels but you did it differently and you got it right from the start?
Asiri: I think it’s a matter of taste really. I remember going to the Good Food Show in November. I think it was October when we launched the products and going to the Good Food Show in November. I had some other producer come and say, ‘It’s rubbish.’ He’d said, ‘Hex jars… it’s rubbish.’ He said, ‘Gold labels. Gold lids …’ Because he had consumers going round and telling him that there was somebody else selling similar products but that were better. It’s a matter of opinion really. I think it is nice, but some might differ.
Catherine: Possibly, but of course they are mad!
Catherine: Okay. Let’s move on to a question going back to your sales streams, you said that your sales streams really are supplying retail customers?
Asiri: Yes that’s right. That’s our strategy really. We don’t do a lot of online selling or shows and things. We don’t go directly to the consumers ourselves. We try to channel it through the retailers.
Catherine: Yeah. Do you work with a wholesaler?
Asiri: No, I don’t either.
Catherine: Because you don’t need to?
Asiri: Possibly, but I find the wholesalers, I struggle with these. They want very high margins and then the retailer will want margins. You have to have at least 80% margin given away straight away from your bottom line.
For a wholesaler you’re just an item in the catalogue. They don’t know your product as well as you do. What I do is I target a county. I could go into a county and select six to eight farm shops or delis in a couple of days. I can get all retailers on board. If a wholesaler went round, he’ll have 50 other producers in his books. He’s never going to concentrate on your brand.
Catherine: All right.
Asiri: He won’t know enough about your products.
Catherine: You are your own best sales person?
Asiri: Yes, I think so. Alex and I do all the sales.
Catherine: Yeah. Is there any particular reason that you are not currently doing a lot of online sales?
Asiri: We haven’t had the time to use the online sales, really. It’s partly because we have been exceptionally busy growing the business and sitting doing online or tweeting and going on Facebook and Twitter takes a lot of your time. It’s not something that I’m very fond of either.
Catherine: The whole social media things?
Asiri: Yeah. I think people hang their hat on social media. I was listening to Andrew Marshall not so long ago where there was a lady … I didn’t hear the whole story. She developed the [Tesco] Club Card. They were saying that it’s almost still new. There’s no hard and fast rules to prove that social media improves your sales. For us anyway, we’re at the high end of the market. It is the middle class and the people who are mainly affluent who buy and probably people who are very busy working, really. They don’t have a lot of time to go out to Twitter and Facebook like the young kids do today.
Catherine: Nevertheless, you are on Twitter aren’t you?
Asiri: I am on Twitter and Facebook but I hardly ever use it.
Catherine: What is your Twitter handle as they say?
Asiri: I’m not sure what it is.
Catherine: Do you even know?
Catherine: That’s brilliant, because if you don’t mind, I’ll put a link at the end and in to the notes for this show of your Twitter handle and Facebook page so people can go and follow you.
Asiri: Thank you.
Catherine: And harass you to do some tweets.
Asiri: Yes. I think I killed the tweets because I haven’t worked out how to do the tweets well. You’ve still got to keep the conversations going, I think. I need to go and learn a little bit more about Twitter and Facebook really when I have time.
Catherine: Sure. I was talking to a buyer recently, very recently. She was telling me that she has something like a total audience of about 6,000 people. She was waxing lyrical about how useful social media is for her. I guess it really depends on what your whole attitude is to how you spend your time.
Asiri: Yeah, and being a small producer, you have to really focus on certain aspects of your business to grow the business. If you try and do everything we just won’t achieve what we are planning to achieve, really. It’s looking at the bigger picture and looking at the strategies. Focusing on what we plan to do.
Catherine: Sure. All of these digital tools like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all the others don’t really appeal to you at the moment?
Asiri: Not really simply because we had a strategy where we want to concentrate on and getting the products to the retailers. I’m not dismissing it. It’s just we’re at full capacity here all the time, so there’s only so much we can do in a day.
Catherine: Sure. How do you market your products? Is it things like supporting the retailers with point-of-sale pieces?
Asiri: I don’t do any of that.
Catherine: No. Do you not?
Asiri: No. I do in Waitrose. I go and do in-store tasting sometimes. Which I find very good to engage. I love it because you get consumer feedback very directly. I do a few shows where I get the consumer feedback directly. Very nerdy when it comes to marketing, I haven’t got a marketing budget at all. All our publicity has come from word-of-mouth or freebies that we’ve had.
Catherine: It’s a very organic sort of marketing you do?
Catherine: In a way the products speak for themselves perhaps?
Asiri: Definitely. I think we’ve been very lucky really. I don’t know whether it’s luck or whether we got unique products. It’s a combination of various things, really. We haven’t had to knock on retailers’ doors to have our products.
Catherine: That’s really unusual.
Catherine: Yeah. You clearly realize how lucky you are? It’s not luck. I’m sure it’s not luck. You could have been in a very different position.
Asiri: Yes. I think it’s probably, I don’t know, I’m not sure why, but I think it’s the products that speaks for itself. For example, I do Ludlow Food Center and the products are there. Apparently, I’m the top sales person when I do a tasting day there, but what better way to sell your products, really?
Asiri: Just giving people… We go in there, we cook using their beef, with my products. We get people to try. We have a lot of fun doing it.
Asiri: Consumers like it and everybody’s a winner. I love it because what better way to have your products recognised by people who love food. Then people try it and then they’re going to buy it instantly. You don’t have to hard sell. That’s the wonderful thing for a producer really, to see people say they love it and buying it.
Catherine: Yeah. Having that captive audience is wonderful rather than what you say cold calling or cold selling. What about when you started out? A lot of the small producers are really very undercapitalised. What was your take on how you funded your business?
Asiri: I think for me it was huge challenge because it was only after a year that I built the factory. I had totally built it from a shell, the factory.
Catherine: Oh really only after a year of setting up? That’s very quick.
Asiri: It was very quick.
Catherine: It is a big step up for you.
Asiri: I think the decision came simply because I had orders coming from overseas we couldn’t fulfill from a kitchen.
Catherine: At home?
Asiri: At home.
Catherine: Because you started out at home?
Asiri: Yes. It was inevitable that we needed a factory but I would say now after two years we’ve outgrown this premises we’ve got.
Catherine: Do you mean in two more years time you’ll have outgrown?
Asiri: We have already outgrown the premises we’ve got.
Catherine: Already outgrown? Gosh.
Asiri: But, I think having a strategy, following it through. It hasn’t been an easy journey, money has been tight and all small producers with growth, it has its own challenges I should say on funds, so funds have been very tight. Some of my suppliers have been very supportive. They’ve worked with me giving me longer credit and working strategy on how to get paid, to keep my supplies going. There are others who haven’t been so kind to me. It is constantly improving and looking at your margins and improving and keeping the focus on the business is the key.
Catherine: How do you find dealing with the multiples in terms of their credit terms?
Asiri: They have been not too bad to me. I got really good payment terms with all my supermarkets really. Probably coming from a Finance background, I do all the costings and margins and prices. I think it is vital for any small businesses I think. I see lots of small producers who don’t understand the margins, gross margin, net margins and cost of ingredients, cost of anything really. We evaluate all the time to better our margins all the time.
Also working I suppose as a Senior Manger of Finance helped really to agree on the payment terms.
Catherine: Oh clearly, it did. All right, so if I lift this jar of Sri Lankan curry sauce, yogurt base with authentic spices. Would you be able to tell me down to the penny the cost of production, the margin plus mark-up, absolutely everything?
Asiri: Yes, and I know in each retailer as well how much I give.
Catherine: Right. That’s fabulous, because I don’t think everyone is in that situation.
Asiri: I think it is important. I think that’s where one has to concentrate on any business is knowing your numbers.
Catherine: Yeah. It is all about the numbers, isn’t it?
Asiri: Definitely, because if you can’t cost things and if you don’t know where the money’s coming from and how it’s spent, it’s very easy to go under.
Catherine: Absolutely, yes. Does that mean that you are a very good business planner?
Asiri: Possibly. In business I think there’s an element of luck as well.
Catherine: Yes. Assuming you have got a business plan, which I would imagine you have?
Catherine: Is it something that you revisit regularly?
Asiri: Yes. Our strategy is constantly changing. I had my business plan because this is my fourth year now. We revisited our business plan a couple of months ago but we had to change it twice since because of different growth challenges we have. Yeah you have a strategy sometimes, you forecast and the forecast is sooner than you anticipated. That brings you some challenges on finance and cash flow.
Asiri: You have to revisit all the time.
Catherine: Yeah. We’re currently at Link Business Center and this is a managed commercial site. It sounds they have been very good to you. They have really helped you when you were starting out with your new premises?
Asiri: Definitely, I work really well with the landlord. They have supported me because when you have built a unit, it’s new, and also with regard to the construction of the cooking area. We used his builders and in time, so the cost was kept to the minimum. We had a budget. I had a budget which I was prepared to spend and using his builders we kept to the budget. He has supported me all along and we needed the mezzanine floor put in. So he put that in, because to get the excess space. Yeah I think he’s good to work with and I think it’s good to get the support from everybody around you.
Catherine: Yes, because you’re surrounded by other business owners?
Asiri: I think we have a very unique business unit here, really. We used to share a forklift one time but it is broken now. We always help each other. There are times… there’s another food producer… not a food producer, a school dinner company. If I get better prices, we tend to compare prices and support each other. Because I’m buying more in bulk, I get better prices, so it’s sharing those prices as well. Yeah, everybody in their business unit help each other really.
Catherine: Collaboration is a no-brainer really?
Asiri: And also, if I run out of space. If they have space they store my pallets for me. If they have odd space here and there, so yeah we all work well.
Catherine: Yes. It sounds like a really good community.
Catherine: Which is nice and you don’t have that sense of isolation that a lot of producers have. If there’s one thing about the operation of your business that you could change, what would it be?
Asiri: Possibly chosen a different career, I would say. Being a producer, it is very tough. We have to work long shifts and there are times that I work from 7:00 o’clock until 2:00 o’clock in the morning to get the productions out. Being small it has challenges as well because cash flow is important so you have to manage your cash in and out. You have to buy just-in-time, so it is really, really tough. It can make or break really.
Catherine: Yeah. A lot of people have a very romanticised image of what artisan food or drink production is like. And producing wonderful products out of the air and there are no cash flow issues or no distribution issues, or personnel issues or anything like that. But the reality is very different.
Asiri: Definitely. There are huge challenges all the time. Every day we have challenges but the key is to work through those challenges and get those resolved and learn from it and move on. Yeah it’s not for the faint hearted. I wouldn’t say business is ever so easy. I love these people who are in business who do 9:00 to 5:00 jobs. I’ve never had that. One day that’s my aim is to do a 9:00 to 5:00 job.
Catherine: Yeah. Well, maybe you’ll get there eventually with Asiri Foods. When you started out if you knew then what you know now about being an artisan food producer, what would you have done differently, if anything?
Asiri: Possibly done it a lot sooner rather than doing it in a recession. I started in the depths of the biggest recession we’ve had, ever. Tough going and I’m not a young sprinter. I think I should have done it when I was a lot younger because you have a lot more energy. Having said that, at my age I think I still have more energy than some of the youngsters.
Catherine: Yes undoubtedly, yeah. Finally what advice do you have for people considering taking the plunge and setting up a business as a food producer?
Asiri: Don’t have a romantic view that it’s ever going to be easy. I had to be tough. I find there is a lot of people who give me advice who haven’t done it themselves. They will tell you, this is how we do the job but they don’t themselves do it. It’s not an easy journey. Look at cost, look at everything. Go with an open mind and face the challenges and not to be fazed by it. Not be scared.
Catherine: A brave heart is required to take the leap?
Catherine: I’d like to finish our interview by quoting an absolutely wonderful quote from your website and this has to be something that you said, which is ‘I plan to be a global player’ which I think is just fantastic.
Asiri: That’s my ambition. I think I’m not far off it. Yeah, that’s the aim.
Catherine: Excellent. Brilliant. I wish you the very best of luck.
Asiri: Thank you.
Catherine: Perhaps I could come back and see you in five years and we can see where you are at then.
Asiri: Yes. That would be lovely.
Catherine: Thank you very much, Asiri, for your time.
Asiri: Thank you Catherine.
Catherine: Thank you so much Asiri. It was great to have you on the show. I mentioned in this episode that I’d give listeners your Twitter name and that’s @AsiriHall. So folks why not give Asiri a follow on Twitter. For any producer listening who’s feeling a bit rusty on how to work out mark up and net margins and gross margins for you products, well, you can download a free guide put together specifically for artisan food and drink producers. That’s available at www.myartisanbusiness.com.
Why not connect with me on Twitter? I’m @FoodDrinkShow. That’s pretty much it for this episode folks. I’m Catherine Moran from The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, until next time, happy cooking, happy fermenting, happy brewing and thank you for listening.