Meet The Producer: Sarah Churchill
Sarah Churchill of The Artisan Kitchen talks working in Michelin-starred restaurants, being mentored by Tracklements’ Guy Tullberg and running a multi-award-winning preserve business single-handedly.
What were you doing before you started the brand?
I trained to be a chef at Westminster College in London, then learned my trade at the Capital’s finest food establishments – The Mirabelle in Mayfair, l’Escargot in Soho and two-Michelin-starred The Square. After becoming Head Chef in my own right, I settled in Gloucestershire. Before Artisan Kitchen, I enjoyed 10 years as a food product developer at Daylesford Organic. It was during this time that I fell in love with preserving the seasons.
Why did you decide to launch the brand?
In 2011, I was desperate to launch my own fine food business which would fit in with my drive to be creative and around my young family. I loved preserving and saw a real gap in the market for an alternative to the more traditional, overly-sweet preserves available. My mission was, and still is, to create exciting, fruit-packed preserves that have the ‘wow factor’ when tasted, while offering unique flavours with modern, bright, clean branding.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time running the business?
The old adage that cashflow is king! The ebb and flow of money, or sometimes lack of flow, becomes more challenging the bigger the business gets. More business equals more money required to buy ingredients, packaging etc. I run Artisan Kitchen by myself, balancing production, packing, dispatching, accounting, NPDs and even cleaning! I’ve saved hundreds of pounds by teaching myself to design and manage my website, adverts and point of sale material. That said, I wouldn’t ever swap my new food life for my old food life.
What’s the best part about running a small business?
I love making seasonal flavours and limited editions. Having complete control of my production and labelling process allows me to print new product lines in-house and launch preserves within hours of them being jarred. I can pop down to Bristol market, find fruit that looks wonderful, produce a new flavour and have it on my website within 48 hours.
… and the worst?
Labelling hundreds of jars at a time is my least favourite job. I’m also incredibly shy and find it difficult to be forward-facing. I’m still the chef who prefers to be cooking out the back. Guy Tullberg from Tracklements said many wise words as my mentor through the Great Taste artisan producer scheme in 2014. He said we have to push our own personal boundaries and be multi-faceted for our business – I’m continually working on that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Working in Michelin-starred restaurants, you learn early on that quality and consistency is key. I’ve taken this advice right through my career. It is no good creating and producing a brand that looks amazing, but doesn’t taste amazing. Branding will only take you so far, you have to have the repeat buy back for the product inside.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own food business?
Do your product research. Before I started up, I researched the sweet preserve market and did comparative shops to ascertain what I could offer that was different. Was there a gap in the market for my product? Also, benchmark your product. We all love our products, but how good are they really? I entered Great Taste in my first year of business to get impartial feedback.
What’s next for the business?
Developing lots of new products ready for launch in Spring 2020. I’m also hoping to focus on online sales in the new year as well as trade customers. There is also the Great Taste awards for 2020 to consider – our list is in progress now.
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