Crispin Busk launched Kabuto January 2011 after a five-year stint as sales director for Pieminister, one of Bristol’s biggest food success stories.
“I had experience of selling into the retail and grocery trade. Pieminister was a very entrepreneurial environment and am delighted to have been part of that. Kabuto is in that same tradition, we’re very good at what we do, very focussed on developing a unique, ‘big’ small brand,” he says.
Instant noodle brands generally compete on price and the market seems full of very similar products. Kabuto aims to bring something different to the category by improving the product. There’s no additives or preservatives, ingredients are freeze-dried and there’s a manageable selection of quality Asian flavours.
“Piemenister did a lot of things right. It took a standard product and made it better. I decided to take the same approach. But I had to decide on the right product.”
Crispin knew that supermarkets showcase products in a certain way. There’s ‘premium’ at the top of the shelf, ‘mid-range’, and own-brand or ‘value’ products towards the bottom. The knowledge helped him make his choices.
“Around this time I went to eat at (noodle restaurant) wagamama on the Triangle in Bristol. People were eating mainstream Asian food, mainly based on healthy noodles. Afterwards, I walked over the road to a supermarket and noticed all the instant noodles were low cost, pretty unhealthy and with flavours such as Bombay Bad Boy and Donner Kebab. It felt like there was a disconnect between the lovely food at wagamama and the instant noodles that were on sale in the supermarket. That moment I knew I had found my product.”
Crispin’s research identified that there are 100 billion instant noodle units sold each year worldwide with the UK consuming 230m, about 4-5 units per head of the population. Many of us go through an ‘instant-noodle phase’ (often as students); but Crispin’s mission is to catch people who are giving up on noodles and give them another reason to carry on eating them.
“Noodles are a quick and easy. They appeal to a very wide range of people. We’re combining a quality product with a strong brand, and our growth shows we have tapped into a real market. My aspiration is that Kabuto will be the next big thing across the UK and then to take it overseas.”
New and smaller brands can be put off from trying to compete against the big established brands, especially when it comes to getting supermarket space. Buyers don’t make it easy — but Crispin persevered.
“To get a meeting you have to have done the homework: prices, packaging, does it look and taste good? Everything has to add up to a compelling story. It helps to have a product you believe in. There is no formula for success in grocery retailing. However, the big brands simply can’t have the heart and character that smaller brands like Kabuto does.”
Crispin enjoys giving something back to Bristol by contributing to DO SMITH, the community of entrepreneurs that supports local social enterprise. DO SMITH entrepreneurs come together from time to time to pool their talents and help a social enterprise solve a business issue.