Inspired by his mums cooking a Leicester man quit his IT career and launched an online multi-million-pound business empire in meal kits.
Ketan Varu used to have spicy curry kits sent to him by his mum when he was at Sheffield Hallam University 15 years ago which inspired him to launch his business Spicentice.
The business, based in Craven Street, close to the Highcross shopping centre, Leicester, has gone on to sell more than three million spice kits offering a healthy and authentic taste of Indian family cooking.
His packs include everything from chicken tikka masala spices to katsu curry kits, jalfrezi spices and balti kits.
And they don’t just cover Indian dishes. They also make kits for meals like Chinese and southern fried chicken, fajita, chilli con carne and paella.
They now sell more than 1,000 packs a day, keeping 12 people in work and now supplies national retailers such as Ocado and Marks and Spencer.
The business has been such a success that the whole family is now part of the team, Ketan’s mum Manjula quit her sales assistant job at M&S to work with him, but she has been joined by his dad Ramnik, sister Tejal, and Ketan’s wife Mita.
Ketan’s kits are gluten and additive free.
The family has also benefited from a growing trend for families to shun ready meals and cook their dinners from scratch, partly inspired by the growing number of companies supplying complete, fresh meal kits online such as Hello Fresh and Gousto.
Ketan said: “We wanted to share our love of cooking from scratch but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just Indian food because we love all kinds of different foods.
“We’ve had a great response from customers as we’ve widened the product range with many telling us they are broadening their cooking skills thanks to Spicentice.
“We’ve just moved to bigger premises with a larger warehouse to process the increasing orders.
“Mum and Dad are still involved with the company and are busier than ever which is great because our success started with their delicious recipes.”
As a student Ketan followed his mum’s written recipes and his friends loved his cooking.
Even when he went into IT he said colleagues told him his home-cooked lunches were brilliant.
Now 42, he said: “Mum must’ve thought I’d starve as a student because she sent food parcels and little letters with recipes and bags of spices as soon as I’d left home.
“I couldn’t cook at all in those days but I followed mum’s advice and soon I was able to enjoy a taste of home cooking while away at uni.
“My housemates all commented on the lovely smells coming from the kitchen so it was only a matter of time before I started cooking up larger portions to share and pretty soon all of my student friends were asking if they could come to dinner.
“Everyone loved mum and dad’s recipes.
“At that stage I never dreamed it would become a business. It was only later while working as an IT project manager that I started to see the potential.
“I would take in my home cooked food to heat at work for lunch and the same thing happened again with colleagues commenting on the smell and look of the food and asking to try some.
“Soon I was having to cook up larger batches so everyone could try some and as I developed the idea for Spicentice I would test out some of the recipes on my colleagues.”
Spicentice was launched in 2006, visiting farmers’ markets and food shows and things got serious when M&S placed an order for 80,000 units in 2008.
Orders from other supermarkets followed including Asda and Sainsburys but Ketan wanted to build his own brand with Spicentice rather than sell his products under supermarket labels.
When Mita quit her job as a primary school teacher, Ketan invested in new premises and a new e-commerce website and began to focus on online trading.