From idea to thriving business, LittlePod credits SWMAS support
Amidst the joyous celebration of their Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, the Adelphi hand crimper funded by SWMAS when LittlePod’s turnover was just £23k, is spotted by the Lord Lieutenant of Devon.
The juxtaposition shows just how far Janet Sawyer has taken LittlePod in 8 years. Inspired by a vanilla awareness event held by the Farringdon Society of Arts (of which Janet is a founder and Director), Janet’s idea of developing an innovative product to help vanilla farmers has blossomed into a company actively supporting apprentices and interns of all ages.
Today, LittlePod’s Madagascan vanilla paste has become known as an essential store cupboard ingredient. Their #campaignforrealvanilla means that more people than ever know the value of natural vanilla compared to the synthetically produced vanillin used by 97% of the food industry. LittlePod even play a role in re-establishing Indonesian vanilla farms through their support of Farmer Made.
Isn’t it fantastic, that a small company in a village in East Devon can reach out and impact on the world whilst doing social good at home.’ – David Fursdon, Lord Lieutenant of Devon
As Linda Adams, former Chair of SWMAS, noted in a card congratulating Janet on her Queen’s Award, it is difficult to hold on to the values of a company as it grows, but Janet has been able to do exactly that.
How did LittlePod know that SWMAS could help them achieve their goals?
Janet appointed Linda to her unofficial non-Exec Board shortly after coming across the ‘Manufacturing Advisory Service’ in the Yellow Pages. ‘I was determined to put this gorgeous vanilla paste, developed by a great vanilla industry expert and friend of mine using Madagascan beans, into tubes. I wanted everyone from homecooks to restaurants to large scale bakers to be able to use real vanilla in their cooking. But when you’ve never done it before, where do you start? I said, ‘there must be something like a ‘manufacturing advice service’ out there’, found the number, rang and got to speak to Phil Halse at SWMAS,’ said Janet.
‘That’s where it all started’, explains Phil. ‘In that first conversation Janet and I explored in-depth to where she wanted to take LittlePod and how they were going to get there. We set some priorities, an action plan and I then found LittlePod some funding for the hand crimper, and, with Janet at the helm, they now have the potential to turnover £5m in their current premises.’
What impact has SWMAS' support had on your continuous improvement?
With the benefits that SWMAS’ business improvement support brought, Janet keenly signed up to a systems and processes course, run by Charles Hill (previously SWMAS, now Director of Exelin, SWMAS’ sister company). ‘We still use what I learnt on that course in LittlePod. I discovered that blockages had become part of the company, that we carried them with us every day. Charles showed us how to unblock those blockages and we were then able to process an order in 10 minutes.
‘The operations manual we were also able to write fed into our stringent food and quality management system. We’re an end-process manufacturer so it’s imperative that we capture our passion and our compliance to pass on to our end user.’
So where next for LittliePod and what role can SWMAS play?
As a growing and creative company, LittlePod want to develop their global coverage (15 countries so far and counting), and they’re not averse to the possibility of further co-creations like their foray into vanilla beer and shortbread. With 18 young people so far supported through working at LittlePod too, Janet has strong plans to continue giving opportunities based on social enterprise ideals to graduates.
Aptly, on LittlePod-launched National Real Vanilla Day on 17th October, Janet will mark the incredible journey on which she has brought LittlePod since she first met SWMAS. It will also mark the continuation of LittlePod’s adventures.
‘We’ve never been able to run before we could walk but we have grown organically, in a lean manner as advised by SWMAS, into a robust and sustainable company.’ says Janet. ‘We regularly catch up with the team at SWMAS and need to again soon as we’re on the hunt for some funding for a new machine and support to embed it and the new processes in the company.’
Phil Halse, Manufacturing Specialist