It's Family Business Week and mother and daughter team Kay Shearing and Donna Tesadern have set up their own business selling healthy baby food. Donna spoke to Workingmums.co.uk.
Ever thought of going into business with your family? Kay Shearing and Donna Tresadern have done it twice. The mum and daughter were already part of a family construction business in Brentwood, Essex, when two and a half years ago they decided to set up their own business on the side making healthy baby food.
Now that business, No Added Salt, has taken off and they are hoping to get their products stocked by a major supermarket.
This week is Family Business Week and what more appropriate time to talk to Donna about how she set the business up and how keeping it all in the family works for her?
Donna's family inherited the construction business from her grandfather and great uncle when they died. Her mum and dad have been running it for 30 years and her brother gave up his job in the City to join them and Donna. Donna's husband also got involved.
Two and a half years ago, just after Donna gave birth to premature twin girls, she and her mum started No Added Salt. “The girls were quite poorly and had very low iron levels. When it came to weaning them we had to be careful what they ate. I realised that ready meal-wise there wasn't anything that was healthy enough for them around so I decided to make my own food,” says Donna.
She and her mum made a whole selection, including their own chicken nuggets, shepherd's pies with hidden cauliflower in the mash and casseroles. Her friends tried the food and loved it. “Before we knew it, lots of people were asking for the food,” says Donna.
They put a lot of time into researching the salt content of food and other health issues, such as the need to add more iron into the food after children reach one. “I think what we have come up with is the healthiest range of ready made meals, a seriously healthy homemade option,” says Donna, adding that her own children love the food so much they turn their noses up at things like McDonald's. “It doesn't taste like food to them,” she says. “They prefer a casserole or shepherd's pie.”
Word of mouth
At first the mum and daughter got orders through word of mouth, but recently they have started talking to the media and to Nickelodeon. They are also in talks with a major supermarket.
All the food is flash frozen so that it maintains all its nutrition. Donna says she has been on a steep learning curve, finding out about all aspects of running her own business, such as pricing and finding a factory to mass produce the food.
In January her friend Nikki Da Costa-Smith joined the business and things have got much busier since. The company was advised to stop trading while they are working on the supermarket deal, but they have been putting in a lot of work on areas like branding. A branding company advised them on their packaging and website. They also had to seek funding from Natwest, who have given a lot of support.
Donna says the company has had to be very firm about what they want when negotiating with factories. For instance, they were insistent that the gravy for the dishes be made with the juices of the boiled vegetables for maximum nutritional effect. They were told this would dent their profit levels, but Donna stuck to her guns and eventually a deal was made with a factory in Wigan. “We're very clear what we want. It's about giving working mums the kind of ready made healthy option that was not available to me,” she says. “I remember watching my own mum working till 10pm because I couldn't help her as I was making all my own food for the girls.”
The food will be relaunched in February. Donna says she loves working with her mum. “I really respect her,” she says, emphasising the positives of working in family business.
“We like the element of trust involved in running a family business,” she says. “You have unquestionable trust. You know you can believe what someone says and you know that the effort you put in directly benefits your family. We always also have each other's backs.” The downside is that she never gets a holiday. “I can't remember when I had two weeks off,” she says, adding that she finds it quite easy to flick between work mode and family mode. “It's quite comical,” she says. “One minute I can be really arguing with my mum about something to do with work and then when we get to the pub it's all over and we go into family time. It's like flicking a switch.”
Working with her family also means maximum flexibility, as does having an office on the side of the family home. Donna's daughters are now three. In the early days, they would come along to some meetings with nutritionists. Donna also had a nanny for a while, but now the girls go to nursery three days a week. However, if she has meetings when they are not at nursery Donna can bring her mother-in-law along who can take them to the park. “You have more flexibility with a family-run business. You don't feel bad asking family to help out and cover for you. It's all about working together,” she says.