We are family

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ready meals, Curry

We are family
The business started as a hobby in my kitchen when I was living in Lytham St Annes.

My father was involved in the hospitality sector. I was brought up in Africa and he ran a hotel there, so it's in the blood.

It took about 10 years to start taking off. Nazir [my husband] always encouraged me to do more. We cooked ready meals for local pubs. I used to make them tikka masala, lasagne and chilli con carne. Customers were always asking us to do more.

I made samples and took them to two or three local delis and popped into my local Booths Supermarket and gave them some and they said they were interested.

Then Edwin Booth [the owner of Booths] contacted me and asked me to send him some samples. He tried them and asked when we could start supplying 22 stores.

We then moved to a small production unit in Arkwright Court, Blackpool and that was to do with growth from the Booths business.

At the time curries were still new. Findus had launched some in 1974, but that was virtually it on the retail side. The market and quality of products has changed so much.

We still supply many small wholesalers. That was what got us started in the foodservice industry. In 1999, when Nazir joined the business, we got our first big break when we were contracted by Yates's to supply 120 bars. They loved our products and that gave us the opportunity to go national. That was really when we changed from being a cottage industry. We went from sales of £140,000 to sales of £1.2M within a year. In 2000 Laila's moved to larger premises, still maintaining our high quality, hand-prepared ethos.

Another break was [frozen food home delivery company] Oakhouse Foods in 2003. At that time my eldest daughter Zera joined the business as sales and technical director.

Our first supermarket break came with Carrefour and Océan, although this wasn't a huge contract. Nazir picked it up when he went to the Sial exhibition in Paris. We also started supplying some chilled organic lines to Asda.

In 2007 we moved to the factory we have now. It was the right time as we were bursting at the seams. People who worked with us at the old factory are still here. We had 28 staff there. The factory cost £3.4M to purchase and fit out. My daughter Rishma joined in 2007 as product development and sales director, and my daughter Natasha joined in 2008 as purchasing director.

In 2008 we had calls from some big supermarkets. Aldi and Morrisons invited us to present our products and they both loved them. The buyer for Morrisons was looking for a new supplier for frozen ready meals. They took products, which went nationwide.

Sales were going fantastically well for lasagne, our flagship product. Morrisons loved it and in particular wanted more of our organic meals. With all this new business our sales went from £3.5M to £8.5M in six months. We are constantly talking to Aldi, Morrisons and Asda, although we don't supply Aldi at the moment.

We supply meals for Asda's Good For You range. We also supply the Rank Group, Mecca Bingo, Holdsworth Foods and Grosvenor Casinos. The most recent business is with Spar (UK) and Central Food Group. Grosvenor Casinos have three curries in their menu and they have just asked us to do more. They include a Thai red curry, a Thai green curry and satay noodles.

Thai food has really taken off again in the past three to four years. I think that's because there are more Thai restaurants around and more people interested in recreating that experience at home.

We mock up sample products every day in our kitchen. In our preparation room the team works a day in advance of production. Everything they prepare and measure goes into the cooking stock pots the following day, thus maintaining the stock pot tradition. There are numerous stock pots and a skilled and reliable team working two shifts to look after them. The area attracts chefs and others with a strong cooking background. A separate spice room is home to three staff.

A physical barrier separates people and product in low care and high care areas. There are four production lines, line leaders and an overall supervisor and machine gurus for each line who deal with minor problems. They are responsible for line set ups and changes.

It's important to retain the existing customer base through quality products and a good service and we also aim to expand our wholesale and foodservice market share. In addition contract catering would be good for us to move into. It's an area we haven't explored. But after a period of really big growth we are concentrating on making more of a success of what we have.

Over time the expanded management team has improved productivity by 50% by a variety of methods. These include buying in selected pre-prepared ingredients; more precise and more sophisticated training and a more clearly defined staff structure.

In the past two to three years, business has really taken off and we are forecasting sales of between £12M and £15M this year. As a result we are constantly expanding new areas and buying new equipment.

We have our own engineering workshop. We buy in fresh meat and vegetables for meal components. We have separate storage areas for dry, tinned, chilled and frozen ingredients and we are looking to rent a 929m2 adjacent property where we can store all raw materials and packaging and build a 100-pallet storage freezer.

Temperature controlled storage includes finished goods chillers and freezers with dedicated areas for large customers for whom there are daily deliveries, to guarantee a minimum chilled life of six days in store.

An additional chiller has now been installed exclusively for the Asda business and as new refrigerated units are required they are designed and built by the factory technical team.

Factory facts

Location: Laila's Fine Foods, 91 Moor Park Avenue, Blackpool, FY2 0LZ

Staff: 140

Size: 3,066m2

Operating Hours: early morning to 9pm, five days a week

Products: Meat-, fish- and vegetable-based ready meals, of which 60% are frozen and 40% are chilled, and complementary side dishes such as rice or mash. Retail represents 65% of business and wholesale and catering 35%. Ranges include Italian; curry; Mexican; traditional English and Far Eastern dishes, plus recipes from the rest of Europe.

turnover: £9.5M in the past financial year, forecast to reach at least £12M this year

Personal

Name: Laila Remtulla

Age: 54

Career Highlights: "Probably supplying Booths' stores and then winning the Yates's business, which was our first truly national contract. It was tough to get that, but someone else was delisted and we phoned the buyer every day to get them to see us. Another highlight was seeing our products in Asda for the first time."

Domestic: "I'm married to my husband Nazir, with three daughters, all of whom are involved in the business."

Outside work: "My family keeps me busy. I also love being a housewife and keeping the home tidy. Entertaining at home is what I really love."

Related topics: People & Skills

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