Opinion

Put social responsibility at the heart of business - it will pay off, says Ella's Kitchen founder

Lindley sold his baby-food brand, Ella's Kitchen, to The Hain Celestial Group in 2013, but remains involved. He also founded toiletries brand Paddy's Bathroom, and is co-founder of The Key is E, a social enterprise that supports entre­preneurs in Africa whose businesses benefit children.

Put social responsibility at the heart of business - it will pay off, says Ella's Kitchen founder
Put social responsibility at the heart of business - it will pay off, says Ella's Kitchen founder

Identify the driving purpose behind your business. Often this comes from personal experience. In creating Ella’s Kitchen, I had two drivers. I’d spent years helping Nickelodeon become a trusted brand for children and seeking to address the perception that TV was responsible for kids’ poor health; in my personal life I’d seen challenges in weaning my daughter, Ella, to try new foods. I set out to improve children’s lives by giving them a healthier relationship with food. I wanted to use business as the way to change society by offering something innovative, disruptive, healthy, convenient and fun that would appeal to babies and children and encourage them to healthier food habits that will last their lifetime.

Set yourself clear goals that will help you achieve your mission profitably. I wanted to have a positive impact on children’s health, and to challenge what existing baby-food products offered in terms of customer experience and ingredient quality. As Ella’s grew, our mission developed a wider purpose. It became a trusted and credible company capable of addressing the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Throughout our growth, my initial mission has stayed at the heart of the business and is now ingrained in our values, culture and economic model.

Never underestimate the importance of your visual brand. To build a brand you must put yourself wholly in the shoes of the customer and engage them across all their senses. Both the Ella’s Kitchen and Paddy’s Bathroom brands have had to compete against multinationals and negotiate with big retailers for listings and shelf space. We’ve had to position our brands differently: packaging the product in innovative, eye-catching and useful ways that parents could easily see the benefit of, and kids could safely use; mixing unusual ingredients to bring new sensations; and using language and tone that appeals to the child in consumers. By presenting the product differently, we made the point that we were a real alternative, without a huge adspend.

Put social responsibility at the heart of your business – it will pay off. Consumers are becoming more informed about brands and demanding more of them. Brands with a strong mission, that resonate on an emotional level with consumers’ needs, are shining through. I’ve found that having a social purpose and a values base is key to building consumer trust.

I’ve found that having a social purpose and a values base is key to building consumer trust

In September, I opened the London Stock Exchange with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F Kennedy, in support of business as a force for good. At the event I announced my idea for a ‘Public Benefit Company’, a new class of business driven by profit that also generates a clear public benefit. Kerry spoke about her work developing new approaches to sustainable investment through her Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation, and James Perry, co-founder of Cook and of B-Lab UK, joined us to talk about the B Corporation movement. The future of business lies in sustainable, purpose-focused models.

Never give up. Be relentlessly tenacious. One of the biggest challenges I faced when launching Ella’s Kitchen was getting supermarket buyers to see the potential of my idea. I contacted hundreds of people and was rejected or ignored time and again. When things eventually took off, I had to remortgage my home to get the products to the store shelves. Every start-up involves risk, but for me, not trying would have been the biggest failure. I’ve never looked back.

Value and nurture your team. You are only as good as the people who work for you, and they will perform better when they know they’re a valued part of the team. Bringing them to the centre of the decision-making process gives them purpose and autonomy, and consolidates their investment in, and contribution to building, the brand. Ultimately, I believe the key to successful business is people, not money.