Sonal Patel, founder of Shilu’s Vegetarian, makes absolutely delicious vegan meals and condiments and loves doing so. In the past six month’s Sonal has pivoted her focus and is learning to also love the business side of growing her food business. One of the markers Sonal has for her success is to flip her sales split from 30% retail grocery and 70% direct to consumer to the other way around, 70% retail and 30% DTC within the next year. The goal of reversing the sales split means having more revenue certainty which will help her reinvest in her business with targeted advertising and promotions to attract more customers and increase her average transaction value.

Sonal has moved well beyond the creation process to the Activate stage of The Foodpreneur Journey™ which has meant she is refining her sales negotiations with retailers, developing a marketing funnel that includes a promotional plan and a brand new presence on social media that talks directly to her avatars so her growth in grocery is guaranteed.

Sonal’s revenue goal this year is to double her turnover and so far with two new grocery outlets recently won, she is on track to achieve her target. I am so excited to watch the growth of Shilu’s Vegetarian.

How would you describe the business you are in?

Shilu’s Vegetarian produces vegan take home heat and eat meals (curries, dals, stews etc) and condiments which are preservative and gluten free, with no added sugar or fillers, healthy and tasty!

Basically, vegan meals that people would like to make at home but don’t have the time and can pop to the shop and buy it!

What do you love about your work?

I love the process of creating new vegan meals and products and the moment when you hit the sweet spot of getting it just right. And of course, engaging with customers, listening to their stories and getting feedback.

What part of your job would you gladly give away?

Definitely SOCIAL MEDIA. However, my new year’s resolution is to get on top of it or get an expert in.

If you were starting out in business again today, what piece of advice would you give your younger you?

Join Females in Food! or get a mentor. I was working week-to-week on the business and did not have proper structures in place. If I was to start again, I would get organised, have someone to guide me and have short term/ long term goals in place.

Women start businesses 41% of the time to solve a problem. Sometimes this means we have a great vision but don’t have enough resources to sustain our business for the long term. Tell us what resources you started your business with eg. money saved, business premises, business partner, and how long before you started paying yourself?

I started selling my vegan meals and products to colleagues at work and the money I saved from that (as I was cooking at home, no labels, pretty basic) helped me to start. There were some hefty expenses at first as I produced everything to be ready for retail (even though I started at farmer’s markets), such as printing and bar codes.

I was also very fortunate that a friend of mine let me use his commercial kitchen for free for 4 months.

As you know we are passionate about women #backingthemselves. So tell us about a time in the last twelve months that you’re really proud of.

I think, like many people, going to buyers to ask them to stock your product is a bit daunting. However, one day, I took my samples to a buyer who has about 20 stores in NSW, without an appointment, found him at the head office and basically badgered him into trialing my product in one store. He’s now stocking me in 10 stores and one in Queensland. I don’t know where that confidence came from but I loved it!

As we are always growing and learning, what is the one thing you would like to take time to learn more about?

Though I am put off by social media, I feel I should know more about it. I know it’s not the be all and end all but it is important.

The world is changing so fast and technology enables us to do so much more. We’re interested in which app you could not live without and why?

Has to be Quickbooks. I can access it so quickly, it has a lot I need for my business.

Why did you decide to become a member of the Foodpreneurs Formula®?

Someone recommended Females in Food® to me, and as I said before I needed a better structure and organisation. I love the fact that it is females as I feel we have a slightly different perspective and experience in business and it’s so lovely to have support on hand.

We love to celebrate successes. Can you give us an example of how joining the Foodpreneurs Formula® has positively impacted your business? 

It has helped me think about things I never would have. For example, thinking about my customer avatar and focussing on them instead of trying to capture the whole market.

I have become more discerning as to which retailers to target and using my customer avatar to market to them.

Thank you Sonal.

Want to read more about another successful member? Check out our ‘What’s Cooking’ interview with Esty Hirsch, founder Whimsical Sweets Brooklyn.