Keeping it social
Angus Oliphant - 09 July 2011
When we started Miniscoff, waayyy back when, someone remarked how tough it would be setting up a new business with small children (ours were 6, 4 and -2 at the time). I'm not sure they got the age range right. Now with a teen, a virtual teen and a wannabe 5yo 'teen', the average day seems to have shrunk by half yet again - how in heaven's name are you supposed to manage both effectively?
Well never mind that. The solution is probably be a bit more successful and pay someone else to be effective on your behalf. It's a common challenge, no doubt, for many a small family business, especially in these times of micro-management and lean operation. The point, I guess, of asking us to add our musings to this erudite portal was to glean some inside intrigue from the life of a food manufacturer - though we don't much like that description. We're just a big kitchen really, with our fabulous chefs, Patrick and Nik, and a very loyal band of helpers who chop, peel, grate, cook, portion and pack some very natural and delicious, carefully balanced meals for children between 1 and 8 years old.
Someone said no matter how great your product, it will never sell itself (or something to that effect). And it's true. If only you could just get your target customers to trial it, all would be good. But to do this you must fight through the firestorm of very aggressive, very expensive and very persuasive marketing dished out by the establishment manufacturers. Without their resources this can quickly become a fool's errand. Small producers have to look to advocacy, to get the ear of the opinion formers in the media and hope for a favourable mention. A celebrity fan might score you a momentary flurry of interest too. Right now, we are just starting to delve into the Pandora's box that is Facebook and Twitter. Customer to customer recommendation far outstrips the effectiveness of traditional advertising, one is told. Which is great considering the relative cost is minimal. So is this the opportunity at last for small to challenge big, for quality to compete with 'value', for the playing field to be finally levelled? We can but watch and wait. Will we harness that holy grail of social media and 'go viral'!
All I can say, so far, is that my very existence seems now to be measured by how many new 'followers' or 'likes' we can add each day. The search for that elusive tweet that will set the 'mummy-blogger' network alight gobbles up time like a hungry child. Time I had rather hoped to spend with my real children. It's a gradual process, I expect. What I can't tell is whether we're close or still a million miles away. In the meantime we'll have to satisfy ourselves with the scores on the doors: 862 Twitter followers and 101 Facebook fans, and counting! I just hope this little baby can start contributing to the rent a little sooner than the other three!
Angus and his wife Shoo started their children's ready meals business from the eight by six foot kitchen of their London flat eleven years ago. Initially supplying 10 London delis, including Planet Organic, they now employ 11 people at Scoff Central, in Wiltshire, and supply over 350 restaurants – including Center Parcs, the Rainforest Café, Thistle Hotels, Esporta and Little Chef – as well as Ocado and Abel & Cole. Their meals and sauces, for children aged 12 months up to 12 years, are 100% organic and have won many awards. Shoo was the 'Practical Parenting' 'Business Parent of the Year 2006', and more recently Miniscoff was voted Best Children’s Food Range 2010/11 by readers of Practical Parenting magazine.