About Time You Met: Desiree Parker, Co-Founder of The Foraging FoxBy Mayola Fernandes
Desiree Parker is CEO & Co-Founder of The Foraging Fox, a multi-award winning condiments brand, who make delicious Original, Hot and Smoked Beetroot Ketchups and free-range flavoured Mayonnaises. The Company’s mission is to become the go-to brand for great tasting food. Stocked in more than 1,000 stores across the UK, including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Ocado, the company is also establishing itself internationally with new listings in Walmart, Edeka, Metro, United Supermarkets, Sligro, Marq’t and Whole Foods Market. The Foraging Fox currently exports to the United States, Canada, Germany and Holland and is expanding its distribution network across both its retail and foodservice formats. We sat down with Desiree to talk food, passion and business:
What inspired you to start a plant-based food business?
The idea behind the original trio of products – our plant-based beetroot ketchup range – was the brainchild of my co-founder, Frankie Fox. It all started as a kitchen project with her kids to teach them how to cook in a fun way and to use a bumper crop of beetroot and apples that they had one year. She worked on these recipes for three years, honing and sampling them all the while recognising that there was an opportunity to turn the ketchup market on its head by looking to entirely new ingredients that were naturally sweeter and lower in sugar.
When you first launched your business, you ran it out of a kitchen at home in Essex. What were some of the challenges that came with running a business from your co-founder Frankie’s house?
The initial challenges we faced were actually keeping up with demand! A great challenge to have but nonetheless a challenge. We had a successful launch but no factory to make a scaled product with, so that was our first priority. We knew that we had something that people wanted and there was no way we could build the business successfully out of the kitchen so we had to find commercial premises quickly. It took us about six months to do this – we had to make sure the quality of the ingredients was there and the processes worked in scale as much as they did in small kitchen batches. This is still very much core to us.
As we’ve continued to grow we face similar challenges as we need to meet demand but not compromise on any of our principles or taste! However, being part of a co-working community like Huckletree for the last year has brought so much energy to the business. We bounce ideas off other members, have sought their opinions on new product ideas through tasting panels, had help on photo shoots and so much more. We love being part of the community – it was a natural progression for us.
If you could change one thing in grocery, what would it be?
I recently read an article comparing the fruit and vegetable aisle in a New York store to one in London and I found it interesting and upsetting in equal measure. We use way too much plastic in our packaging and we just have to recognise that we need to change how we shop. We have become far too reliant – often artificially – on keeping our food on shelves for as long as possible, on them looking that same “perfect” on point of purchase every time and that’s not how nature works. I applaud those companies that are making a stand for using unnecessarily discarded produce that is perfectly capable of being eaten. We have seasons and our food should reflect that. Vegetables change colour over a season. Good food should not sit in your cupboard for a year and look the same when you finally get to open it. If it does look the same, it’s not real food.
Since launching The Foraging Fox in 2015, what’s been your biggest accomplishment?
We have come so far from those days exhibiting at our first trade fair with a dozen handmade bottles of our Original Beetroot Ketchup and a good dose of hope and mild expectation!
Our category is a competitive one and is still, to this day, dominated by the big multi-national players. Breaking into it is hard. Maintaining and growing your presence within it is even harder! But we continue to do this, and not only in the UK but in the biggest market of them all: North America. We just got listed nationally in Walmart and it feels like the last 2 years spent on tirelessly working on our export proposition is beginning to work. We’re now concentrating on building our US social media presence as we enter this huge market. I very much view 2019 as our “launch year” in the United States & Canada. There is a big movement there in terms of those actively looking to make changes to how and what they are eating and I’m not just talking about consumers at the retail level, but also schools and universities who want to offer their students something better. That’s where we come in. The conversations we are having now are a big step forward for the business and it’s exciting!
What does healthy eating and living mean to you?
I’m a bit of a yogi and I love running and playing tennis so sport is quite a big part of family life for me – it always has been. I’m now throwing tennis balls to my children in much the same way as my Dad did to me! I also believe in eating balanced meals and eating together at the dinner table. For me healthy eating more and more encompasses those shared moments at the dinner table together. I’ve always loved food, so sitting at the table with my favourite people, eating and laughing is pretty much gold.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Undoubtedly working with an incredible bunch of people – we all bring something different to the table and get on very well. Having the right people, especially at this stage in the business, is absolutely critical and I don’t think a single day has passed when I haven’t thought how lucky I am to have such talented people in the business.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Working across different time zones can be tough because my working day just doesn’t end on some days! I’ve learned to just draw a line and say that’s that for the day. Also, I have two small children and so whilst I enjoy travelling and the thrill of broadening the business internationally, I find leaving them still the hardest thing to do – I weep on the plane! Poor cabin crew. Soon, I hope to bring them with me so they can get their first experience of an international show. I’d love that.
What’s the aim of The Foraging Fox?
Our ethos at The Foraging Fox is to bring innovation and fresh thinking to all that we do, naturally. We care about how we make our products, what we make them with and where we source our ingredients from. We don’t believe in adding anything artificial to our recipes because we believe that great food can be created with a refreshingly short list of natural ingredients, made responsibly. That’s what we’re about.
What does the future hold for The Foraging Fox?
For now the focus is on embedding our brand and range in every market we’re in and that’s going to keep us very busy for the next few years. We’ve got a lot to do and we’re excited about the important steps we’re making. We’ve just launched our flavoured Mayo range in the UK and I’m chuffed to bits that we won a People’s Choice Award (Runner Up) for our Mayos in New York too earlier this year. It’s an exciting time to be a challenger brand breaking into the US market.
What would success look like for you?
Ah… that million dollar question. Ask me that again in 10 years!