Lisa Drummy is a director of Beanie’s Health Foods – for the last 10 years she has been importing and distributing Fry’s Vegetarian Foods with her business partner (and Dad!) Patrick Drummy. They started Beanie’s on an impulse when they discovered that Fry’s in South Africa were looking for someone to import Fry’s Vegetarian Foods into the UK.

Many business opportunities spring up when they are least expected. For the entrepreneur concerned, they face a choice - act quickly or someone else may seize the opportunity. The opportunity to start Beanie's came out of nowhere, which sent Lisa and her father Patrick into a bit of a spin.

"The initial challenge faced when starting Beanie’s was our total lack of experience. I am a qualified school teacher and Patrick spent his entire career in the Navy as a submariner. Although we had both had successful careers in education and the forces, neither of us had any business training. It was a very steep learning curve - within a few days of contacting Fry’s in South Africa and agreeing to take on the role of importing Fry’s foods we were in Belgium meeting Wally Fry and signing a sole import contract to bring Fry’s into the UK."

Lisa's advice to new entrepreneurs...
  • Ensure that your business centres on something that really interests and inspires you (we love good food!) If you are enthusiastic about what you are doing you won’t mind working long hours.
  • Have a business plan – if you have goals it will keep you focused on where you are heading.
  • Have some money to live on until your new business takes off – cash flow in the early days is slow and you need funds to pay your bills.

Following the meeting the duo dashed home, sourced a suitable freezer to store their frozen goods, found a refridgerated van, located premises to operate out of and organised (and funded) their first order from Fry's.

"We were very lucky that many health food wholesalers were keen from the beginning to stock Fry’s and distribute the range throughout the independent health food market. We haven’t looked back since – the Fry’s range has gone from strength to strength, won numerous awards and is now available through Holland and Barrett, 3663 and online from Goodness Direct as well as from independent retailers."

Beanie's is now doing well and going from strength-to-strength, but Lisa and Patrick's initial lack of experience meant that much of the business-building process was a case of learning quickly and adapting as new challenges occurred.

"One of the key lessons we learned was the importance of working as a team – Beanie’s is still a small family business and we have been so lucky that our family and friends have supported us 100 percent. We rely on them to help us on our stalls at regular veggie fayres, to assist us with our IT systems, to provide some muscle for all the orders we have to pick these days - without this network of helpers we couldn’t have managed to build the business as we have."

Finance is often a problem for first-time entrepreneurs - with no track record banks are often hesitant to take the risk. Beanie's avoided this issue by taking an entirely different route.

"We wanted to avoid bank loans so we begged and borrowed money from family and friends in the early days to fund the business. It’s important to have an alternative source of income in the beginning to support yourself until you have some cash flow. We sold our houses, Patrick lived off his Navy pension and I was supported by my partner Stephen until Beanie’s started to turn over enough money to pay everyone a wage."

Now that Beanie's is operating profitably in its core business area - importing Fry's products and selling them directly via health food outlets - the company is ready to introduce a new revenue stream. Lisa is keen to get the product to as many different people as possible and is always trying to find new ways to spread the word. 

"Beanie’s has continued to grow despite the recession – we put this down to the loyalty that the Fry’s brand inspires - we are fortunate that Fry’s fans have demanded the products from their local retailers and this has supported continued growth."

"Our next ambition is to introduce the food service industry to Fry’s. We recently started supplying 3663 and that is going extremely well, so our products are now available to hotels, cafes, hospitals, schools, prisons and universities, and we are constantly looking for new avenues."

Beanie's also benefits from consumers' increasing concern over the provenance of their food and the carbon-intensity of their lifestyles. Interest has surged in non-meat products and those that tick other environmental boxes, which Lisa believes is a great impetus for the future growth of the company.

The focus is now on building the brand, increasing revenue streams and getting word out that there are health alternatives to eating meat that are also nutritious and enjoyable to eat.