How deliciously Ella built a $25 million plant-based empire – Advice Eating

When Ella Mills started her plant-based recipe blog– Yummy Ella– In 2012, business was the very last thing on her mind.

After spending a year in and out of hospital with illnesses that took her mental and physical health to an all-time low, the 20-year-old simply wanted to explore the impact a less-processed diet could have on her health. And learn to cook at the same time.

“I never intended to start a business,” she admits, “but like many founders, when I solved my own problems, I realized that there was a clear opportunity to do the same for millions of other people.”

Ten years ago, just 5% of UK households shopped in the plant-based category, compared to almost 50% today, and Deliciously Ella quickly found itself on a similar path.

The blog took off in a matter of months, fueling sell-out supper clubs, cooking classes and sponsorships – all of which funded the development of their first “true” commercial venture, the deliciously ella app, which charted at #1 in the US on day one in the Food and drink category in the UK App Store.

The publishers immediately demanded the opportunity to collaborate on a plant-based cookbook.

“Our first cookbook changed everything,” she says. “Before that, we were a relatively niche, if very engaged, online community, while the book took us into the mainstream narrative.”

This first book, published in January 2015, not only spent eight weeks at number 1 on Amazon – in all categories – but also became the fastest selling debut cookbook of all time in the UK.

“I met Ella a few months later and we both felt the opportunity for growth was tremendous,” adds Matthew Mills, her now husband. “I wanted us to really scale Deliciously Ella and we achieved that through our grocery store first. With the dynamism of the book, we were able to build up sales very quickly.”

Of course, with rapid expansion came rapid learning.

With an industry-defining range of over 40 plant-based foods, an app and four other best-selling cookbooks in development, the decision to open plant-based cafes in London proved premature.

After losses of nearly £724,000 ($909,000) in 2018, both branches closed in their infancy.

“A large portion of the losses came from asset write-downs versus trading losses, but of course it was a hit nonetheless,” says Matthew. “Running a loss-making business is a lot more stressful than running a profitable business. It’s wasting valuable time trying to fix something that’s not working instead of focusing on the things that are working fine.

“We cut our losses at the right time – all of our businesses are profitable and have been for some time. We are only interested in new opportunities if they are profitable very quickly.”

With that in mind, Matthew also decided to discontinue the company’s original app shortly thereafter and replace the one-time purchase model with a subscription service.

“It grew quickly, gave us consistent, predictable cash flows and gave our group a second major opportunity for real scale,” he says.

Today, as Deliciously Ella celebrates its tenth anniversary, the couple are expected to gross in excess of £20million (approx.

“It’s the smallest part of our business,” Matthew admits, “but it’s an important brand house with a number of valuable soft benefits. It has been trading profitably since it opened.”

Their grocery products (now available in more than 6,000 stores across the UK) have been purchased by 2.7 million households in the last six months alone.

And as the division with the highest turnover of Deliciously Ella, expansion plans to Europe and the USA are imminent.

“Looking back, I would say that nothing is ever as bad – or good – as it first seems,” says Ella. “You have to be solution-oriented and find a way to always put one foot in front of the other.

“Scaling a business is an incredible challenge and will take your entire life, but it can offer extraordinary opportunities for personal growth. I never thought we could achieve what we achieved ten years ago.”

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