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Deconstructing Series: How Ella's Kitchen changed the face of the baby food industry

Take a detour down the baby food aisle of any UK supermarket and one name leaps out at parents and toddlers alike: Ella’s Kitchen. Ten years ago, the shelves – and indeed the industry – looked very different indeed.

Back in 2004, Ella’s Kitchen – now the number 1 baby food brand in the UK – was little more than an idea conceived around founder Paul Lindley’s kitchen table. His aims were simple: to revolutionise an industry that innovation had long since passed by. No small feat, given that the market was dominated by giants – Heinz, Nestle, Cow & Gate – who had reigned since the proliferation of manufactured baby food in the 1950’s. Identifying the opportunity hidden somewhere between an increasing birth rate and the popularisation of organic, natural foods, Ella’s Kitchen was born.

For any brand to go from launch to market-leader in less than nine years is impressive: to do so as a startup with no prior industry experience is nothing short of phenomenal. As ardent admirers of disruptive innovation in all its forms, we peel back the layers behind one of the biggest FMCG success stories of our time.

Innovative: Ingredients

The Ella’s Kitchen brand innovates across the product mix: at every angle its differentiation is clear, but nowhere more so than in its ingredients.

As a total newcomer to the food industry, Paul Lindley should have been at a distinct disadvantage. But thanks to his previous role at children’s TV network Nickelodeon, he knew children, and he knew marketing. He recognised the acute need for – and market gap of – nutritious, healthy, yet fun children’s food.

Before the launch of Ella’s Kitchen, organic baby food was as an afterthought or add-on range, rather than the sole brand identifier. Instead, Lindley focused on creating a product that was entirely free from ‘bad stuff’ – additives, concentrates, and GM ingredients – appealing to time-poor but health-conscious modern parents.  

With an increase in baby-led weaningrise in homemade baby food, and the Hygge-inspired reinvigoration of family mealtimes, there have been some signs of slowdown in the baby food industry. Yet Ella’s Kitchen continues to differentiate with international toddler meals such as ‘Ariba Ariba Mexican chicken’ and ‘Jammin’ Jamaican pork’, feeding into wider ethnic food trends and appealing to a parent base that is increasingly Millennial in both demographic and attitude.

Innovative: Positioning 

Ella’s Kitchen’s focus on the ‘good stuff’ is what drives parent purchase power. But Lindley also knew that to retain their loyalty in the long run he had to appeal to their children too. Uniquely, Ella’s Kitchen positioning sweetspot is as a brand that children crave, while satisfying parental desire for intrinsic ‘goodness’.

What’s in a name? In christening his business after his own daughter, Paul Lindley instantly differentiated from a shelf packed with brand names conveying manufactured, processed commodities. Ella’s Kitchen – together with its powerful (and true) brand story of a parent who just wanted better food for his children – conveys a family friendly authenticity that didn’t exist elsewhere in the marketplace, perfectly leveraging the brand’s soft power to make waves.

Innovative: Packaging

Before Ella’s Kitchen, the baby food aisle was awash with glass jars that could just as conceivably contain horseradish as pureed pear – the opposite of child-friendly. Extending their ‘child-first’ approach into packaging considerations, Lindley came up with a solution that children could – and would want to – grasp themselves.

Ella’s Kitchen’s simple flexible pouches – in all colours of the rainbow – transformed the baby aisles. Completely tied into their ethical brand mission while appealing to environmentally conscious parents, they use 80% less material than an equivalent glass, Tetra Pak, or plastic bottle. Better yet, they can survive a two-year-old’s manhandling and are spill-free.

Innovative: Tone

Hitting the right tone of voice normally requires intense customer research, insight, and demographic analysis. Paul Lindley had access to none of the above from his kitchen table, yet Ella’s Kitchen’s brand voice is one of the most distinctive around. Throughout its touch points, it harnesses the inflections of parent-to-parent confidences, mixed with the linguistic fun-factor of toddler talk. As a parent, Lindley spoke both.

Tactility is conveyed as much through language as it is through its packaging: with pouches that proclaim ‘grab me’, and packets that demand ‘pick me up’. At times, there is a touch of the Innocent Drinks about its causal simplicity and disregard for stuffiness – ‘0% bad stuff’ reads the labels. In Ella’s Kitchen, breakfast is ‘brekkie’ and vegetables are ‘veggies’, a tone that continually perpetuates the brand’s everyday, family values.

Its iconic fruit pouches – named ‘The Red One’ and ‘The Purple One’ by Lindley’s son, cleverly predict how children would likely refer to them at home, while psychologically referencing a naming device made popular by the TV show Friends in the 1990s. One for the kids, one for the parents.

Ella’s Kitchen is an example of multi-sensory marketing at its best. Appealing to both influencer/consumer and purchaser/decision-maker in equal, emotional measure, it captures the fun factor of baby weaning, with a brand build on the values that matter to parents.

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