When I received my first Abel & Cole box I was positively delighted. Rather than the contents tasting, well, a little watery (a la supermarket fruit and veg), it reminded me of the bits my dad would bring in from the garden when I was younger. All the produce was bursting with flavour. When I researched, it surprised me that Abel & Cole operated on such a large scale, whilst keeping its core values of being organic, seasonal and just good sense all round.
Here’s my chat with the founder, Keith Abel:
MF: What would you say was more significant in achieving success with Abel & Cole – luck or hard work?
KA: It is neither just luck nor hard work. I failed my bar exams and started selling potatoes. For a significant period I wasn’t lucky or successful, and eventually had to learn how to create my own luck.
MF: Organic food was, at that point, not as widely sold or accepted as important, as it is today. How did you convey the importance of eating fresh, chemical-free food then?
KA: Organic food was a niche market when I started in 1989, but I felt, as I feel now, that a customer given a clear choice between something naturally grown and chemically treated would always choose the former. It was a matter of explaining the difference and, once I had, listening to my customers. People who liked the potatoes, for example, asked for other vegetables. Celeraic, which I didn’t know anything about before I was given a recipe, was one of the first other vegetables we sold.
MF: Are you a micromanager?
KA: I’m not overly detail-orientated. I look for quality staff and those in whom I can place a degree of trust. Trust is something of a central mantra for the company.
MF: What’s in the pipeline for Abel & Cole?
KA: We will do more of what we do now and hope to create food solutions in a healthy and sustainable way.
MF: What’s your advice to others who would like to be sitting where you are in 20 years?
KA: I would say do it when you’re young if possible, as it takes time to understand your business, and that is more difficult to do when you have responsibilities. Don’t be scared of trying and don’t be intimidated by bureaucracy – you will figure that part out. A lot of people I know who have achieved success have started in their mum’s garage with the help of friends just by trying to get something going, and I think there is a lesson to be taken from that – don’t wade in hoping to be the next dot-com millionaire but, instead, grow your business and understanding simultaneously.