Interview: Helen Burgess, Little Cooks Co

We caught up with Helen Burgess, founder of Little Cooks Co to discuss how she moved away from her roles as a Government Strategist to start a subscription service designed to teach children to create nutritious food. We also find out her thoughts on the childhood obesity crisis, who inspires her in food nutrition and one pivotal book that changed her mindset completely.

Hello and welcome to Chatting Food. We are completely in love with your concept. Can you explain in your own words Little Cooks Co?

It is a little box of baking joy for children! We send our happy little boxes out each month, containing all the dry organic ingredients to make healthy baking recipes, which have been created by a qualified nutritionist. The kits are designed to be as nutrient dense as possible for children, and we highlight a nutrient in each kit to give children an early understanding that food and the body are inextricably linked, but in a fun, non-scary way! But just as important is the opportunity our kits give families to connect and make memories together in the kitchen, away from screens and distractions.

Your boxes sound like the perfect Christmas gift. Do you have levels of subscription and can you gift boxes?

They make such a lovely gift. There has (quite rightly!) been a real shift away from giving ‘things’ (particularly plastic) to people wanting to give experiences and learning. We are an eco-friendly choice because we use organic ingredients, compostable food packaging and recyclable cardboard in our kits; and we offer learning, fun and opportunities to make memories each month! I think that’s why we won an award for Children’s Gift of the Year 2019 which I was absolutely blown away by!

People can gift a single box or sign up for 1, 3, 6 or 12 month plans:

1 month = £12.99

3 months = £35.99 (8% discount)

6 months = £59.99 (23% discount)

12 months = £99.99 (36% discount)

Before starting Little Cooks Co you were a government strategist and worked in Cabinet Office and No 10. How and why did you leap into the food industry?

Nutrition has always been my passion, but for some reason, I didn’t think about trying to make a career out of it until I hit my 30s! I was working in Cabinet Office and No.10 when I left to go on maternity leave to have my son in 2013. I absolutely loved my career in Government, but the hours could be brutal and the stress intense. I had been in a role with very privileged access to information across the whole of the Government’s work. Still, my attention was always drawn to the health space (obesity, hospital food, education). Having my son was transformative and gave me the courage to quit my job and retrain for three years in nutrition, and I haven’t looked back!

You pivoted your business after realising the need for dry ingredients to be added to your boxes. What challenges came with that decision?

That’s right, when we launched, we provided the recipes without supplying the ingredients. We now include all the dry ingredients for the baking recipe. Looking back now, it seems pretty obvious that we needed to supply ingredients in a kit that was primarily being used by time poor parents! We needed to be part of the answer, not the problem. The bonus of being a small start-up is how agile you can be though, and within 1 month of recognising the problem we had re-modelled the boxes, registered with the local authority as a food business and sent sample kits out for testing. That is what I love about being part of the SME world – it’s so dynamic and exciting! (which was sadly not my experience of working in Government!)

As a female entrepreneur, we can imagine you have faced many challenges. What have been the highs and lows since starting your business?

I can very happily report that I haven’t come up against any challenges as a result of my gender. The big one I was warned would be hard, particularly as a sole founder, was securing investment. However, I didn’t find this to be the case at all. I met a fantastic fund, pitched to the board, worked through the due diligence and had the money in the bank within a month of meeting them! They are fantastic partners and have helped fill the gaps in my skills/experience.

I would say mindset has been the most important part of my journey – moving away from one that feared failure to one that sees it as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s taken a while (and a lot of reading – highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book Mindset), but I am getting there!

If you could go back to Day 1 and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Read Mindset immediately!

Who inspires you in the industry, and outside of it?

Gosh so many it’s hard to distil. Jamie Oliver has obviously had a huge influence on getting the Government to take notice of the childhood obesity crisis and influence school meals. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is also a legend in this space. I love Lucinda Miller for her amazing advice on childhood nutrition. I love Dr Chatterjee and the amazingly positive influence he is having on society, and particularly in helping the NHS bring lifestyle and diet into their thinking.

There are a lot of stories in the press currently regarding the issues of childhood obesity, screen addiction and generations of individuals who are unable to cook. What do you feel can be done to tackle this and how vital a role do you feel food educat