Free from firm Kirsty's targets new jobs as it prepares to double capacity at its Harrogate factory

The Kirsty’s free from brand of healthy food products is looking at a significant increase in recruitment as it prepares to double the capacity of its Harrogate factory.

Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 3:13 pm

Founder Kirsty Henshaw relocated the business to its new £2m premises in Yorkshire last year, grew turnover by 11 per cent during 2021 and is now setting her sights on new product ranges and increased sales.

Kirsty’s supplies everyone from the smaller end retailers to the likes of Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Morrisons.

Despite a difficult 2021 in which the business she founded at her kitchen table was hit hard by the twin impacts of Brexit and the pandemic, she insists her firm is on track to be come a £25m turnover company by 2024.

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Kirsty Henshaw, founder of the firm that bears her name.

To facilitate this she plans to double the size of the factory and is on track to recruit 50 people from December to the end of March. She is even considering providing transport to help people who cannot drive reach the factory on Springfield Farm Business Park close to Menwith Hill, near Harrogate.

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“We had to send a shift home every time someone got Covid. Drivers were not coming. We were underdelivering every day. It was a disaster.

“We were constantly thinking ‘what is going to go wrong today?’.”

With Peter Jones

“That said, this year is going to be so much better. We are going to be stronger in every way possible.”

Despite the negativity Kirsty’s new gluten and dairy free Chinese and Indian chilled ready meals enjoyed a successful launch and sales of desserts and pizzas increased 59 per cent year-on-year and 29 per cent year-on-year respectively.

Asked why she felt the firm was increasing its sales, Ms Henshaw said she believed there was a lot of noise in the marketplace about plant based products but less so about free from, which is her firm’s main stock in trade.

“There are not enough vegans to satisfy,” she said.

In front of the Dragons on BBC TV.

“Free from is often forgotten about. But we do not forget.

“Vegan products make a lot of noise but our brand keeps growing. We are owning our own space. We do have some vegan products but that is more by default.

“We work what people want which is normal products without allergens and making things normal.”

Ms Henshaw started her business in Lancashire 11 years ago after she tried to make dairy free ice cream for her young son.

Ms Henshaw in an advert for the firm's products.

Soon the then single mother was selling at small scale and wanted to grow her business.

Famously she found her self on the BBC reality television show Dragon’s Den where her inspirational story was enough to attract investment from both Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne.

The Dragons would later exit the business after a period of three years supporting Ms Henshaw before all parties decided to go their own way.

Kirsty’s has, like many firms, faced significant disruption owing to both Brexit and the pandemic, with the former causing issues throughout significant areas of the firm’s supply chain.

However, given her lived experience, it has been a period that Ms Henshaw has risen to.

“I am definitely used to it, in fact I thrive on it,” she said.

“When things go wrong I learn from it and make it better. Things that are negative I see as opportunities.”

She added: “Brexit hit us really hard. We had to stockpile which resulted in a negative cash flow. With Covid on top it meant we had two nightmares to deal with.”

The firm is set to establish a new take away range this year and Ms Henshaw said moving to Yorkshire was a brilliant move for her business.

“The staff we get we retain,” said Ms Henshaw.

“It is a beautiful location and we are now well established. I would not move from this area. The area is a perfect fit for us.”

When asked what her hopes for 2022 were, she said: “As little drama as possible.

“We have invested in new kit so we will be able to make double what we currently make. Up to now we had huge sales but not the capability. We are now a recognised name and people know and trust the brand and what we stand for.”