Me and my factory: Ramona’s Kitchen

Ramona Hazan reveals her plans for her brainchild Ramona's Kitchen

Ramona’s Kitchen owner Ramona Hazan tells Food Manufacture how she is drawing on her heritage to create a thriving food business. 

My father ran a number of food manufacturing companies in my native South Africa. So, when I decided I wanted to start a business of my own, it was only ever going to be in this industry.

With my father being Egyptian and my grandparents Turkish, I wanted to replicate the food I grew up with and the Mediterranean influence is clear in everything we do.

Ramona’s Kitchen specialises in houmous, falafel, dips, soups, salad dressings, vegetarian burgers, relish and sauces.

Twelve years ago, I was making products out of a tiny kitchen in a one-bedroom flat, but today I am the owner of a £1.5M business that supplies a number of leading retailers. And we plan to keep on growing.

I moved to London about 15 years ago, and took on a job as a computer engineer. I used my spare time to experiment with recipes in the flat I lived in with my husband, and it wasn’t long before there were chickpeas in bowls all over the place.

Even the fridge had no space for any other food.

My first few recipes were quite rubbish, to be fair. But slowly, I got better and better. Eventually, when my friends would demolish everything put in front of them, I knew I was onto something.

In fact, I still test all my new product development (NPD) on my friends and family today.

After five years, I quit my job and dedicated myself to Ramona’s Kitchen. For the first 12 months, I was literally operating out of our kitchen, hence the name.

Bulging at the seams (back to top)

We finally moved into a factory in north London, and then to another factory nearby that was barely 20m2. After 10 years there, we were bulging at the seams we were so out space, it was incredible.

Last summer, we moved into this 700m2 unit in Watford. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a position to grow and, as a result, I want us to become a £5M business in five years.

The business is effectively split in two. Ramona’s Kitchen bulk manufactures to wholesalers, restaurants, sandwich shops and sandwich makers, while our Me Too! range is sold through retailers.

Factory facts

LOCATION: Unit A, 2 Greycaine Road, Watford, Hertfordshire. WD24 7GP

Size: 700m2

STAFF: 15 (10 in the factory, five in the office)

TURNOVER: £1.5M

MAIN PRODUCTS: Houmous, falafel, dips, salads, soups, salad dressings, vegetarian burgers, relish, sauces.

CUSTOMERS: Wholesalers, restaurants, sandwich shops and sandwich makers. The Me Too! range is available in Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons, Waitrose and Costco.

PRODUCTION AREAS: A high-care area for houmous and dips, and a low-care area for everything else.

FACTORY OUTPUT: 7080t a month

Having a brand in stores like Tesco and Sainsbury, albeit in limited amounts, is great exposure for us and it allows us to develop a relationship with the consumer.

On the bulk side, the chef puts it on the plate and gets all the credit, which is fine – but we don’t get to hear any feedback about it.

Dealing with the multiples can be quite tricky at times, but on the most part, they look after the little guys.

In fact, it’s almost a disappointment when they do take such care of us, because it reminds us that we’re still small!

The Me Too! houmous range adds a bit of colour and warmth to a category we felt had become commoditised and was in dire need of innovation.

Level of convenience (back to top)

The packaging really stands out on the shelf, and the flip-top lid adds a level of convenience that you don’t see elsewhere.

We currently have eight different flavours of houmous available. Original is the top selling, but the likes of Roasted Red Pepper and Jalapeño also do well.

We also plan to launch smokedand coriander-flavoured varieties over the coming months.

Our Original and Seaweed flavours were Quality Food Awards winners in 2015. My Turkish grandparents would be turning over in their graves at the idea of putting seaweed and houmous together, but it’s an ideal way of boosting nutrition – plus it tastes great.

Very often, you buy houmous and it’s hugely disappointing. It’s coarse, sour and doesn’t taste like it’s been made recently.

Our product is distinctive in that it’s creamier and smoother than most, which also makes it more appealing to children. In fact, I would never sell something my kids wouldn’t like. It’s a great way of getting nutrition down them.

Falafel is our next biggest seller, and again we have tried to add something to the category. Two examples are our recently-launched Sweet Potato variant, and our Spinach & Kale flavour.

Chickpeas are a blank canvas, meaning you can do lots of things with them. However, they are also a very challenging pulse. We’ve learned to source them carefully, as they can carry stones.

Very volatile (back to top)

They are also very volatile – no batch is ever the same – so getting a consistent product isn’t easy. Despite this, the manufacturing process is relatively straightforward.

To make the houmous, the chickpeas are soaked overnight, boiled, and then blended with the other ingredients. It’s a three-day process overall.

A global chickpea shortage in recent months, coupled with the adjustment of the pound, has had an effect on costs.

So, price is always an issue, but as we get bigger, it is becoming less of a problem for us. We are managing to buy a little better as well, and that’s making a big difference.

Growing does present new challenges, however. Last month, we bought a blending machine, which immediately created a packaging bottleneck.

We’re frequently low on refrigeration capacity as well, so that’s something we’re going to have to look at.

As we get bigger, I am changing the way I run the business and am setting up a pyramid structure beneath me. I still watch over production, but I know I will eventually have to delegate that out.

For a company of our size, delegation is very much the difference between growing and not growing. However, NPD will always be mine. It’s something that I just have a knack for – it’s Ramona’s Kitchen, after all.

Personal

NAME: Ramona Hazan

AGE: 38

DOMESTICS: Married, with two children.

OUTSIDE WORK: I’m very family-orientated, and I like to take the children out whenever possible, such as to the park or cinema.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Finding a balance between work and home life. I’m not suggesting I’m brilliant at it, but building a business that is effectively a child of its own, while raising two children, is all-consuming.

ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF: You don’t know as much as you think you know. Admittedly, I’m not that old now, but I remember being in my early 20s and thinking I knew everything.

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