So, doing what we always do, we tried to dig a little deeper into the company – tracking down Kabuto’s brave and MANLY founder (or is that Shogun?) peppering him with a combination of relevant and irrelevant questions. As well as dealing internationally (being in Holland, Russia, Germany and more) Kabuto, at the time of writing, had just secured a distribution deal with Sainsbury’s.
So, you may be hearing more of them soon…
On with the questions!
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into Kabuto and the international noodle business? What’s it like to run a food business? How’s the ‘ol work life balance?
The food business is really up beat and interesting, you get involved in lots of things and most people in the industry are lovely!
My work-life balance is actually not that bad, having access to great technology means you’re always online and ready to work, but don’t have to be sat in an office.
A day in the life is a mixture of work and family, really busy!
Each morning I wake up at around 6am, go for a run to freshen up my brain and think about what I need to do today. I’m finished in time to get the kids ready for school, give them breakfast and start the school run. By 9am I’m at work checking the stock levels and talking to customers & suppliers to make sure all’s running OK. A chunk of my day is spent discussing plans with marketing & sales and checking all deliveries in the supply chain are running on time. I’m back home between 5 and 6pm in time for supper with the small people. I help put them to bed, and then normally catch up on e-mails in the evening.
What’s your background – you were at Pieminister at some point, right? How did you end up as a purveyor of fine noodles? I read that you were dissatisfied with the quality of supermarket noodles and decided to do something about it. Have you always been into food?
Yes, I worked at Pieminister for five years and was involved in getting them stocked in delis and pubs, and then later into the supermarkets – it was good fun too. Before Pieminister I worked in Sales & Marketing jobs before setting up my first business, Goharder, which sold supplements online. Even though it didn’t work out, having that experience taught me a lot about business!
Could you give us an outline into how the noodles are made, and how you come up with your flavours and fun ideas?
We eat lots of Asian food and had good ideas about creating interesting flavours. We wanted to have an exciting range (chicken, beef, vegetarian and fish) and sourced great recipes for them. We work with a product developer to get the seasoning and flavour just right, which is a lot of fun and we find suppliers for the noodles & packaging, then send them down to our packer who makes them.
You launched in 2011, but you’re already in Waitrose and Ocado – to me that seems pretty speedy – How have you come so far, so quickly? And how hard is it to get your stuff in supermarkets? Could you give us a little idea of how you started and how you got to where you are today?
We’re currently in Ocado, Waitrose & Sainsbury’s, which is awesome! The idea was always to be stocked in the supermarkets – it is where most people buy their food. We were very focused on having the products right for the supermarkets, so making sure that we could scale up production and have the capacity for our suppliers to handle larger volumes on demand was something we made sure we could do from the offset. We also made sure our branding and packaging would work in a supermarket environment. We started by selling to our lovely independent customers, following listings in Harvey Nicks, then on to Waitrose and then Sainsbury’s.
What’s the state of the noodle industry anyway? Where do you fit in, and where do you see yourself in relation to, say, Pot Noodle (who I suppose have the market’s ‘mindshare’). I believe you go for overall quality and for higher quality ingredients…?
The noodle market is booming! Last year instant noodles were the fastest growing category in all grocery, driven by wider trends towards less formal meal times, eating at your desk and the rise in popularity of Asian food. We sell to a different customer to Pot Noodle, so whilst they’re the big brand in our category, we don’t really compete with them as we offer a much more up-market, good quality product.
Love the samurai branding btw and the little pithy philosophical phrases – where did the idea for that come from, and who comes up with them?
We work with a brilliant branding company and work on the development together, they’ve been with us right from the start and they’re great to work with.
What’s Kabuto’s philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
“He who knows others is wise, He who knows noodles is enlightened.”
Did you ever have a point where you knew it was working, or that you’d ‘made it’? Do you remember that point?
The first time a retailer took a risk and stocked our products was brilliant (thanks Village stores in Walthamstow), but when they re-ordered that was amazing as it meant people were buying them! I definitely don’t feel that we’ve ‘made it’ just yet but we’re working really hard to make that a reality.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for Kabuto? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Shoot for the moon…
To bring the best of the East to the West and be a big global brand!
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge in setting up your own business is to make the jump and actually do it. There’s a fine line between starting a business and just being unemployed, but I’ve learnt that the most important thing is to “do”. You can have the best ideas in the world but it’s doing stuff that makes things happen.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences? I read you were pretty inspired by the culture at your old Pieminster workplace?
The most inspirational people for me are Felix Dennis, who wrote a brilliant book about how to be an entrepreneur, and Tristan & Jon at Pieminister who’ve fought super hard to build their business.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I love the variety and being able to be involved in everything, but it does mean that I get phone calls about everything too when something goes wrong!
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Hopefully running a different business as fun as Kabuto Noodles.
What’s your favourite regional cuisine?
Easy, Asian! I particularly love Japanese food.
What’s your most ‘unfavourite’ food, and what don’t you like about it?
Wasn’t very keen on Egyptian, a Camel Kebab didn’t do it for me…
What does the great British public need to know about Kabuto? What one thing would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
Instant noodles have changed, they can be great quality and you need to give them another go.
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Do as much homework as you can before taking the jump – read books by entrepreneurs, look around supermarkets and understand pricing and positioning, make sure you watch your cash and spend as little as possible, but if you think that there’s an opportunity, go for it!
Where next for you and Kabuto?
We’re really excited about launching out gluten free rice noodle flavours next year, and we’re looking forward to more listings in the UK and beyond!
Anything I missed that you’d like to include here? (include as much or as little as you’d like?
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were given an infinite budget but had to spend it all on some form of military transportation that was the only away you were allowed to travel for the next 6 months (business and pleasure) what would you pick?
There must be some stealth hovercraft out there – that would be pretty cool!
You’ve been forced to (somehow) convert Kabuto into either a death metal band or gangsta rap group, and commercial success is guaranteed. So, which would you choose, what would your first album be called, what would the music be all about and who would you collaborate with in the music industry
Gangsta rap – We’d collaborate with Wu Tang Clan for the Asian influence – the album would be “The Legend’s Just Beginning!”
If you had to hire one of the Fellowship of the Ring (Frodo, Boromir, Gandalf etc) to come and work with you at Kabuto, who would you hire?
Sauron, as Finance Director in charge of credit control. [Ed: Good call!]