|Stuart Franklin and his wife Kathryn used to live in West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. Every day they’d commute an hour to work in opposite directions. While Kathryn would head off to Nottinghamshire, Stuart took the six-lane motorway over the Pennines to Bolton where he worked at food giant Warburtons.
They were comfortable financially. But they wanted more to life and work than just paying the bills.
Stuart had a long career in the food industry: including time with the Iceland Foods supermarket group, the Co-Op, where he was head of merchandising, and a stint on the supplier side of the food business.
So four years ago they upped sticks and came to New Zealand. Fast forward to today and the couple are running their own business out of Upper Moutere, near Nelson.
Proper Foods Ltd supplies what Stuart Franklin calls ‘real’ potato chips – or crisps as they are known in the UK.
He’d seen the gap in the New Zealand market a while back. But, looking back, he’s bemused by how naïve he and Kathryn were about setting up the company.
“If we had known then what we know now we would have been intimidated by it all,” he says. “We’d have put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. We thought all we had to do was get an old fryer from a restaurant and just set up in business.”
The Franklins scouted several countries for technical expertise and have linked up with a US-based industry specialist who provides them with invaluable guidance and advice.
“We always worried that someone else with deeper pockets would do it before us,” says Stuart. “But that didn’t happen.”
Proper Foods took a stand at the Auckland Food Show in July/August this year. The aim, says Franklin, was to be seen by the New Zealand public as the first company making gourmet potato chips here.
“We accept that maybe we will not always be the only company doing this, but we want to be known as the first.”
Quality is key: the company uses the best potatoes, and an exacting labour-intensive production process to turn out the best possible potato chips.
In part, these are lessons learnt from Franklin’s time at Warburtons in the UK. The fifth-generation family-owned bakery business prided itself in its eye for quality. Unlike many other companies, for example, they used Canadian wheat for their bread, knowing the more expensive ingredient produces a higher-quality bread.
Stuart Franklin says he also learnt the importance of having sound business structures and procedures. “But you can see how sometimes big business allows people to turn up in body although not in mind. We know how important it is for people to be fully engaged in their work.
“We also know how important it is to recruit good people and keep them switched on and empowered.”
“We’re quite lucky,” says Franklin. “We don’t have to support a family and we have quite a small mortgage. Setting up your own company could be a big shock for people who are used to having a regular pay packet.”
Ruth Le Pla is an Auckland-based freelance writer.