Business Leader of the Year Kirsty Henshaw plans NPD blitz

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By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags free-from

Kirsty’s founder Kirsty Henshaw discusses NPD plans, COVID-19, Brexit and her reaction to winning Business Leader of the Year at the 2021 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards in the latest FoodMan Talks videocast.

Keeping track of key trends within the food and drink space has been key for Henshaw, as she identified what to look out for in the future.

“Plant-based is growing exponentially, but for us free-from is our heart and core,”​ she explained. “It may not be the noisiest thing in the media, but it’s still incredibly important and it’s what we do best. We do have some plant-based products and we’re probably going to be expanding in that, but free-from will always be our core focus.

“We have an exciting takeaway range that we announced last year and we’re now finalizing and will be going live later in 2021, plus things we can put through our own factory without any extra cap ex without needing to grow the factory in other areas.”

COVID-19 and Brexit

Like many businesses within the food sector, Kirsty’s has had to deal with the twin troubles of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Brexit is probably worse and I’ve felt that for the last two years,”​ said Henshaw. “We have a lot of manufacturing partners in Europe still, so we have had to manage that, but now that’s over with we can focus on strengthening our relationships in Europe and making sure it doesn’t affect products coming into the UK.

“COVID-19 has hit us a couple of times in the factory. We’ve always been prepared for it and we’ve got some very stringent measures in place, but it was always going to happen. We’re managing it as best as anyone can.”

Business Leader of the Year Award

Commenting on winning Food Manufacture​’s Business Leader of the Year Award, Henshaw said: “I was incredibly surprised because there were some amazing companies and business leaders on that list, so I was humbled. I’m learning all the time and I try to be as good a leader as I can be, especially at this moment in time, and it’s nice to be recognised for the things that we are doing.”

The award capped off a year of growth for the business, which saw the company move into its own fully-owned 2,787m2​ factory, following the completion of a £2m investment in July 2020.

“We invested a lot of money into a factory built from the ground up to ensure it was allergen-free and invested in some amazing people,”​ Kirsty continued. “We were a small team before this and now we’re a team of over 40.

Building from within

“We’ve got a lot of opportunities that we’re keeping at bay. We want to get what we do right first and then move on to other opportunities – as a business leader it’s not just about jumping at everything that comes your way, but strategically choosing the right partnerships and ventures for you.”

Reflecting on what it takes to be named Business Leader of the Year, Henshaw added: “Stick to your beliefs and keep the ethos of the business running through you. Treat everybody with the same respect, whether they’re chief executive or the operatives, and keep focused on what you want to achieve. Don’t be deviated by bright, shiny and exciting things, but instead be true to yourself and your business.”

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