"You absolutely have to believe in yourself. You also have to be humble enough to seek advice and to know when to ask for help."
Recently the Allergy and Free From Show took place in London. Over the weekend thousands of visitors went to the three day show at Olympia demonstrating how the free-from and allergy food market is big business. Women In the Food Industry co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, met Cecily Mills founder of Coconuts Organic, dairy free ice cream. Cecily’s ice cream secured two investment offers from Dragon’s Den and is now in over 600 Tesco stores.
Cecily Mills started her career in retail where she spent 5 years working for M&S. She moved onto Oliver Bonas as their retail operations manager, managing 42 stores. But during that time, she realised her long commute with a demanding job was not sustainable. She said "I changed my diet to a vegan one which helped me immensely and I felt amazing. But I realised that I missed ice cream a lot and so I started making it myself."
When asked about her experience on Dragon's Den, she said: "I knew I needed to raise some funds, but being in Cornwall and being the mother of two beautiful girls, made it impractical for me to do much networking around investment, which mostly takes place in London. I needed to do something radical to get investment. I had always loved Dragon’s Den. I had seen more and more food businesses doing well on Dragon’s Den, so it went from there. I did a lot of practice of my pitch, and was actually with the Dragons for a couple of hours, but they cut it down to 15 minutes for TV. I came out with not just one, but two offers from the Dragons."
She had three tips on impressing the Dragons, the first being to display confidence in yourself and your business, but to make sure you don’t over-step the line. Her second tip was to make sure you have a bit of history with your business, and can demonstrate you have data and customer feedback. Finally, she said you need to show your ambition. "The Dragons are sophisticated investors, they are not doing you a favour. They will want to see how you plan to grow the business and they will want to see how they can get a return on their investment."
Cecily sees plant-based food becoming the new normal. "It’s not a trend, it is here to stay. More and more people are moving away from dairy. However, both plant based and organic are very small areas in ice cream. It’s quite a hard product to develop, but we have got it stable".
To people starting out in the food industry she gave the following advice "You absolutely have to believe in yourself. You also have to be humble enough to seek advice and to know when to ask for help. You need the balance to know when to listen to yourself and know when to listen to others."
You can find Coconuts Organic ice cream online at Ocado and in 600 Tesco stores throughout the UK. Read the full interview with Cecily Mills on Women In the Food Industry's website.