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How a pandemic pivot fuelled business growth for Kinetic Kitchen

2 June 2021|Brand Story, Business Growth, Latest Posts

How a pandemic pivot fuelled business growth for Kinetic Kitchen
How a pandemic pivot fuelled business growth for Kinetic Kitchen

Harry Noel-Smith is the founder of Kinetic Kitchen, a business selling a range of ketogenic snacks including nut butter and doughnuts.  From an idea inspired by his very active lifestyle in 2014, Harry expanded to selling to retailers and operating a coffee truck

Things were going well but in March 2020 the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and the entrepreneur was forced to change his business model and switch to a fully online operation.  Harry spoke to us about what turned out to be an incredible year for Kinetic Kitchen and why sustainability is at the heart of the company.

How did you come up with the idea for Kinetic Kitchen? 

It all started in 2014 when my dad asked myself and my brother to join him on a charity cycle ride that was going to try and break the trans-Canadian world record by cycling from Vancouver to Halifax in less than 13 days. Unfortunately, our sponsorship fell through and we ended up cycling from London to Africa and back. 

Before that trip, we were just novice cyclists but over an eight-month period, we managed to get ourselves into the top three ultra-endurance cyclists in the world based on distance covered.

During that experience, our training and diets increased massively and we completely changed the way that we saw food. I invented the ‘ketonut’ by eradicating gluten and refined sugars and fuelling a product based purely on healthy fats.

I had no experience in baking but I decided to try and make a product suitable for the market and started experimenting with different ingredients such as almonds.

I had a sales job in Bristol working with independent cafes and health food shops. I said to a couple of them that I had an idea for a product and would they mind stocking it. Two did and within an afternoon both had sold out. 

In the summer of 2019, I expanded the business with a coffee truck. 

How did you respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?

I could have stayed open for takeaway but during the first lockdown there was hardly anyone around and I was earning about four pounds a day. I shut up shop and gave myself a four-day window to take everything online. 

I already had a website but it wasn’t suitable for taking any payments. I turned the site into an e-commerce platform, sourced packaging and got my supply chain ready for orders.

What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?

Before lockdown, we were only sending around 12 doughnuts a week, now it’s 3,000! Packaging was an issue as we have to ship products across the country without them arriving squashed. We’re now working with a Bristol-based packaging manufacturer who has made a box perfectly designed for our doughnuts and that is meeting the demand. 

I started off in a domestic kitchen but with hundreds of orders, I soon had packaging up to the ceiling and there are only so many 25kg sacks of almond flour you can store in a tiny kitchen! Luckily, I had a friend who knew a landlord with an available unit and I moved in. 

The unit was empty so I had the issue of building a kitchen. Thankfully, I didn’t have any overheads when I was getting lots of orders so I managed to save money to buy refrigerators and ovens, put up cladding and make rooms with rooms. That’s where my old building skills came into play! 

Despite the challenges, your pivot has been a huge success so would you say it has been a positive experience overall?

Absolutely. I believe a lot of major decisions are made in business when you are forced into making them. We had a steady growth but then there was a pinnacle moment where it started skyrocketing. 

I knew that was happening for us but on the news, I could see so many businesses were closing. It was incredibly humbling and I thought ‘what can I do to help?’. We donated hundreds of doughnuts to NHS frontline workers in Southmead Hospital in Bristol and the Nightingale Hospital in London and also to the homeless at Christmas. 

Sustainability is a very important part of your business model. What are some of the steps you’ve taken in that area?

This is what really gets me excited. I was that strange kid when I was five years old walking on beaches and collecting rubbish. I absolutely hated seeing plastic. Growing up, I thought I needed to do something to help solve that issue and that was my commitment with the business from the get-go. 

We are a member of 1% for the Planet, which means 1% of our revenue goes to environmental causes. The cause we’ve selected is Surfers Against Sewage. 

For the product itself, we get fresh ingredients from local farmers including the milk for our coffee truck from a mile away and the butter from Yeo Valley which is only two miles away. We only source organic ingredients and we are Soil Association certified.

For our packaging, the cardboard is fully recyclable, we have biodegradable greaseproof paper which can be composted and the delivery note that we can send to every customer is seeded paper so they can grow wildflowers. 

In the kitchen, we have zero food waste. Eggshells are our biggest waste so we store them, wash them, put them in the oven and combine them with coffee grounds to create fertiliser that we give for free to local people. Also, our unit is heated from woodchips which is a much more sustainable way of heating. 

I constantly feel that we can do more. We are looking into using electric delivery vans and this year I’m hoping to do more with Surfers Against Sewage. They send people to a beach and everyone has rubbish bags to collect waste. I want to be there with the truck serving free coffee for everyone. 

More businesses need to be doing more with sustainability. 

What third party support have you received?

 I accessed free support from the West of England Combined Authority’s Growth Hub, including the Trading Better Online and Accountancy Support Programme

The Better Online programme has been useful for understanding how we can develop an e-commerce strategy. Technical support was a big thing. I had no idea how to do any sort of order fulfilment so it was hugely valuable to get that advice. 

As I’m very much a newbie in the business world, it was also useful to get accounting advice through the Accountancy Support Programme. I got hours of support about the financial issues I need to focus on and advice on the route I need to go down for future growth plans.

Another area the Growth Hub has helped me with is staff. I’ve now got four full time staff, one intern and a consultant. The Growth Hub provided me with support by helping me answer key questions: Who exactly do you need to hire? What are the attributes you need them to have? How can you retain your staff? How can you develop them?

I’m still working very closely with the team at the Growth Hub. It’s incredibly useful for me as a solo business owner. They are so knowledgeable and if they don’t have the advice I need, they can find it. 

To find out how you can benefit from free support and expert guidance from the West of England Combined Authority, read this guide.