Inspiring Business by Sharing Success

Son tastes success with mum’s recipes

A former university student from Leicester who received food parcels from his worried mum has told how he turned her recipes into an online business and sold millions of spicy meal kits.

Ketan Varu learned how to cook his mum’s recipes while studying at Sheffield Hallam University and later gave up an IT career to launch online meal kit business Spicentice.

The Leicester based company has now sold more than three million spice kits offering a healthy and authentic taste of Indian family cooking.

The company’s success has created jobs for the whole family and allowed Ketan’s mum Manjula to leave her sales assistant job at M&S to work with him full time.

The family have benefitted from the popular trend of cooking up from scratch with best-selling products including kits to create delicious spicy chips and wedges, methi chicken and chicken tikka masala - each shifting hundreds of thousands of units a year.

The kits are all gluten and additive free making them popular with thousands of slimmers and others seeking a healthy diet.

The success of Spicentice meal kits has meant Ketan and Manjula have been joined by his dad, Ramnik, sister Tejal, and wife Mita in the family business.

Ketan first learned to cook after mum Manjula sent him spicy curry kits in the post when he was a student in Sheffield.

Dad Ramnik is also a great cook and Manjula would include spices to cook up some of his recipes in the parcels to her student son.

Ketan followed her carefully written recipes and soon became a very popular man on campus with fellow students begging for a dinner invite.

After graduating he began a career in IT project management but it was the reaction of colleagues when he brought in home cooked foods that finally convinced him to launch Spicentice.

Ketan, now 42, said:

“Mum must’ve thought I’d starve as a student because she sent food parcels and little letters with recipes and bags of spices as soon as I’d left home.

“I couldn’t cook at all in those days but I followed mum’s advice and soon I was able to enjoy a taste of home cooking while away at uni.

“My housemates all commented on the lovely smells coming from the kitchen so it was only a matter of time before I started cooking up larger portions to share and pretty soon all of my student friends were asking if they could come to dinner. Everyone loved mum and dad’s recipes.

“At that stage I never dreamed it would become a business. It was only later while working as an IT project manager that I started to see the potential.

“I would take in my home cooked food to heat at work for lunch and the same thing happened again with colleagues commenting on the smell and look of the food and asking to try some.

“Soon I was having to cook up larger batches so everyone could try some and as I developed the idea for Spicentice I would test out some of the recipes on my colleagues.”

He eventually launched Spicentice in 2006 by visiting farmers’ markets and food shows. Things got serious when M&S placed an order for 80,000 units in 2008.

Orders from other supermarkets followed including Asda and Sainsburys but Ketan was determined to build his own brand with Spicentice rather than sell his products labelled as the supermarket’s own.

Joined by wife Mita, who quit her job as a primary school teacher, Ketan invested in new premises and a new e-commerce website and began to focus his efforts on online trading.

Sales grew as word spread that Spicentice kits helped even novice cooks create delicious meals that offered authentic flavours without any of the additives often found in pre-made sauces.

Ketan expanded the product range to include all the foods he and Mita love, including many non-Indian dishes.

He said:

“We wanted to share our love of cooking from scratch but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just Indian food because we love all kinds of different foods.

“We’ve had a great response from customers as we’ve widened the product range with many telling us they are broadening their cooking skills thanks to Spicentice.

“We’ve just moved to bigger premises with a larger warehouse to process the increasing orders. Mum and Dad are still involved with the company and are busier than ever which is great because our success started with their delicious recipes."

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