Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley on why ethical brands will endure

It has never been so important for brands to stand for something and stick to their values, according to Ella’s Kitchen founder and chairman Paul Lindley.

Paul Lindley Ella's Kitchen

In the current political climate, there is an urgent need for businesses to carefully define and execute their brand values. The vocal reactions of various brands to the presidency of Donald Trump in the US, and campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate in the UK, suggest that values and ethics can help businesses to navigate their way through turbulent times. Few brand owners know this better than Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley, who has built his business on an evangelical commitment to its founding values.

Lindley set up the organic baby and toddler food brand in 2006, following his experience of caring for his first daughter, Ella, whom he named the business after. Unhappy with existing options in the marketplace, he decided to create a product geared around ethical and natural sourcing, nutrition and taste. Today, Ella’s Kitchen is a market leader in the UK with a 30% share, and is sold in 40 countries.

The brand’s packaging, tone of voice and marketing activities have remained consistent with its wholesome family values throughout this growth. Lindley is often called upon to talk about how to build ethical brands in an uncertain and quickly changing world, and will touch on these issues during a presentation at Mumstock 2017, the marketing conference organised by parenting network Mumsnet. In the same month, Lindley will launch his first business book, looking at how “thinking like a toddler” can help adults to achieve greater success in life.

Commenting on the heightened demand for ethical businesses, Lindley argues that brands that can generate an emotional connection with consumers are most likely to succeed. “It’s about giving people a belief that there’s a purpose to what you’re doing beyond just making money,” he says. “Businesses are waking up to the fact that in order to engender trust and get people talking about them, they need to have an emotional, as well as a functional, relationship with consumers.”

Thinking like a toddler

Lindley is not a marketer by training, having qualified as a chartered accountant at KPMG at the start of his career. In 1994, he became deputy managing director of children’s television channel Nickelodeon in the UK, where he gained a grounding in marketing and also began to think about wider ethical issues and how they were applicable in the business world.

“One of the things I came across at Nickelodeon was the idea that TV was seen as a bad in society because our children were getting less healthy,” he explains. “A third of them are overweight and a quarter obese, and television was being blamed. It made me realise that if you could make an engaging brand trusted by parents, that made healthy food that kids like and was fun, maybe we could address that social issue of too many unhealthy kids.”

Lindley recently changed his role at Ella’s Kitchen from CEO to chairman, though he remains closely involved with the business. In 2015, he set up Paddy’s Bathroom, a line of toiletries for babies and toddlers that use natural ingredients. The brand was named after Lindley’s other child, Paddy, who is now 14 (Ella is now 17).

As his new book testifies, Lindley has learnt much of his marketing philosophy from his own children. Entitled ‘Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler’, it argues that as toddlers, we are more creative, confident and determined, and that we lose such attributes as we become grown-ups. Unimpaired by self-consciousness or bad experiences, toddlers think, speak and act more freely, the book claims.

Ella's Kitchen
Photo credit: Phil Adams

Lindley sees it as a practical guide for brands that want to resonate with consumers on a more emotional level or create a fun and creative culture. It features a foreword by Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson, whom Lindley has worked with on various charitable initiatives.

“Virgin exhibit a lot of child-like qualities and many of its values overlap with Ella’s,” he says. “[The book] has come at a time when [Branson] has new grandchildren and is seeing on a daily basis them learning to walk and falling over 500 times, and being determined and creative about it. It has very much resonated and it’s great for him to say that this is how he built the Virgin Group as well.”

In the case of Ella’s Kitchen, Lindley credits the ‘toddler mindset’ for its bold approach to product development and branding. “We mixed together ingredients that no one had done before and we effectively revolutionised the baby food industry with the colours we used on our packaging,” he says.

“The safe advice was to go pastel – greens, browns and organic cues everywhere. We went with bright primary colours because we felt it was more important to engage the child in something they would recognise as bright and engaging, and they would associate that look with the fantastic taste and experience across all of their senses that they have with our products.”

Targeting millennial parents

Lindley hopes that these carefully honed core values will hold Ella’s Kitchen in good stead amid the continuing uncertainty and market turbulence caused by Brexit. The business imports a large proportion of its raw ingredients from across Europe and has seen its costs grow significantly because of the sharp fall in the value of sterling following last year’s EU referendum.

Although the brand has not yet opted to put prices up, preferring instead to negotiate terms with its retailers, Lindley is conscious that it may need to restructure operations once the final Brexit settlement is known. Ultimately, he believes that customer loyalty and affection towards the brand will ensure it continues to thrive, regardless of changing market conditions.

READ MORE: How marketers should deal with post-Brexit price rises

“With all this uncertainty, we will [continue to] have a strong business as long as we focus on the ‘why’ of why we set up the business,” he argues. “What is our mission and how can we try to fulfill that everyday?”

Noting that today’s young ‘millennial’ parents are both time-poor and tech-savvy, he urges marketers to focus on simple messages, delivered in the right context.

“They are incredibly busy people that use mobile for most of their online [activity], and it is a generation that has ethics and values,” he says. “They resonate with brands where values overlap with their own, and they’ll be making some purchase decisions based on their beliefs in the ethics of the company, as much as the belief in the functionality of the product.”

  • Marketing Week is a media partner for Mumstock, which takes place on 26 April 2017. Click here to view the agenda and book tickets.

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