CEO interview: Julie Moore, Green Gourmet
PUBLISHED: 09:24 10 October 2016
Green Gourmet is pioneering quality foods in education, airline, transport and leisure. We meet its dynamic managing director, Julie Moore
Growing up with a passion for food, and having a grandfather who worked at The Savoy in London, Julie Moore always wanted to be a chef. Nothing, not even gloomy warnings from friends and family to consider an alternative career if she didn’t get into catering college, was going to stop her.
Her backup plan was radical: “If I didn’t get into Birmingham College of Food & Domestic Arts, one of the best food colleges in the country, I was going to join the navy and learn to cook there.”
Julie did get into catering college (now Birmingham College of Food & Tourism, and it’s still one of the best in the country). Almost 30 years later her feisty attitude has helped Julie take Green Gourmet, a food innovation company she joined eight years ago, from a turnover of over £4.4 million to a predicted £16 million this year.
From its Stonehouse headquarters, Green Gourmet devises and creates brands and foods. It supplies meat, fish, vegetarian and bakery foods, including gluten free, to more than 100 local education authorities, airlines (including Monarch, Thompson and Air Norwegian) and other outlets.
Green Gourmet isn’t a food manufacturer in the strict sense, though that’s how it thinks of itself. Product innovation and intellectual property sit within the company and it buys most of the raw food that goes into its products. However, the manufacturing is outsourced. The company ships everything to one of a number of food production facilities across the country. “This gives us better long-term relationships with our suppliers and we control the quality of the raw materials we buy,” says Julie. “We take all finished stock from our food production facilities after they’ve completed our order. This ties up working capital, but it means we get the best in the market because our processors have no risk.”
Julie joined the business around eight years’ ago. She’d been called in as a consultant to help Green Gourmet founder and CEO, Adam Starkey capitalise on its early success, after her own successful career in the industry.
“I came for two weeks, and I’m still here,” she says. She was invited to review the company’s strategy. Adam is a creator, an innovator, a visionary. Julie had the right experience and a pukka set of industry contacts, knowledge and experience on which Green Gourmet could capitalise.
Following Julie’s arrival, Green Gourmet has maintained a growth rate of over 10% year on year. Expansion is part of a controlled plan to take the business to the next levels. “Anyone can grow their top line, it’s about growing profitably,” says Julie. “We have grown to 38 people. We normally have five apprentices being trained within the business and we’ve also recently expanded our new product team.”
As a job, Green Gourmet delivers everything that Julie enjoys. “Adam is a fantastic hands-off CEO and lets me get on with the management of the business. However, he’s still innovating and as MD, I have massive input into product development.”
Green Gourmet has always been ahead of its market and benefitted early from the Government’s Red Tractor scheme that promotes clearer labelling and trusted food sourcing. “This year we are likely to sell close to 900 tonnes of red tractor chicken, supporting UK farmers,” says Julie.
“More people are demanding lifestyle diets and this sector will grow. Adam is creating gluten free recipes from scratch. A recently innovation was our new burrito. We sourced the equipment from Mexico and can now make fresh tortillas from scratch. Within two hours they are filled and frozen, ready to go out to the customer.
“I love food. Everything I do at Green Gourmet is about the food, understanding it better, spotting the trends. We’re right at the forefront, and I intend it to stay that way.”
A food revolution
Green Gourmet was launched in the 1980s by Adam with a grant from the Prince’s Trust. Bringing Julie in has given Adam the chance to look for opportunities to help other individuals and organisations in the way he was helped. He also chairs the Children’s Food Trust, a national charity supporting anyone who provides food for children and encouraging the industry to help families make better food choices. As if that’s not enough, he’s vice-chair of Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership too.
Adam started Green Gourmet when he was a vegetarian. In the 1980s that usually meant nut roast, lentils or chewing celery. As an undergraduate at Birmingham University, the vegetarian menu was so awful he decided to do something about it, coming up with a brilliant vegetarian burger. From that Green Gourmet was born.
A true innovator, Adam spotted the trend towards healthier eating and local, and responsible sourcing. Before Jamie Oliver used his TV programme to condemn the nutritionally suspect turkey twizzler in schools, Adam came up with the UK’s first non flash-fry crumb, containing significantly less fat than a normal flash fry product. When Oliver-gate kicked in, Green Gourmet was in a prime position to capitalise and the business grew to £4 million turnover, much of which was achieved through selling products into primary schools. Over the years, the range has diversified into fish, chicken and other proteins.
Julie’s tasty experience
Starting her career in food production as an account manager on the technical side, Julie found herself being promoted regularly. Moving to her first sales job at McCain Chips, after just 12 months she was managing the team.
After five years at McCain, she and her husband moved to Australia to help his brother set up a management consultancy. “I love travel and I love food. It was a perfect mix.”
A year of Aussie air gave her the energy to push on with her career: First with Scottish food company Paterson Arran, then to a marketing role with New Zealand Milk, Swindon (we know it better as Anchor Foods). From there she moved to 3663 Foods (now Bidvest), finally as head of marketing for the company’s frozen division, responsible for around £650 million of sales.
Julie’s career development had, until then, been through others harnessing her talent, but as she rose up the ranks, more paper qualifications were expected.
“There are certain roles and positions which need experience over qualifications, and I certainly benefitted from that. In fact there have been times when people I worked with had lots of qualifications and should have been brilliant at their job, but just weren’t. However, to continue my progression within a national company, paper qualifications were expected.” So every weekend for three months Julie finished work at 5pm on a Friday to study for a postgraduate qualification in marketing, returning late on a Sunday night ready for her working week.
The commitment paid off. She was head hunted by Grampian (now sold to Dutch conglomerate Vion, then on to the 2 Sister Group) to become the food producer’s sales and marketing director. “Without my CIM qualification I wouldn’t have got the job,” she says, adding: “But I didn’t need the qualification to do the job.”
Her lasting memory of that position was her first ever board of directors’ meeting. “The chairman welcomed me by saying ‘good afternoon lady and gentlemen’. He was making the point that the industry was, and is still, male dominated.”
Grampian, then the biggest supplier of meat and poultry to British supermarkets, was battling changing consumer demand and rising energy and commodity prices. A year later the business was sold, giving Julie the opportunity to set up her own consultancy business.
“By that time I’d worked in every facet of the industry, from cheffing to catering, sales and marketing, account management, manufacturing, distribution and supply chain. I had the credentials.”
She wanted to focus on business and marketing strategy and with her reputation she picked up work quickly. “My first client was Agama in Moscow, Russia. They wanted to set up a food service business.
My second client was Adam Starkey of Green Gourmet.”
Read more of our CEO interviews here: