Spice up your life: Meet the recruitment boss whose family recipes are flying off the shelves - with a little help from mum

November 15, 2016

Spice up your life: Meet the recruitment boss whose family recipes are flying off the shelves - with a little help from mum

Spice Kitchen is a Birmingham-based spice business set up by Sanjay Aggarwal in 2013 as a way to keep his retired parents busy.

It has since won the BBC Good Food Show Bursary, which allowed it to set up a market stall, and been recognised by the Great Taste Awards - the Oscars of the food industry - for its Garam Masala.

Keeping tradition alive: Founder Sanjay's mum Shashi makes covers for the spice boxes out of old saris

Keeping tradition alive: Founder Sanjay's mum Shashi makes covers for the spice boxes out of old saris

So what does Spice Kitchen have to offer? 

It produces high-quality hand-blended and home-ground spices and spice blends (including one for mulled wine) and sells them in beautifully designed tins and packets. 

The company also sells wedding favours, cookware, giftware and teas.

'Our core product is the spice tin, which is a very traditional Indian item,' explains Sanjay, aged 33. 'It has seven compartments for different spices and we sell them with the spices wrapped in small plastic bags. My mum, Shashi, hand-makes the covers for them out of old saris.'

How did it start?

'We were sitting round the Christmas table,' he says, 'mum had been retired for a couple of years and was wondering what to do with herself. I took a picture of mum's spice tin, put it on eBay, where I'd dabbled a bit in the past, and 24 hours later we'd made our first sale.

'It was only meant to be a small affair, selling a few spices online to keep my mum busy, but there's such a demand that we now sell on ten online platforms and our own website, Spicekitchenuk.com.'

The spice mixes are ones that have always been used in his family's home from recipes passed down through the generations, such as its award-winning Garam Masala, a traditional hot spice blend of around 12 ingredients - including coriander and cumin.

Crossroads: Sanjay now has to decide whether to keep Spice Kitchen a family business or expand

Crossroads: Sanjay now has to decide whether to keep Spice Kitchen a family business or expand

What were the hurdles?

Sanjay also runs his own dental recruitment agency and says that running two businesses at the same time has its challenges. 'However, I've learned how to manage both successfully. Since opening Spice Kitchen I work from home to run both businesses. 

'I am constantly switching between both companies during the day and sorting out social media in the evening for Spice Kitchen.'

The fast growth of the business has been enjoyable for the family but has also put pressure on them that they didn't expect. 'Last Christmas we received a large corporate order from the US for 1,000 units of our freshly ground mulled wine spices,' he says. 

'The order was to be given as a corporate gift and needed to be created and sent within a week. It was no mean feat so we galvanised the family team, who turned the order around in time.'

This led to major re-configuration of the family home to ensure production could meet demand.

Repeat business: Customers love the quality spices

 

What's the key to its success?

'Basically it's the quality and attractiveness of the product that has built up sales,' says Sanjay. 'The spices are created in an antique spice grinder that's been a family heirloom for over 100 years. It retains the moisture in the blend.

'Also, when people buy our spice tin they eventually need to refill the compartments so they come back to us for those over and over.'

Sanjay has also been active in promoting the business online and on social media from the start. He has made connections with food bloggers, invested in publicity and has created competitions to increase Twitter and Facebook followers. 

He is also active in promoting the business through the eBay community and recently went to Brussels as one of eight eBay sellers to talk to politicians about barriers for SMEs trading in Europe.

What does the future hold?

'We're diversifying into markets where we see opportunities for our business,' he says. 'We've noticed that customers are increasingly looking to buy high-quality mulled wine spice mixes to use at home so that's a product we will be developing more.

'We're also currently piloting bespoke cookery lessons and have sold cookbooks from well-known authors along with our spices.'

Family legacy: The spice mixes come from recipes passed down through the generations

Family legacy: The spice mixes come from recipes passed down through the generations

Primarily, though, he says the business is at a crossroads and he has to decide whether to keep it as a home-run family affair or get premises and staff and grow to keep up with increasing demand.

'We've seen business more than double in growth year-on-year since 2013 and are now selling to more than 5,000 customers,' he explains. 

'We've also had requests from a supermarket chain to provide all its spices but we had to turn it down because we don't have the capacity right now. It's probably time we looked at getting funding to grow.'