Health on the shelf as Kirsty’s commitment to Net Zero helps it retain major retail deal

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A Harrogate manufacturer of award-winning gluten and dairy free chilled ready meals, frozen pizzas and desserts has retained a major UK retail contract thanks to support from the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP).

Kirsty’s, which was started by entrepreneur Kirsty Henshaw after her son Jacob was discovered to be allergic to nuts and intolerant to gluten and dairy, is working towards being Net Zero by 2050 which is a key requirement of one of its largest retail customers. Having a plan to reach net zero has helped safeguard the jobs of Kirsty’s 49 staff, including 18 new recruits brought on to help support its expansion.

The company reached out to MGP to part-fund an environmental audit and bring in a specialist consultant that was experienced in complex food manufacturing and could support its carbon reporting, helping it put in place its Net Zero plan.

“Our retail customer announced in January this year that it wanted all suppliers to have a plan in place by the end of the year to get to Net Zero by 2050,” explained Natalie Parker, Marketing Director. “We’ve only been manufacturing our own products in Harrogate for two years, so as a small SME this was a massive challenge, and we needed some external assistance.

“This is where the Manufacturing Growth Programme came into play, and we found the adviser very easy to work with, very understanding of the challenges of our business and very keen to put us in touch with experts and funding that made a real difference.”

The Manufacturing Growth Programme is currently the UK’s largest and leading business support programme for SME manufacturers. The initiative, which is designed and delivered by Oxford Innovation Advice and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), has secured nearly £15million in grants for 4300 companies over the last three years. As a result, over 10,000 jobs have been created and secured.

With ERDF funds being phased out, MGP is due to end in early 2023 unless the ‘essential lifeline for small to medium-sized manufacturers’ can be incorporated into the Shared Prosperity Fund.

“The Covid-19 pandemic impacted many businesses across the UK, but Kirsty’s was still able to grow its turnover by more than 11%,” Shaughan Farrow, Manufacturing Growth Manager for MGP, said. “Bearing in mind she set up her business with the remnants from her student loan, when Kirsty Henshaw says she has set her sights on reaching a turnover of £25m within the next three years, we can genuinely see that happening.

“This business is a success story for other budding entrepreneurs, recognising a need in the market based on a personal situation, having an idea, and having the guts to go for it!

“It also shows that fast-growing companies need expert support at certain parts of the journey and, by accessing MGP funding and advice, it has secured a major retail contract that has given it the platform to grow and create 18 new jobs.”

Kirsty Henshaw initially launched her business selling ice-cream in health food shops across the UK. However, trying to juggle work, parenthood and making ice-cream, she took a leap of faith and entered the Dragons Den in 2010, becoming the youngest entrepreneur to receive funding from ‘Dragons’ Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones with her range of free-from and ice cream alternatives.

Today, the meals business is worth more than £10m and supplies ready meals from its manufacturing facility on Springfield Business Park in Harrogate and frozen pizzas and frozen desserts through co-manufacturing agreements.