Wade Lyn started Island Delight in the depths of the 1988 recession. Ever since then the company has been feeding the nation with its range of patties, frozen foods and ready meals. Patties are a Jamaican delicacy made from short crust flaky pastry with a variety of fillings such as chilli beef, jerk beef, chicken, jerk chicken, vegetable and salt fish. These products have helped to bring the vibrant Caribbean tastes and flavours to the British market.
More than 30 years later, with over 24 business lines, Island Delight, which is operated by Cleone Foods Ltd, commands more than 50% market share of the UK’s patty industry. They produce 150,000 patties a week, supplying the UK’s supermarkets such as Sainsburys, ASDA, Morrisons, NISA, COOP as well as smaller distributors such as Heron foods and Farm foods.
Keen to understand the story behind one of the few remaining black family owned businesses, I caught up with Wade’s daughter Cleo. She’s looking after the business in the interim while her father recovers from an illness. We talked about Wade’s upbringing within an entrepreneurial household, starting a business during a recession and her future plans for Island Delight.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I am impressed that the business has been going for 30 years, especially as it was started during a recession. What was the light bulb moment that led to your dad starting Island Delight?
Dad was born and raised in Jamaica and moved to the UK with my grandparents to attend University. My Grandmother had had a gas business back in Jamaica, so when the family moved to UK, they got a petrol station in Smethwick where dad worked as a pump attendant.
When he finished University, he worked for a food processing company that made a similar product but he felt he could do it better and manufacture a superior product. This was his main driver and it still is today.
Dad is a tireless innovator who is always looking for new and faster ways of doing things to improve processes and the core product. Originally, we were producing 30,000 patties a week and now we produce 150,000 patties a week. We are also the UK producer and distributor for Juici Patties. These are predominately sold in Morrison’s and Sainsbury across the UK.
Dad is a tireless innovator who is always looking for new and faster ways of doing things to improve processes and the core product
Did you ever ask your dad what it was like running a business in UK in 1980s as a black man?
In short, it was very tough for him. When he started Island Delight, he was the MD as well as the sales person. As a young child I remember him being away a lot because he was on the road visiting the head offices of various supermarkets. Eventually dad persevered with Somerfield and Safeway making the first order for Island Delight patties. As a matter of fact, he framed his first cheques from these supermarkets and never cashed them because it meant so much to him.
Starting a business is hard enough late alone doing it during a recession, a period usually marked by high unemployment and limited potential for bank borrowing. Recessions can also be synonymous with social instability, as was the case when Wade started Island Delight.
Wade’s first factory location came with ‘regeneration’ grant funding from the Government and Birmingham Council because it was in Birmingham’s deprived Newtown, which had been hit by riots.
Through his careful planning and understanding of the business environment he was about to enter into, Wade registered the business a year before he had any intention of trading. This meant that when he was finally ready to open, suppliers and potential funders would see a year-old company instead of a brand-new start-up. He leveraged his network to secure trade references, which showed a business with a track record. In my conversation with Cleo, I wondered what advice, if any Wade would give to entrepreneurs of today.
What kind of advice would Wade give to today’s aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dad is super competitive and determined. He comes from a sporting background as he was middle-distance runner in high school and I guess this is where he gets it from. We are both similar in that sense, because I play field hockey and so we are both competitive. Therefore, if dad were here, he would say:
- Be persistent and determined to make sure your business is successful.
- You have to put in the time and energy in order to make it work and you have to realise that a lot of people are going to say no but you can’t stop at the first huddle.
- Make sure that you have a plan A, B and a plan C before you go ahead
- Always look ahead and try to be an innovator where possible
Be persistent and determined to make sure your business is successful
Do you have /run /engaged in any community outreach programs?
Yes, we are long standing partners with BITC (Business in the Community Foundation). It’s a national organisation created by HRH The Prince of Wales to champion responsible business. On a regional level, members in this organisation support communities in whatever they need.
For example, during lock down we helped 3 different communities. We worked with a school in Bristol where we donated 3000 patties to be delivered as part a school lunch scheme for kids. We provided boxes to an organisation in Birmingham which was delivering food packages to the vulnerable and donated 1500 patties to another organisation in Gloucester which was delivering school lunches to kids.
That’s just what we have done during lockdown but we have always been giving back to communities and to those that need it.
I am always so happy when businesses are positively involved in communities. Going back to the business, I noticed that you mostly produce Patties, frozen foods and ready meals. Have you got any plans to develop other products? Maybe sauces?
Looking at the business with fresh eyes I realise that we have over 24 different business lines. That is a lot, especially when it comes to decision making because when your brain has too many decisions to make, you end up not making any. Therefore, I will be looking for ways to stream line what we currently have.
If we did consider a new line, it wouldn’t be until next year as we would want to see what the world looks like after COVID-19 and if there is a gap in the market for that product. The food industry is ever changing with different trends, so we would need to invest time into understanding and researching any opportunities that we see.
Ok, so what does the future look like for Island Delight?
As owners we are very focused on the future direction of the business. For example, we have started thinking about how people’s habits may change when things go back to ‘normal’. For example, will going out food shopping become a thing of the past? Patties are associated with lunch time and if people have to continue working from home, will they prefer making their lunch meals? It’s important to understand what the future looks like for our sector.
Carnival is one of our busy periods as we distribute to different stalls however, with the pandemic, it’s unlikely that Notting Hill Carnival will take place this year. We have been thinking about different ways to navigate that. All I can say is watch this space!
Thank you so much Cleo for a great conversation and insight. I look forward to seeing what you guys decide to do for Notting Hill Carnival this year.