Alan Rosenthal doesn’t look like a businessman, and you get the impression he likes it that way. He’s tall and slim, with a toothy smile and media-person specs, which he puts to one side before the photo shoot. While his conversation is sprinkled with phrases such as “growth in existing channels” and “new-product development”, he seems keener on discussing food, enthusing geekily about particular blends of spices and textures, and making it clear he doesn’t relish being called an entrepreneur: “I think it sounds a bit up its own arse.”
Despite his reservations, it’s a pretty accurate description. In 2007 he was a 30-year-old DVD product-developer at Woolworths, then a British high-street staple, now just a memory. “I needed a career change,” he says, “so I quit and did three months at cookery school.” A few weeks later he sold his first stew-pot at the farmers’ market at Alexandra Palace, north London. Four years on, his one-pot meals—sold under the excitable brand-name Stewed!—are in supermarkets across the country. A cookery book, also called “Stewed!”, was published in 2010. Last year he sold around 250,000 pots. The idea is simple: “to give people food that isn’t a sandwich, that isn’t pastry, that’s healthy and tastes really good”. He also wanted to exploit a gap in the market. “There were soups and ready meals, but nothing in between.” And the timing—smack in the first year of the credit crunch—may even have helped. “People still have to eat. And there was a move back to simple, traditional foods.”
The pots are brightly packaged and come in flavours that are consistently tasty. There are old favourites like British beef in ale, but also Thai green chicken, chickpea, sweet potato and feta, and—best of all—chorizo, chickpea and pork. All are gluten-free, and while a pot is substantial enough for an office lunch, they have fewer calories than most off-the-shelf sandwiches.
In March Rosenthal embarked on a riskier strategy, launching as a retailer himself, with Stewed! kiosks at railway stations in Reading and London. Stews, naturally, are on the menu for most of the day, and he has added one-pot breakfast options: porridge, granola and a variation on Boston baked beans. “Millions of people are going to pass the kiosks every year,” he enthuses. “That’s great for brand awareness.”
Our stylist dressed Rosenthal in a two-button white suit from Hackett, breaking up the planes of flat colour with a summery, chef like checked shirt and a spotted handkerchief. How did a purveyor of high-splatter food feel wearing white? “I like the shoes, and the shirt, but a white suit can’t be an everyday number for me. This is special occasions only.”
Chalk-white cotton jacket, £375, trousers, £130, navy and red spotted pocket handkerchief, £25, all by Hackett; navy and white gingham cotton shirt, £75, by Jigsaw Menswear; stone nubuck lace-ups, £185, by Russell & Bromley
Stockists hackett.com jigsaw-online.com russellandbromley.co.uk