The UK’s most exciting start-up food entrepreneurs: Cheeky Food Co. | Organic Indian Pickles & Chutneys
By Zoe Perrett
At FoodStars, we love helping and seeing entrepreneurs launch their products from our catering kitchens for rent around London, which is exactly why we love stories like Swati’s. It was a desire to bring a range of quirky Indian condiments to the British table that drove Swati Biwal to become a start-up food entrepreneur.
To her horror, she ran out of her personal stash of mango pickle – sent from her mum in India – and found everything else available entirely unpalatable. Her husband quickly grew tired of her grumbles and told her ‘don’t moan; make your own’.
‘As cliched as it sounds,’ she laughs, ‘that was my ‘lightbulb moment.’’ The duo came up with the company name that same evening, and launched just a week later at a local Christmas fair. The Cheeky Food Co. was born.
Artisan food business was not Swati’s area. Her background is in engineering and mathematics, so her new role as a food entrepreneur proved challenging. But, she says, ‘I know how to make a mean mango pickle, so that’s what I focused on. Everything else I learned on the job!’
It’s the constant learning that she finds so exciting about working in the start-up food industry. As an entrepreneur, she’s learned to be flexible and adaptable to suit retailer needs – her labelling being one case in point. Initially, labels were self-designed and hand-cut, which led to her products being delisted.
Many would have stumbled at the setback, but Swati saw it as, ‘a blessing in disguise. I took the plunge, and invested our personal savings in hiring a design agency to bring our brand to life visually’. The gamble paid off: just halfway through the rebranding process, Cheeky Food Co. scored a coveted listing with Selfridges.
The department store showcased the arrival of Cheeky Food Co. at its Meet the Makers campaign in 2015; which had a grand launch complete with caricatures of the makers appearing across the food hall. Swati says that one of her proudest moments was having her three year-old daughter point to her products and saying ‘my mummy’s chutneys in the big shop’.
Soon, Cheeky Food Co’s chutneys and pickles were joined by a range of ‘Sprinkles’ – various artisan combinations of spiced dry ingredients that are designed to be scattered over any dish that needs a little sparkle – even morning toast.
Perfect, perhaps, for Swati’s early starts. This producer loves nothing more than a sunrise trip to the Western International Food market; West London’s fruit and vegetable supply hub. A visit turns her into ‘a kid in a candy store’, and she never fails to leave laden with boxes of fresh ingredients to transform into her condiments.
The pickling process used to occur at Swati’s own kitchen table; but Cheeky Food Co quickly outgrew its confines. The solution? Securing a space in Park Royal, where all the products continue to be fully handmade – as well as tasted and personally approved by the founder.
As a start-up food entrepreneur, Swati knows the value of teaming up with her peers for mutual benefit. She’s a fan of multi-brand hampers, and has collaborated with companies including Spice Kitchen , Moral Fibre Food and the Cheshire Cheese Company on such projects, with her eyes perpetually peeled for exciting new opportunities to work with fellow artisans.
Swati has grown Cheeky Food Co. both successfully and organically; now selling online via platforms including Yumbles, Not On The High Street, and Etsy, as well as through premium food halls, delis and farmshops.
A listing with As Nature Intended has enabled the company to break into the London high street and, further afield, products are exported to six EU countries. Next on her hit list? ‘Waitrose!’ Swati exclaims. ‘I’m working hard towards it, and I know we’ll get there.’
That unwavering self-belief has clearly stood Cheeky Food Co. in good stead, and Swati’s advice to other budding food entrepreneurs is just as encouraging: ‘Just do it! Jump in at the deep end – even if you don’t come out successful, it’ll be the best lesson in management you’ll ever gain for yourself.’
Follow Cheeky Food Co. on Twitter @CheekyFoodCo.
Inspired? Grow your food business today at FoodStars