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Jennifer Irvine launched The Pure Package in 2004 as a home-delivery meals service tailored to meet clients’ individual dietary requirements and preferences. In its first year, Pure Package delivered 70,000 meals and achieved a turnover of £200,000. The company has since grown into a multi-million pound operation. We asked her for her top tips.

Jennifer Irvine launched The Pure Package in 2004 as a home-delivery meals service tailored to meet clients’ individual dietary requirements and preferences. In its first year, Pure Package delivered 70,000 meals and achieved a turnover of £200,000. The company has since grown into a multi-million pound operation.

What was the idea behind The Pure Package?

If you have a busy modern life in London it’s almost impossible to eat well. As a person who places real value on natural produce, I thought The Pure Package would be the kind of service I’d like to use. In the beginning, the operation was extremely basic, consisting mainly of me in my kitchen.

The interest from customers built up rapidly and dealing with that demand has been an important learning experience. Obviously I couldn’t cook all the meals on my own, so I took on a team almost from the beginning. I have chefs, nutritionists and dietary therapists who, after a detailed consultation, develop a personal profile and choose a programme for each client. Ingredients are free range, organic and ethically sourced, and we’ve carbon neutralised all our deliveries.

What about funding the business?

At the start, I was wary of taking on any sort of debt or parting with a stake in the business, but to expand I needed money. In order to generate working capital, I took a gamble that people would be willing to pay for their meals in advance and so offered them a discount for paying 90 days early. It worked.

Three months after launching, I had enough custom to move the business out of my kitchen and into premises in New Covent Garden. People were still beating their way to our door and high-profile clients – actors, chefs, sports stars, supermodels – seemed more than willing to lend their name to the business. It’s grown largely by word of mouth and now the client list numbers around 1,000 people.

This was you first business. How did you cope with its growth?

Although I had experience in the food arena (I was deputy manager of a Conran restaurant on King’s Road, and helped set up new shops for Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market), I was surprised by how involved you have to be with every aspect of growing your own business, especially in the early days. You really do have to think on your feet.

For instance, I lacked the capacity to deal with the rapid growth, but I turned that into a positive. To make sure that I didn’t lose the business that was coming to me, I offered to put people on a waiting list. This started a real buzz going round. I wasn’t particularly celebrity savvy at the time, so didn’t realise that I had a chef with two Michelin stars waiting in the wings, until someone pointed it out to me.

We were doubling our sales each year, but I think taking that approach taught me that it’s not necessarily healthy to grow so fast that you can’t meet the demand. Taking it at your own pace, as best you can, allows you to step back and look at things as a whole and adopt a strategic approach to your business.

So was it smooth sailing from the start?

No, not at all. There were definite sticking points. For one, I wish I’d put a proper accounts system in place from the start. I used to do it all on a big spreadsheet until I suddenly thought: “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to sort out my VAT.” I soon realised it wasn’t going to work and had to literally re-enter everything by hand into a proper accounts package.

There were certain handshake agreements I made that, if I could go back, I would have set down on paper. I had a few nasty surprises where people had said: “Sure Jennifer, we can do that for you”, and a few months later the bill arrived.

As a mother and a wife, I’d say the work-life balance has been the toughest part of running a business, but it’s been well worth it.

How did you manage to do it all on your own?

I didn't. I’ve got a really wonderful team, which takes some of the pressure off. Also, a few of my clients are truly inspirational business people, like the handbag designer Anya Hindmarsh. With her help I came to realise that bringing up a child and running your own business is tough; you’ve got to be open about asking for advice and if I’ve got too much on my plate, I take help and am not embarrassed about doing so.

For more information on The Pure Package visit www.purepackage.com.

See also: Aid package for crisis-hit rural smaller businesses

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