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How and why I started my food sector business

Bristol-based Kabuto Foods aims to take instant noodles to a whole new level. But what makes its products and brand different, and what inspired Crispin Busk to launch the business?

Crispin Busk launched Kabuto Noodles in January 2011, following a five-year stint as sales director for Pieminister, without doubt one of Bristol's biggest food success stories.

"I had experience of selling into the retail and grocery trade," he explains. "Pieminister was a very entrepreneurial environment and I'm delighted to have been part of that. Kabuto is in that same tradition. We're very good at what we do and very focused on developing a unique, 'big' small brand."

Instant noodle brands generally compete on price and the market seems full of similar products, but Busk says Kabuto aims to bring something different. Busk's products have no additives or preservatives, and there's a mouthwatering selection of authentic Asian flavours to choose from.

"Pieminister did a lot of things right. It took a standard product and made it better. I decided to take the same approach, but I had to decide on the right product."

Market intelligence

Busk knew that supermarkets showcase products in a certain way – premium items at eye-level on the top shelf, 'mid-range', then own-brand or 'value' products at the bottom. The knowledge helped him make his choices.

"Around this time, I went to eat at [popular Japanese food and noodle restaurant chain] Wagamama," he recalls. "People were eating mainstream Asian food, mainly based on healthy noodles. Afterwards, I walked over the road to a supermarket and noticed all the instant noodles were low cost, pretty unhealthy and with flavours such as donner kebab. It felt like there was a 'disconnect' between the lovely food at Wagamama and the instant noodles on sale in the supermarket. That moment I knew I'd found my niche."

Busk's research revealed that almost 100 billion instant noodle units are sold each year worldwide, with the UK consuming 230m, which equals about 4-5 units per head of the population. Many of us go through an 'instant-noodle phase', often when we're students, but Busk's mission is to catch people who are considering giving up on noodles and give them another reason to carry on eating them.

"Noodles are quick and easy. They appeal to a very wide range of people. We're combining a quality product with a strong brand, and our growth shows we have tapped into a real market. My aspiration is that Kabuto will be the next big thing throughout the UK and then to take it overseas."

Food for thought

New and smaller brands can be put off from trying to compete against the big established brands, especially when it comes to getting supermarket space. Buyers don't make it easy — but Busk persevered.

"To get a meeting you have to have done the homework: prices, packaging, does it look and taste good? Everything has to add up to a compelling story. It helps to have a product you believe in. There is no formula for success in grocery retailing. However, the big brands simply can't have the heart and character that smaller brands like Kabuto does," he concludes.

Written by Mick Dickinson, founder of online marketing and PR agency BuzzedUp.