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Entrepreneurs Panel

Michael Oliver
David Pollock
Brian Hay
Charlie Mullins
Steve Purdham
Jeremy Roberts
Jennie Johnson
Laura Tenison
Richard O'Sullivan
Debbie Pierce
Julie Meyer
Tony Caldeira

Annabel Karmel

If you or your other half have ever logged on to Mumsnet, you’ll have heard of Annabel Karmel. And you may well own one of her bestselling babyfood recipe books.

She is the founder and chief executive of Annabel Karmel Group Holdings, a company that includes her book royalties, her “Make it Easy” kitchen equipment range and branding rights for her various food ranges, including the Eat Fussy line sold in many supermarkets.

Over the last 20 years Karmel says she has generated approximately £60 million in retail sales, despite never having intended to enter the food industry.

She was originally a musician and singer who had performed with the likes of Dennis Waterman, Boy George and Liberace. She even released a few records.

But, just weeks after she gave birth to her first child, tragedy struck.

Karmel’s daughter Natasha, who was born healthy, died at 13 weeks from a viral infection. This, she says, “devastated” her life, and when her second child then refused to eat solid food she was understandably extremely concerned about his lack of appetite.

The only recipe books she could find were full of “boring” dishes, most of which tasted very bland, so Karmel decided to create her own baby food.

As she worked away in her kitchen developing tasty, healthy meals, she decided to put the recipes together – and so, in 1991, her first cookery book was created.

The author says writing the book proved to be a very therapeutic process, as it helped her come to terms with her daughter’s death, and was also something of a legacy to the baby girl she lost.

However, she struggled to get her book published and was rejected 15 times before Random House stepped in.

Since then the Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner has become a best seller, with new editions published regularly.

Karmel was then asked to write more books and she says she leapt at the chance. She has since written another 23 books, selling more than four million in 12 countries.

She tells us that she never thought her books would be as successful as they have been and that she thought that once her youngsters had grown up, she would return to her job as a musician.

However, fate intervened and Marks & Spencer asked Karmel to develop a chilled food range for youngsters.

This, she says, proved to be her eureka moment.

She explains, “I suddenly realised that something with my name on it would actually create a brand, so I decided to build my own brand on the Annabel Karmel name.”

The meals, which are aimed at one to four year-olds, are now sold in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco.

Karmel tells EN she wasn’t worried about the possibility of damaging her personal brand because, she says, she does not lend her name to anything over which she does not herself have quality control.

“We design the recipes. We control everything that we do. I don’t just let people have my name and run and do whatever they want to do,” she says.

“We are very conscious of the fact that we have to protect the brand.”

Along with her “Eat Fussy” supermarket ready meals, Karmel has created the “Make it Easy” range of kitchen equipment, which she sells direct via her website.

The author-turned-businesswoman also teamed up with Disney last year to create a range of healthy children’s snacks.

And Karmel has just begun fronting her own TV show, which she hopes will inspire children and teach them how to cook healthy food. The show, Annabel’s Kitchen, is broadcast on CiTV.

Her book royalties, she continues, provided her with the capital to start up her own business.

She adds, “I didn’t take any investment in my business. I was advised not to do that and I think that was a good idea. If you can hold out then hold out, because then you can have control over your business. I made all of the decisions.

“However, if you do have to use someone else’s money, then you have to treat it as though it is your own because otherwise you may be tempted to overspend.

“I’ve seen other fi rms overspend. I would never do that, even if it was an investment from somebody else.”

She explains that she was lucky with her timing and says her business keeps growing because people are more aware of nutrition. She could not, she continues, have created her food range 20 years ago because the levels of awareness about healthy eating simply did not exist back then.

So, what’s next?

Karmel says she wants to continue developing her food range and she would also like to expand into America.

She explains she would like her TV show to be broadcast in the States, as she feels this would help to build her profile.

“There is nobody who does what I do in the States, but the entry point might be starting in Canada, as it easier to break into.

“There is just so much to do, I never have enough hours in the day.”

Like most successful entrepreneurs, she admits she doesn’t really have a great work/ social life balance.

“It is much more work-orientated and I do work very late and long hours and most weekends, but someone once said to me that if you do something you love, you will never work another day in your life.

“I kind of feel like that, as I love what I do. You do it because that is what you want to do anyway.”

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