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Home Made Success

21st November 2016 Paul Andrews

A home-made success story: Organic growth and organic food in the US is the mantra behind successful family business, Amy's Kitchen.

It would be hard to find a better example of what a family firm can achieve than Amy’s Kitchen. In 30 years, Rachel and Andy Berliner have gone from making food in a small kitchen to fund their daughter’s college fees, to owning and managing a multi-million dollar organic food business that’s so successful it doesn’t even need to advertise.

It’s a business that began with passion and principles, and those two things still inspire it today. “It started when I was cooking for Rachel when she was pregnant with Amy,” says Andy. “We were passionate about organic food, and I didn’t have the time to cook things from scratch so I just wanted to buy good-quality convenience food. But I couldn’t find it – not even in the health-food store. And we said to ourselves, there must be people like us out there who want the same as we do. People who’d buy home-made organic and natural ready-meals that actually tasted great. So we made one product, just to test it out. It was a vegetable pot pie. That’s where it all started – with a vegetable pot pie.” 

Within a few months, that pot pie was being stocked in health-food stores across the US, and the Berliners started to add new lines to the range. “Our hunch about the potential demand was absolutely right,” says Andy. “We’d found a niche that no-one else was catering for. Everybody wanted our products – we’d just send out a fax describing our new lines and the orders came flooding straight back. The business just grew from there – pure organic growth, right from the start. We were growing over 20% a year for the first 20 years.”

Thirty years on, Amy is grown up and the business has grown up too: there are more than 230 products and 2,500 staff, production facilities across the US, and a new plant in prospect in Portugal to service the company’s growing export business. And as the company added lines and facilities it added skills to the mix too: “We started with finance,” says Rachel, “then logistics and agricultural. The last to come was marketing, because we’d always enjoyed doing that ourselves. But over the last few years, we’ve built a great marketing team. And as for sales, people join our team and stay for their careers. I think that’s because the people we hire believe in what we’re doing as much as we do. It’s part of the culture of the place.”

The business is still growing too, though it’s more like 10% now: “It’s harder to grow as fast as we did in the beginning,” says Andy, “because so many other operators have moved into the same space. But we have such a huge advantage in having been there first and established a brand people really do trust. And we know that the way to keep growing is to keep coming up with new ideas. We have products based on a whole range of international cuisines, made from authentic ingredients by people who grew up eating and loving that food. Nothing makes me happier than when we get an email from a customer saying our food tastes like what their mother used to make. Because that’s the essence of Amy’s Kitchen, right there: authenticity and great taste.” 

International cuisine has been one route to diversification; international expansion is another. The company already has a presence in Europe, with particular success in the UK, and the next big prospect is India. It’s a huge opportunity, and a completely different one to either the US or UK, but it’s ideally suited to the brand, given the growing middle class and the large proportion of vegetarian consumers. Other companies might find the sheer complexity of the Indian market daunting, but Amy’s Kitchen has always had both the courage and the confidence to back innovative ideas. 

As Andy explains, their new drive-thru restaurant is a great example: “We were always being contacted by people saying that there was nowhere healthy to take their kids – people who weren’t necessarily vegetarian but didn’t want to feed their children fast food. So we opened an Amy’s, just as a pilot, and it’s been amazing. Sales are twice what we hoped, and it’s generated this incredible following on Facebook. We didn’t even set the site up – it was started by people who ate there and loved it. That’s what the brand has always been about. We’re a big business now, but we’re still just a back kitchen at heart. A much bigger kitchen, with much bigger pots. But we care about what we make and how we make it, and people can tell. You just can’t fake that.”

About the piece - This feature forms part of the PwC Global Family Business Survey 2016, a piece of research that interviewed over 2,800 representatives around the world.  It has been reproduced with permission of PwC.  Click here to see the full results of the survey and other features.

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