2020 Was Ella’s Kitchen’s Slowest Year in a Decade but its CEO Couldn’t Be Prouder

Unexpected things will happen, and there will always be times of economic adversity which you cannot always prepare a business for. The last year has been one of the slowest in terms of growth for Ella’s Kitchen, but the company’s CEO, Mark Cuddigan, says that he is so proud of everything they have achieved, believing that 2020 was, in fact, one of the most successful years for the company to date! We hear more about it below.

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2020 was a year of global tragedy. How did the pandemic affect Ella’s Kitchen?

Indeed, 2020 was a difficult year and at Ella’s Kitchen, we all suffered a great personal loss, tragically losing our Managing Director just as the pandemic began to take hold. It was so unprecedented and I knew I had to prioritise my employees’ wellbeing and their families above everything else.

It is no longer acceptable for the success of a business to be measured purely by economic gain. We have seen a modest increase in sales this year, but this has been a challenging year for the whole category with the value of baby food brands down by over £10m. Parents are now spending more time at home and so they have time to cook, which inevitably led to a drop in sales for companies like us that provide convenient, nutritious baby food.

When COVID-19 began to take hold, and before furlough was even a word that many of us had heard of, I told all of our staff that they would continue to be paid in full regardless of whether they could work or not. If one of my employees could not work, then we would find a way to pick up on their work or we would simply not do that job role for the time being. Everyone had to put their families’ and their own wellbeing first – to me that was non-negotiable. Today, we are slowly coming to terms with this virus, yet it only feels like yesterday when there was widespread fear over it. It’s not something that any of us should take lightly, and if there was anything, we could do to support our employees, we would do it.

As we’re slowly getting back to normality, how are you and the company adapting to the present?

We are over a year on from when the pandemic first hit our shores, and now that the initial shock of COVID-19 is over, we need to turn our thoughts and strategies to the future and look at how we can actually build back better – and this shouldn’t be in the form of sales, sales and more sales.

If there is a silver lining to a dark story, it is the satellite images of lowered air pollution around the globe during the various lockdowns we have endured. I could see the stars which were usually obscured by smog and the air felt cleaner to breathe. The issue with this, however, is that it hid a more sinister problem. Countries around the world in fiscal turmoil started to request extensions on meeting climate commitment deadlines. I was adamant that at Ella’s we wouldn’t abandon our own commitments to the next generation. We’re the first generation of leaders who will not be able to look back on the climate emergency and say that we didn’t know what was happening. We all know this is happening.

So, putting profits aside, we focussed on what we could do to actually build back better and I am proud that we have not only stuck to our word but that we have accelerated our commitments to the planet this year. We have assessed our entire footprint and are continuing our work with the World Land Trust to promote the conservation of natural ecosystems in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. Through our partnership with Trees for Life, we have also planted over 4,000 trees to offset the impact from our offices.

This has been the first year in a decade where we have not seen double-digit growth, but profit is not the most important thing.

Ella’s very foundation is built on the belief that every child deserves nutritious and delicious food from weaning. We have continued to campaign for government action on childhood obesity and early childhood nutrition. We backed Marcus Rashford’s call to the government to provide free school meal vouchers for children from underprivileged backgrounds. Despite the uncertainty, we have remained a strong and active voice in pushing for a greater national focus on childhood nutrition.

‘Impact-led businesses’ have become something of a buzzword. As a certified B Corp, we go through a stringent certification process that truly verifies if we are maintaining the highest standards of environmental and social purpose. The certification process gets harder every couple of years, and B Corp is brilliant at challenging you to do better.

In 2020 we also teamed up with hundreds of other businesses to form the Better Business Act. This is calling for a straightforward legislative solution to put purpose first in business. We are campaigning to amend section 172 of The Companies Act to ensure that company directors are responsible for advancing the interests of shareholders alongside those of wider society and the environment. This a unique opportunity to demonstrate UK leadership on the global stage – creating a competitive advantage, driving innovation, accelerating progress to net zero, and aligning with the government’s ambition to build back better.

As a society, we will move backwards if we don’t innovate in the ways that we do business. We need to have the bravery to alter the status quo and be the change. Ella’s Kitchen was grounded on a purpose, and it is my job every day to ensure we uphold this.

This has been the first year in a decade where we have not seen double-digit growth, but profit is not the most important thing. Success is determined by how you measure it, and I will continue to measure success in our business through how deeply rooted in purpose we are.

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