Marion Grasby’s list of achievements is impressive – but it’s her own business which she considers to be the true feather in her cap.
Leaving behind a successful journalism career in 2008, Grasby went back to university to study a Masters of Gastronomy to learn more about the historical, political and social aspects of food and wine.
Taking a break in 2010 to compete in the second series of Masterchef, the opportunity kick started what is now the culmination of a lifelong dream to create her own food range.
Working with her husband and business partner Tim Althaus, the Marion’s Kitchen Asian meal-kit range is now stocked nationally by the major supermarkets, as well as independents.
“We launched at the start of 2011, and Tim and I had discussed what it was we wanted to do – and the one passion that I had was in seeing a gap in the Asian retail market for really premium, and good quality Asian products,” Grasby says.
Talking to friends who wanted to make authentic dishes at home like they had tasted whilst traveling, Grasby says the business idea was driven by the desire to bring premium ingredients to the mass market.
“We had to nut out exactly what it was that we wanted to make. I knew the flavours I was after, but it’s a tough market to be in – to be in the supermarket sector. And we wanted to create something truly different. So the first thing was to say ok well I want to create a meal kit format, that hasn’t been done before, which allows people regardless of whether they’re a novice or an experienced cook, to create a super tasty dish at home,” Grasby says.
Together with Tim, the pair flew to Thailand for a research phase, and to meet with potential partners.
“We had no manufacturing or retailing experience, and just knocked on doors. We went to factories, to manufacturers, producers, and we said ‘Here are the recipes we want to create, would you like to work with us?’ And there were so many manufacturers of course, because they deal with big companies like Nestle, who kind of turned around and laughed at us – but we eventually found some producers who wanted to make really good quality products, and wanted to take a chance with us.”
Grasby says the research phase was an important step before they approached any stockists with a business plan. After finding a distributor in Australia, and successfully pitching to the supermarkets and smaller independents, Marion’s Kitchen launched nationally.
“Our plan was always to take this nationally. So rather than starting small, which would have been less risky option, and far less financial investment, we decided we wanted to go big because we felt that was the best way we were going to get the business to work.”
At the end of last year, Grasby and her partner made the decision to move to Thailand to further the business.
“It was a pretty big decision, but we really felt that the business was starting to take off, and I felt that in terms of product development, it was quite important for me to over here, closer to my producers, and also just to be inspired by Asia. I think the real key to the success of our product range, is that it’s being inspired by real Asian food, and that there’s someone on the ground here, searching out those dishes, and the ingredients, and the flavours, and putting them into a product that works back in Australia.”
As it stands, the Marion’s Kitchen range comprises seven products, and there are firm plans to expand in the next 12 months. Now with some hard lessons under her belt, Grasby believes that her business is in a better position to continue product development.
“You don’t always know what’s going to work in the marketplace. But for me each product has been like my baby, I work on them for so long, and the challenge for me is to detach from them and say ok that product is not working – as much as I love it – we need to ditch it, move on, and not think about it.”
Grasby also maintains a direct link with her customers by self-managing the Marion’s Kitchen Facebook page. With over 60,000 followers, Grasby says that talking to people herself, seeing the photos of dishes that customers have made, and hearing first hand what people like and don’t like, is a great way to get immediate feedback.
Grasby adds that following her passion has meant that even when on holidays, her and her partner will be punching away at it, discussing future plans for the business, and dreaming up new product ideas – all because it’s something they love.
“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t have the opportunity to go and do what they’re passionate about, so if you’re lucky enough to have that chance, you should absolutely take it.”