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Wadah Salim of Plant Sumo: “Clear go to Market Strategy”

The Brand — I think that a clean effective brand, which appeals to the target demographic would be key. The reason being that now especially during covid more people are at home and everybody is online; you need to be present. While before people may come across the brand walking on the highstreet, now consumers are discovering […]

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The Brand — I think that a clean effective brand, which appeals to the target demographic would be key. The reason being that now especially during covid more people are at home and everybody is online; you need to be present. While before people may come across the brand walking on the highstreet, now consumers are discovering new brands online. It’s all about having that sticky content.


As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wadah Salim, co-founder and Operations Director at Plant Sumo — a gourmet kitchen and delivery service for plant-based and vegan food operating out of London.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in London with my single mother. My mum is originally from Egypt and my father from Sudan in North Africa. I had a fairly pleasant childhood. My mother was very hard-working and really instilled the entrepreneurial spirit into me.

I’ve always been a bit of a ‘foodie’. Initially when I was young, I was a very picky eater. However, that completely changed when I entered my teenage years. I had gone so long without experimenting with new foods, and I found myself delving into a lot of cookery programs.

This didn’t translate into action until much later, when I hit my late twenties and started my own family. That’s when I actually took the plunge and got into the food business.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

I’ve mentioned my passion for food and creativity. The affirming moment that led to Plant Sumo, however, was definitely a conversation between myself and Deepak, my friend (and co-founder). We were sitting in a McDonalds in NorthEnd Road in Fulham, West London.

I’ve known Deepak for a number of years and we’d always stayed in touch. He was in the online space and I was in the food/retail space. We’d never really crossed paths in that sense. We were discussing business, and he was showing an interest in potentially starting a brick and mortar company in the food niche. I was actually stepping away from retail, and was unsure what I would do next. He’d mentioned the meal prep industry and that was something I’d actually done a lot of research on!

Deepak has a lot of online expertise, and I have strong experience in the food and retail space. I thought, “This would be a perfect marriage of skills from both of us”. We were off to a good start, and I think that was our ‘aha’ moment!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Starting the business initially, we knew we wanted to be different to everyone else already out there. One way we decided to do this was by recording and documenting each phase of the journey as Plant Sumo developed. While this was fine in terms of recording our calls and meetings etc., we hit a snag when it came to interviewing and recruiting chefs. When we’d interview a potential candidate and come in with the camera crew (although we did ask permission), we found this often made the chefs — who are naturally quite introverted — feel uncomfortable. This potentially hindered us in our search for a dedicated, reliable chef.

Looking back, I find it funny that we took it upon ourselves to film everything. However, it did also make me realize that my people skills were actually a strength I could tap into. Watching back over the videos, I was able to adjust our approach and hone those skills to interact with candidates. As a result, we found our amazing chef Mo who’s been with us since the beginning. So I guess there was a positive outcome in the end after all. We haven’t looked back since!

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

One of the most common mistakes I see people make in the food industry is imitation. For me, there’s nothing wrong with seeing an idea and trying to execute that same idea, but you have to improve upon it or find a different way to execute it. But sometimes people literally try to parrot other food businesses or products without a proper understanding of that process. Because food is so essential, people can be tempted to think that all it takes to be successful in that space is to open a business modelled off another successful brand. It’s just not that simple, in reality!

Another mistake I see people making is thinking that once the brand is set up, it will ‘run itself’. In the food industry, the two things that matter most are consistency and quality. It’s not about letting the business run itself. Quality can change in a day, The chef could be having an off day, the quality could drop and then customers aren’t happy and it’s a snowball effect. You need to be constantly scrutinizing, analysing and on the ball with maintaining quality and consistency. It’s not as easy as it looks!

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

I believe every single person has a great idea/or potential. However, going into business for yourself is not for everyone and someone just might want the security of having a job. The majority of those that have these great ideas will not take that leap of faith and pursue their dreams. I face this issue while working in the corporate world but I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive family that rallied around me.

That’s the most important thing when it comes down to it; having support really helps you build momentum and each day, things become easier and manageable. You need to know that you are not going into business for one specific reason, but it needs to be a well rounded decision. If you pursue something just for the money for example, and it does not come into fruition, then you may end the business prematurely when success could have been right around the corner. The same for any other reason too. It is key to take a macro approach, because you will always be learning and though you might begin with an interest in a specific area, you may find yourself somewhere completely different. It’s about leaving yourself room to pivot.

Finding the expertise is crucial. If I’m trying to launch, or even thinking about launching a product, the first thing I consider is whether I am an expert in this field.

What value can I add to the consumer? If I can not add value, where can I find the experts who can?

It may just be that I am the operation behind it but I still need to make sure that I have the experts on hand. If it was a food product for example, I would make sure that I have an amazing chef, product designer, packaging. I think that the things that go around the business are more important than what goes into it.

What goes into the product is the last thing I think about. I would make sure that everything around the product like packaging and logistics for example and perfected before moving onto the actual product.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

I believe every single person has a great idea/or potential. However, going into business for yourself is not for everyone and someone just might want the security of having a job. The majority of those that have these great ideas will not take that leap of faith and pursue their dreams. I face this issue while working in the corporate world but I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive family that rallied around me.

That’s the most important thing when it comes down to it; having support really helps you build momentum and each day, things become easier and manageable. You need to know that you are not going into business for one specific reason, but it needs to be a well rounded decision. If you pursue something just for the money for example, and it does not come into fruition, then you may end the business prematurely when success could have been right around the corner.

The same for any other reason too. It is key to take a macro approach, because you will always be learning and though you might begin with an interest in a specific area, you may find yourself somewhere completely different. It’s about leaving yourself room to pivot.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I believe that someone with a new idea should strike out on their own. I think you can get help from consultants, there is no harm in it. But hiring someone can be expensive and also it is subjective. They may not agree with how you do things but you may be a pioneer. Perhaps your idea goes against the grain while the consultant may be used to doing things in accordance to the industry standard which you’re trying to move away from. Striking out on your own is the best way to develop a new idea.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

This is interesting because I like both ideas. Initially, bootstrapping is an amazing way for a business to get started. It shows true grit and determination. Bootstrapping a new venture and getting it to at least a point where you have proven the concept is key. The value of investment from a venture capitalist will be nowhere near as much as it would be if you went to them with an idea that’s not already showing signs of success. Testing the market first provides more value to yourself, the venture capitalist, the consumer, everyone involved. The best way to decide is to be realistic. If it is an idea you can afford to bootstrap for six months to a year then definitely go for it, but if you can’t, then consider a venture capitalist.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

It’s all about the people. I am an advocate of pounding the streets and identifying what is available locally. In London, everything is readily available or at least easy to access. First thing is to source locally and build relationships with experts in the field and really gain an understanding.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The Brand — I think that a clean effective brand, which appeals to the target demographic would be key. The reason being that now especially during covid more people are at home and everybody is online; you need to be present. While before people may come across the brand walking on the highstreet, now consumers are discovering new brands online. It’s all about having that sticky content.
  2. Research — It is the most underrated aspect of creating a successful business in any venture, but especially food. Researching suppliers, local competitors, the demographic that you’re hoping to target. Research, research, research.
  3. Staff — Having people onboard that share the same passion and show the commitment that a food business really needs. Once we conveyed our idea and what we wanted to achieve to Chef Moe and the team, everyone really stuck in and staff came into their own. We had people working very hard, coming up with great ideas without the promise of anything.
  4. Location, especially for specialty food brands — You have to be sensitive to what the market is doing. You could introduce something but if it’s not in the local market it will not work. For example, our kitchen is in Acton though the immediate catchment area isn’t our target demographic right now, we identified the area as one of London’s biggest regeneration projects. We know that as we grow, and as the demographic of the community changes, it will be beneficial to be in such a central location.
  5. Clear go to Market Strategy — It is all good having a great idea and team, but if the strategy is not clear then everything will fall apart. If there is no strategy the team will not be clear on the deliverables, it won’t be the most efficient use of everyone’s time and effort. Ultimately it will dampen morale.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Simple. Believe in your product. If you do so, then it becomes easier to engage potential customers, but the product itself needs to be amazing.

The best way to make people love a food product is to get it in front of them. Images, video, all types of content help engage the customer, but the proof is in the pudding once they receive it. In the food space, there are lots of different brands popping up but what differentiates most I think are partnerships such as with influencers and industry leaders. All these things definitely help, everyone is looking for that trust in the product.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The more that Plant Sumo succeeds, we are really focusing on sustainability. We have focused on making all of our packaging recyclable. Charity is very important to us. We donate to food banks and have partnerships with food charities and it is something that we hope to ramp up as we succeed.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire young people transitioning from school to going into the workplace or higher education. I think we have a lack of people chasing their dreams. I would love to support that. This is where the future is and I do not think there is enough to inspire the next generation. Especially now it’s easy to let a child grow up online, but there is nothing to foster their creativity or problem solving skills. That is something that I would love to get behind

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Gary V or Elon Musk.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


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