Baby food brand for aisha broke into the market just a year ago. for aisha is now available in over 2000 multiple retail stores in the UK, including Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons and Boots. Here’s how founder Mark Salter grew his halal baby food business into a global phenomenon
Mark Salter launched the UK’s first halal baby food company, for aisha last year, recognising “the power of the Muslim pound.”
But what makes for aisha successful may be more than catering to a growing market of Muslim parents. Salter’s brand sources ethical ingredients and focuses on keeping sugar content down, making the baby food brand one of the healthiest in the market.
One year on, the company is turning over £80,000 per month and is on target to reach £1 million turnover by April 2017, catalysed by its popularity in fast-growth export markets in the Middle East and North Africa.
Considering that the global halal market is set to hit $1.6 trillion by 2018, Salter may have caught on to the next wave in healthy baby food.
He speaks to GrowthBusiness on his entrepreneurial journey as the sole owner in a breakthrough sector, from turning down investment from Dragon’s Den investors to peddling from store to store with samples in a basket.
Name: Mark Salter
Location: Grantham, Lincolnshire
Date launched: 1st August 2015 (Trialled in stores April 2015)
Number of employees: Sole owner and four support contractors in marketing, international sales, social media and licensing
What does your business do?
‘for aisha’ is the world’s leading halal baby food brand. We make exciting exotic recipes that contain a wide variety of all natural ingredients, that expand the taste palates of infants and therefore are extremely beneficial for families during the weaning process.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I first had the idea for healthy baby curries when researching the category for a job role with Plum Baby Food.
I have worked for various food and drink companies bringing brands to UK supermarket and high street retailers’ shelves for most of the last 20 years.
I could see that most of the baby food brands were doing the same thing with the same recipes.
I was introduced to Islam and since then I have made muslim friends. Many of those have (or have had) babies who are weaned on high lactose diets because they can’t purchase halal baby food.
So I set about building my own company for the first time to serve high quality halal foods for muslim infants, that would also be of benefit to non-Muslims.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I know very quickly that my idea was a good one.
I read baby food industry reports (such as Mintel) that showed that parents wanted a wider variety and were open to trialing spices and herbs in their baby’s diets.
I read a lot about Islam and learned about the halal food industry. I spent several weeks visiting parents and staff in nursery schools. I took my own children along to help me with the research.
The overriding messages from parents were that they felt guilty about buying packaged baby food brands and so if they did buy it, they would like something that was difficult, time consuming and expensive to make themselves. So that’s what I created.
How did you raise funding, and why?
I sold my house and my car to put towards the original design works and R&D. It took my net worth to zero and I peddled my old bike to the train station for all of my meetings. I bought a basket to carry my samples in.
It should have been £15 but it was bent so the shop let me have it for £5. I have the receipt and will keep it always.
I auditioned and was accepted onto the Dragon’s Den show at that time but rejected it as I gained investment from a group of private individuals.
Finding the right business partner was probably the biggest hurdle but it’s extremely important to get right. We’re now in a strong position with private equity backing.
Describe your business model in brief.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
There have been many. Winning National distribution with ASDA, Tesco and Boots on the high street amongst others, now with our products in 2,000 stores. Selling to 15 countries already.
My favourite statistic is that in our first year, we sold 550,000 baby food pouches, which is just over one every minute of the year!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Make beautiful designs from your own vision – You’re first instincts are normally the right ones.
Network. If you need business partners, then make sure that you have the same long term vision for the business.
Be tenacious. My father was an incredible business person who taught me never to take no for an answer.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Doing exactly what I do now, with a little time off for Paddleboard adventures. It’s my new sport that keeps me stress free.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
Whatever the job, I’d have to be my own boss. We all have ideas and the fun is in bringing that passion to life. A restaurant perhaps..
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
For life and business; enjoy the journey and ride out the storms that come with it. Whether it’s by leaps or by inches, if you keep moving forward then tomorrow the sun will come out again.
On the halal food industry
The halal food industry is growing extremely fast. The population of muslims in the UK will be shown in 2021 with the next census. It’s higher than many realise.
The industry is frustrating though – certification is not legislative and each certification body has their own rules.
Companies must pay them for their approval. So it’s very easy to exploit money from companies and the consumer’s at the end of the process are sometimes not getting what they believe.
This greatly stifles export trade where it’s reported that the UK is missing on 1 billion per annum export opportunity for halal foods due to their being no national regulatory body.
Is religion-based food contentious territory?
My parents (who were very religious) told me never to discuss religion with others. I see their point. I have a strong faith but belief is a sacred thing. Nobody has the answers for everyone (just for themselves).
If we all kept our beliefs personal and respected that everyone has their own, then the word would be a much safer and happier place.