SALSA for your food business, is it worth it?

Mid 2015 we had the chance to meet the buyers from some prestigious British retailers (think along the lines of Harrods, Selfridges, etc). The consistent feedback from buyers was that they loved Karkli, the taste, the branding, the story, the quality, but the push back we continually faced was our lack of SALSA accreditation, and without this or BRC they would not be able to sell Karkli in their store.

What is SALSA ? It is an organisation that’s involved in certifying smaller food business, to ensure they are maintaining standards to keep the public safe.

One of my targets when setting out on the Karkli journey was to see it on the shelves on one of these stores, especially to make my mum proud, to see her snack in these stores. It is also the well trodden path for small artisan producers as they work up through the traditional route to “success”.

So many companies have come up this route, as they scaled from a dining room idea, to multi gazillion pound business.

By the way, I’m not saying I agree with this path or that it represents best way to generate the most revenue either. In fact I will do a post in the future about food companies that are generate all their sales online, running into the millions.

Back to the story!

So in the second half of 2015 I figured I have to prioritise getting accredited by SALSA.

SALSA’s website has the SALSA standards readily avaiiable on their website. 9 pages, that’s it!! Pah!!! This should be easy! Those famous last words.

The problem is each section has further subsections, 89 of them infact, which have to be complied with. And you can’t just tick yes or no. You have to protocols and systems in place to address the standards. Then you have to be collecting the data to prove you are doing it.

The task of developing all the systems is not difficult, but with no experience in the audit field, it is tricky and arduous.

I left it for a few weeks trying to figure out how to make it happen, and it slipped to the back of my mind till I met Bruce Langlands of Harrods and he asked me if we have it! A good kick up the backside to get this task done.

I had to enlist help.

SALSA do have a package for a day’s mentoring, but this is grossly expensive at £370 (£920 for the package minus £550 for the audit). And one day is not enough to get all the paperwork in order.

So I needed to figure out a cheaper way. Thanks to the E.U there was funding via Manufacture Advisory Service, which had a fund for 50% of the total costs to work with consultants to grow a manufacturing business (including food).

Sadly MAS has closed down, but there’s usually a bunch of various funding routes available. Innovation vouchers are pretty good, also your local council’s economic development unit are a great source, I would highly recommend developing a relationship with the peeps there. How? Just call them, say hello, tell them what’s going on in your world. Send some freebies. They are a gold mine for helpful relationship, well our dude is!

We just had to find a consultant to work with, I’ve had a bad experience with a terrible consultant, so wanted to choose our one carefully.

The problem with consultants in my book, is they are there to get you to keep employing you, so never give you the solution.

So the hunt was to find a consultant that works for a not for profit organisation, I figured their motivation isn’t the money, but providing a great service and helping businesses.

Thankfully in our neck of the woods there is the excellent East Midlands Food and Drink Forum. There is a membership fee, which entitles you to get discount to services, and lots of freebies advice and tools. I would sign up for the bronze membership when starting up, get loads of free advice, get your SALSA, then don’t renew it until you need more help. Cheeky I know, but I’ve got to put food on the table!

We first worked with Richard Wigley, Peter Atkins, and then Jignesh Parekh, and they were all excellent.


For a start they didn’t record every second they spent with you. They were easy to reach at the end of the phone, oh and didn’t charge for that. They’ve had real food business experience so come from a practical place, not just theory.

What do you get for the money? If you want to see it word for word, here’s the quote — FoodandDrinkQuote

  • In essence 5 days of their time
  • Advice to help us set up our unit and equipment
  • See our process, advice how to improve it and then create our Quality Manual and HACCP documents (basically our SALSA bible).
  • Be there on the audit day, to answer any difficult questions.

It did take a bit longer than expected, but that was my fault, I wasn’t as quick getting all the paperwork in time, I reckon if I was totally on the ball, everything could have been in place within 2 weeks.

The audit process itself is straightforward, a testament to the work Richard and Co put into getting us a ready. The auditor watched part of our cooking process, went through our QA and HACCP docs, asked a few questions and that was it. They were a few things that needed minor attention post audit, which was around 45 mins of work at most and within a couple of weeks, we were successful!!

So the costs

  1. SALSA fee — £500
  2. Food and Drink Forum Membership fee — £110
  3. Food and Drink Forum audit fee — £1350
  4. Discount — £730
  5. Total — £1230

So a grand total spend of £1230 was needed to get ourselves SALSA certified, plus a bit more to cover the expenses of equipment and consumables.

The 1230 Pound question — was it worth it?

With average margins of 50% in the speciality food sector. One has to generate £2460 from new customers who wouldn’t do business with us when we weren’t SALSA registered, to approximately break even.

On that measure, it has definitely been a worthwhile. We have managed to work with Tate Modern, Manchester United and Sourced Market, big organisations who we otherwise would not have been able to supply and the revenue generated from these contracts have more than paid for the audit and consultation fees.

But more important than that, is the thought process that has been instilled in our culture by the FDF team. They helped implement processes that allow us to scale up, take on staff, train them and grow the business, knowing we can track quality. It got us out of the mentality of a kitchen business in a larger space to a professional producer mentality.

And I think this paradigm shift has been invaluable in helping us grow Karkli, and reduce the need for me to monitor every step. As it is all documented, our team can easily see what they are supposed to do, and not have to call me for every little questions.

So huge thank you to these guys for their help, and I’m sure the SALSA accreditation will help us work with some more great retailers.

Food for thought

  • How much time would it have taken for me to get the paper work myself?
  • SALSA really need to improve their customer service, they were trying to charge us to have our profile on their site and be included in their mailing list. Surely if they get lots of testimonials from small biz who have gone through their process, it will improve their visibility and help the SALSA brand, creating a virtuous cycle.
  • What’s the best way to find good consultants?
  • Processes to automate your business so you don’t have to be there all day everyday (as I type this at 1:52am).
  • If anyone wants to see our SALSA docs to save on consultants fee, give me a shout, happy to share with the right peeps.

Would love to hear what you guys think, if you’d like to add something comment below and if you want to reach out to me directly via twitter @chomponkarkli or via email