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How a Manchester business development programme is creating a new generation of food superstars


Recipe4Success is a Manchester business development initiative aimed at supporting small food and drink producers and local operators.

The 2019 programme, which launches this month, offers advice and training to those wanting to succeed in the food and drink sector. At the end of the programme, participants get the chance to pitch to a major supermarket buyer, Apprentice-style, with a view to securing a national listing for their product.

The initiative has already helped a number of fledgling Greater Manchester businesses see their products stocked in major supermarkets and specialist independent retailers.

One recent graduate of the scheme is Alex Markham, founder of SOOP – a noodle soup business based in Ancoats.

When we first spoke to Alex in September 2017, he was making his SOOPs at home, taking orders and delivering them direct to customers at home and in offices on his bike. What’s changed for him since then?

“A heck of a lot,” says Alex.

“Back in January 2018, almost 12 months ago, I was involved in an accident. I was knocked over by a truck when I was crossing the Mancunian way. It was a nightmare. I had to take three months off work.

“And then in May I made the decision to stop selling direct and to concentrate on selling to retailers. I teamed up with Ancoats General Store and Simply Fresh on Piccadilly Place. And I moved into a commercial premises in Ancoats.”

As part of Recipe4Success, Alex went on courses to learn about branding, marketing, and how to sell to retailers. As someone who didn’t have a background in food, he found the industry-specific advice invaluable.

“It’s not going to transform your business, only you can do that,” he says. “But it gives you the tools and the contacts and it focuses your energy in the right direction.

“It’s also great to talk to people who are on the same journey with you. One thing I was struggling with was packaging, and it was great to talk to other people and see who they were using. Someone once said to me that collaboration always trumps competition. It’s absolutely true.”

Following advice from the Recipe4Success team, Alex entered the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste Awards 2018 and won six gold stars. Out of 12,634 products to be judged in total, only 192 products were awarded the most prestigious 3-Star Award. This included SOOP’s tofu and wild mushroom product.

“The awards were a game-changing moment for our business and one that’s only happened thanks to the advice of the Recipe4Success scheme,” says Alex.

“I’m on the shelves in Selfridges, I only started with them last week. And I’m currently in talks with Morrisons. It’s bonkers to think that this product that I dreamt up here in Manchester is being sold in Selfridges.

“From where I was 12 months ago, making it in my home kitchen and delivering it on a bike, to now having a purpose-built facility in Ancoats which is set up to make 15,000 SOOPs a week – it’s a big jump.

“Throughout our journey the Recipe4Success team’s industry experience has been invaluable. From advice on costings to introduction to supermarket buyers, they have been a vital source of information from day one.

“I would encourage any small-scale or start-up food producers to register on the scheme.”

Other alumni who have benefited from the Recipe4Success programme include Didsbury Gin, BFT Drinks and Four Sisters distillery.

Recipe4Success is managed and delivered by GC Business Growth Hub and is a fully-funded programme. This means qualifying businesses who are accepted onto the scheme do not pay any costs.

“As Greater Manchester’s food and drink sector continues to thrive, and more producers and operators enter the market, it is more important than ever for small companies to equip themselves with the knowledge and expertise needed to drive their business forward,” says Hilary Centeleghe, senior growth manager at GC Business Growth Hub.

“SOOP is a great example of this, and our team have helped Alex go from developing the concept in his kitchen through to winning prestigious national awards and getting stocked in stores like Harrods.

“Other companies who have been through the programme have gone on to supply major supermarkets, secure listings with specialist independent retailers and even appear on national television.

“The programme offers a fantastic opportunity for any Greater Manchester food and drink entrepreneurs that are ready to turn their passion into a viable and profitable business.”

The Recipe4Success programme will be officially launched at the offices of PwC on Hardman Street in Manchester on Tuesday 8th January.


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