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Partnership for the future

14 December 2010

Two food producers in Kent have moved into the same premises - an outstanding example of what happens when two SMEs work together. Karimix and Wooden Spoon will present their story at Appetite.

It's all go, go, go at the company headquarters of Wooden Spoon and Karimix deep in the heart of Kent. The activity at the premises is reminiscent of a particularly industrious beehive. It's a good thing there's a fish-tank on the premises - it seems to provide a degree of much-needed calm.

The well-stocked shop at the entrance provides a warm welcome to this beautiful farmhouse, which tumbles away towards kitchens, hallways, offices and other nooks and crannies. It's in the kitchens where the real business takes place - and one of the nicest touches about this old property is that from the hallway leading from the shop, you can watch the Wooden Spoon and Karimix staff hard at work as they develop the products.

The buzz has doubled since Monica Chia's Karimix moved into Jeff's Wooden Spoon headquarters. The two separate companies decided about a year ago to combine forces and move into the same premises. They got to know each other at various exhibitions and events and soon formed a friendship.

``We were always chatting about the industry, including the challenges we faced and other aspects,'' says Monica, who is originally from Singapore. ``Besides, we found we were quite similar and got on really well, so our business partnership flourished from there.''

Like any SME, Monica and Jeff have faced challenges from all comers, and dealing with the banks was always one of the most important. ``I've come to the conclusion that the person managing your account at a bank is more important than the bank itself,'' Monica says. ``If you have a good relationship with them, it makes matters much easier.''

So who exactly are Wooden Spoon and Karimix? Wooden Spoon, which is Jeff's business, specialises in manufacturing quintessentially English jams such as marmalade, lemon curd and chutney. Karimix, on the other hand, deals in spices and sauces such as relishes, curry paste and powders.

What makes this partnership particularly surprising is the fact that what the company's make are so different from each other. ``We usually joke about how we differ in terms of product,'' laughs Monica. ``They say in personality, I'm spicy and Jeff's sweet!''

Monica takes a dim view of large-scale automation, arguing that for such a small but growing concern as hers, automation actually hinders more than it helps. ``In the time it takes to get everything prepared, then ready for delivery, it's both more productive and efficient for me to make use of manual labour as opposed to automation.'' Can she ever see herself needing to automate? ``Yes,'' she says, ``but only when we're much bigger.''

The companies have much to be grateful for in terms of a government grant they received, which Monica says has given her company more of a boost than anything else. ``We were lucky to get that,'' she agrees. ``It was very good for our business, and has provided us with the help we've needed.''

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