Officially London but I grew up spending a lot of time in Norfolk by the sea so anywhere with sand and ocean feels like home too.
Director and Founder of Punch Foods; we make deliciously seasoned seed snacks – Superseeds.
Punch Foods. I also consult for other small businesses under my own name and Alexandra Dudley Limited
Did you go to university?
Yes and no. I went to art school in London and have a First Class BA HONS in Fine Art from City and Guilds of London Art School.
Was it necessary in hindsight to what you’re doing now?
Perhaps not directly but it was necessary to who I am and the way I think, without which I would never have created Punch Foods. Punch Foods itself is more than just a supply chain; it is a lifestyle brand. We promote creativity and fearlessness which are two things certainly cultivated during my art school days.
Was it a clear-cut path after you left in terms of what you wanted to do?
Yes but with a few hedges I had to get through. I knew what I wanted to do but wasn’t quite sure how to get there. I went straight into a simple retail job in a similarly aligned industry that took me on to a more senior job where I learnt a huge amount about running a business.
What pressures do you think many twenty-something’s are faced with?
What aren’t we faced with? With the current economy and job situation we haven’t got it easy but I would say that what we are really faced with in terms of pressure is pressure to be ‘where we are meant to be’. Able to buy a house by X, married with kids by X, in a stable job being paid X etc.
There is a huge amount of pressure to get ‘there’ as quickly as you can but often people don’t quite know where they want to go. I was lucky and knew but I have seen many people rush into ‘conventional jobs’ only to hate five days of their week by the age of 23!
Can you explain what Punch Foods is?
Yes, essentially it is a snack company focused on providing nutritious but delicious foods that are free from artificial ingredients and preservatives and that taste great. We make real food for real people and our brand ethos is all about authenticity, ignoring extremes and keeping it sustainable and real.
How did the idea for Punch foods come about/originate?
I knew what I wanted to do from about the age of 15. I was a keen baker and made much of my money by selling cakes and catering for various friends and family so I knew food was something I wanted to go into. When I was 15 I was diagnosed as having a severe allergy to wheat or celiac condition. This forced me to change my own ingredients when baking for myself and for others and it sparked an interest in eating better to feel better. Naturally, my interest evolved and with it my ideas. As an art student I was constantly on the move and saw a real gap in the market for truly tasty on the go snacks that were suitable for those with allergies as well as being delicious so I set about trying to fill it. The tube packaging was key to the whole initial concept too. I used to constantly have seeds and nuts in the bottom of my bags as my pencils and brushes would poke wholes in them. The tube was designed to offer a truly reliable and portable solution for healthy and tasty snacking on the go.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when setting up Punch Foods?
Probably having to enter a zone I had basically no idea about pretty much on my own. I didn’t have a business partner and am still the sole director of Punch Foods. I now have wonderful employees and spend a lot of time laughing but there were times at the beginning when all I wanted was someone to tell me how to do it. Those were the times when you just need to believe in yourself and what you are doing more than ever. Sometimes it helps just to step outside the box and look at what you have achieved. I could hardly use excel when I started Punch Foods. I am not going to say I am an excel whizz today but I use it everyday and it feels pretty much as natural to me as brushing my teeth. The trick is to always believe you can do it, whatever ‘it’ is.
What were the initial steps you took in starting it up?
I wrote a rough business plan and when I say rough I really mean rough. It wasn’t till later on that I created a formal and more detailed document which is something that I am constantly reviewing and updating. What I did do was write down what my product was, who it was for and why it was needed. I did a huge amount of research into what was there, what was popular and what I felt was slightly missing. I used to spend hours standing outside my target retailers and looking at the way people shopped and how they navigated amongst the products. It sounds a bit stalker-ish but getting to know your customer is crucial.
Who did you seek advice from and who really helped you in the early stages?
I was lucky to have worked under an amazingly talented woman who had singlehandedly set up her own successful active wear line. She was ruthless about research which is where I get my research streak from and we still remain great friends; each of us constantly bouncing ideas off each other. She would criticize my ideas when they were flawed and together we would look for solutions to make them better. I spoke to other experts in the food industry too. You’d be amazed how many people are willing to share some advice over a cup of coffee. I am so grateful to all those who gave me little nuggets of information and help along the way. My father was also a huge support to me emotionally especially whenever I was feeling a slight lack in confidence – I couldn’t have done it without him.
Did you ever doubt yourself?
All the time! I still do but you just have to pick yourself up and pull yourself together. It doesn’t always mean being harsh on oneself either although I have to say I am still finding the balance at practicing what I preach and have a tendency to over criticize myself. Often the best cure for self doubt is a little bit of time away from it all just to get some perspective.
How do you market yourself?
I hate this phrase and know it is in fact something I need to do more of. I would rather not show my face every five minutes but I do love using Instagram. I use it mainly for food pictures as I am a huge foodie and it is also one way I get to stay creative and artistic. Instagram and all social media as I am sure most people know is a great way to market oneself or brand. My advice, as there is a lot out there, is to find what works for you and dedicate most of your time to that.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
Hard to say, probably more about numbers and margins but I learnt as I went on and am sure there are heaps more things I will learn as I go on. Learning is part of the journey I guess.
Ha, too many to count including a misprint on my first run of tubes. One letter was missed off which meant I had two whole pallet loads of useless packaging. I had a week and half till launch so I just had to cry for two minutes and get back on the phone sorting it out. It was all fine in the end.
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of setting up their own business venture?
Make sure you think it through, whatever it is you are doing. You are going to be living it, breathing it, sleeping (or not sleeping because of) it for most of the hours of the day at least for the next few years so make sure it’s something you are really passionate about and not a whim.
What do you think the next steps are for Punch Foods?
I’ve got so many ideas I have to keep them down as I need to focus on the Superseeds for now but I am planning more products and also to grow the lifestyle aspect of the brand. Punch Foods was always about more than just changing the way we eat – its about changing the way we live.
What has been your best moment as a result of Punch Foods?
I feel like I should say getting a big listing or great bit of press but actually for me it’s when I get really great feedback from customers who genuinely love the product. When I took a break to sort out the new packaging I received all these emails from people saying how much they missed the seeds. Every time these come through even now I am just gob smacked. Although I love my product I am always completely blown-away that people really really like them! It’s a great feeling and always unexpected.