Salad days

Gem Misa has set up a business selling salad dressings. Her business meetings are slightly unusual, though. Manufacturers and supermarkets come to her house and her baby sometimes sits in on meetings.

Gem Misa has set up her own business selling healthy salad dressings. Already they have attracted the attention of Tesco and Waitrose, but meetings with these major supermarkets do not take place in the usual executive suites. Gem holds most meetings with supermarkets, financiers and manufacturers at her home and sometimes there is an extra visitor in the shape of her eight-month-old daughter.

Gem used to work for Unilever. She started her career in the Philippines then moved with the company to South Africa, selling Surf soap powder. From there she moved to London to the head office as a global brand manager. “I was single. I loved travelling so the job was in a way a means to an end,” she says. “London was supposed to be a short-term thing, but I met my husband and my plans changed.”

She got married and knew that she wanted to have children. She realised that the kind of lifestyle she had with her job at Unilever would not work with children since she often had to be away from home for weeks at a time.

In the Philippines she had set up a business on the side of her work, selling and delivering gourmet pre-packed salads. “It started as a sideline, but got surprisingly big,” she says. “We ended up selling over a thousand salads a day and were in all the major supermarkets in the Philippines.” She ran the business from home with her mum, who is a caterer, and a cook. They had 30 employees when Gem left the Philippines. “I enjoyed the feeling of creating something of my own, the freedom and flexibility to see my brainchild grow. The entrepreneurship bug had bit me,” she says. “It was always at the back of my head as something I wanted to go back to.”

Lifestyle change

So when she got married she decided to change her lifestyle and set up another food business, Love Righteous. She is passionate about food and planned to build the business up before she had children. She resigned from Unilever a year before she got pregnant and started trying to set up a business based on the model of the one she had in the Philippines. It was a steep learning curve. What had worked in the Philippines did not seem to be as easy to set up in the UK for a number of reasons – high labour costs was one as well as the fact that supermarkets need products to keep fresh for a number of days before they can be sold. Gem’s salads were based on totally natural, great-tasting food.

She had to step back and understand why that business model was not working. She opted instead to focus on salad dressings and developed some homemade recipes. After a lot of research, she found a farm based in Worcestershire which shared her vision for healthy, tasty food with no preservatives or artificial colourings.

The business has got off to a good start, with Tesco and Waitrose agreeing to stock her dressings. The day she spoke to, Tesco had just taken delivery of the first stock which are being sold in 409 of its biggest stores. “It’s really exciting,” she says, “but nerve-wracking.” Waitrose will launch her salad dressings in July.

Gem admits it is hard to juggle the new business with her daughter Harper, but says she needs to save on childcare costs. Most of the business, apart for her visits to the manufacturers, is done at her house. “Everyone I work with knows I have a baby,” she says. Most meetings are organised while Harper sleeps, but if she wakes up she can end up crawling around the living room. “It’s quite refreshing for them and helps the meetings be more relaxed,” she says. Her husband, a media consultant, has been very supportive, she says. “One of the biggest things for us was going from a double income family to relying on his income alone while I was setting up the business,” says Gem.

She adds that she is using her marketing skills to promote her business and has plans for other products in the future.

Look out for Gem’s tips on setting up a business tomorrow.

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