Diverse & Inclusive Leaders Podcast with Lelia McKenzie


· How I’ve gone from setting up new businesses to focusing on helping entrepreneurial businesses grow

· My own entrepreneurial journey (which has now lasted 30+ years and is still ongoing)

· The importance of not trying to be an expert at everything as an entrepreneur, and instead bringing on board, leading and inspiring the right people

· The reasons why I think that a male-female partnership can be the strongest type of partnership in business

Listen here: https://www.leilamckenzie.com/podcasts/episode/493993a7/the-entrepreneurial-journey-john-stapleton-non-executive-director-at-the-grocery-accelerator

Judging at the Future Food Awards

I’m delighted to be judging at the Future Food Awards this year.

The Future Food Awards are here to celebrate the new brands and innovations revolutionising the food and drink industry. Brought to you by Speciality Food Magazine and The FoodTalk Show, they're giving the most exciting businesses of today a step towards success, international recognition and money-can't-buy contact with some of food and drink's most revered experts.

There are nine categories to enter, including Young Producer and Drink Innovation and entries are open until midnight on 30th June 2019.

See the details on the website here: https://www.futurefoodawards.com/

Judging at the Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards

John Stapleton is the ‘Authentic Entrepreneur’ with 30 years’ experience in pioneering new FMCG categories and establishing and growing successful consumer-led businesses in both the UK and the USA. John now actively manages an investor/Non-Executive Director portfolio contributing value-added business growth advice, guidance and mentoring to business owners.

 John has first-hand experience in start-up, early stage growth and scale-up stage businesses, having co-founded 3 FMCG businesses, building and growing each to exit. John helps design creative, practical, experience-based solutions to problems, challenges and opportunities that brand owners encounter in starting, growing and scaling their companies, across all areas of business.

In 1987 John co-founded the New Covent Garden Soup Co Ltd., which pioneered and grew the fresh soup category in the UK. On reaching over £20m revenue, Daniels PLC bought New Covent Garden Soup Co in 1998. In that same year, John co-founded Glencoe Foods Inc., to bring the fresh soup concept to the US. On returning to Europe, John established a consumer branded food consultancy and worked with a number of corporate and early-stage growth businesses across the FMCG sector in the UK, US and continental Europe.

Read the full piece here: https://www.greatbritishentrepreneurawards.com/judges/john-stapleton/

The Food Talk Show: Getting Smart With Food

The first of our winter warmers arrived in the form of some fantastic soup, a soup that you will have heard of. John Stapleton was part of the team that founded the New Covent Garden Soup Company and he turned it into the household name that it is today. He’s now turning his hand to baby food too. Listen back to piece the jigsaw together.

Listen to the full podcast here: https://foodtalk.co.uk/podcasts/getting-smart-with-food/

AXA Growth Leaders: The Future of Leadership

Business leaders face unprecedented challenges that require a new mindset. More than ever, leaders need a growth mindset to navigate today’s talent landscape and the rapid pace of change. Tomorrow’s leaders must be more entrepreneurial and ambitious, looking to new horizons while seeking new routes to success.

In this video The Supper Club and AXA PPP healthcare brought together successful entrepreneurs and leading thinkers to share insight on how to lead with a growth mindset and build high performing teams as part of ‘The AXA Growth Leaders Series’. They discuss:

1. Why people's abilities are malleable

2. Why you need to increase your emotional intelligence

3. Why you should address mental health for you and your team

4. Why you need to be authentic and purpose driven

You will hear from: Eduardo Briceño, Co-Founder & CEO, Mindset Works Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP Healthcare Adam Ludwin, Chief Visionary Officer, Captify Tom Bradshaw, Private Banker for Entrepreneurs at Investec Charlie Walker, Founder, Harmonic Finance John Stapleton, Co-Founder, New Covent Garden Soup Company and Little Dish

You can see the highlights from the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&v=QvbGhXuk8qM

From setback to success: entrepreneurs who are fortified by failure

John Stapleton, co-founder of New Covent Garden Soup Co and Little Dish, was the keynote speaker at the Confessions of a Small Business event.

In 1984, John Stapleton was 19 and, in his own words, a “nifty triple jumper”, training with the Irish national team and hoping to represent his country in the Los Angeles Olympics. But injury struck and Stapleton never made it. 
His coach told him that he had two options – waste time feeling sorry for himself, or start training for the next season. 

Stapleton, who was speaking at the Guardian’s Confessions of a Small Business seminar, went on to found the New Covent Garden soup company, which pioneered the idea of fresh, chilled ready-made soups, and Little Dish, which offers healthy ready meals for children.

Read the full interview in The Guardian, here: https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/feb/13/small-business-entrepreneurs-failure-confessions-new-covent-garden-soup 

Building and Selling a Food Business with John Stapleton from New Covent Garden Soup Co and Little Dish

Do you have grand plans to start, grow, scale and sell your food business? Would you prefer more of a lifestyle business? Regardless of your goals, John Stapleton has some great advice for you.

John started New Covent Garden Soup in 1987. He started Glencoe Foods in 1997 (pretty much the same business as New Covent Garden, but in the United States). He then started his third business, Little Dish, in 2006. Two out of the three were successfully built and sold – Little Dish sold for £17 million in 2017!

Over the last 30 years John has learned to embrace adversity, have the courage of his convictions, learn from failure and the power of authenticity. And that’s exactly what we talk about in this episode.

In This Episode You’ll Learn

  • What “experts” thought about the idea of fresh soup in 1987

  • How to push forward with your idea no matter what people say

  • How to embrace and learn from failure

  • How to enjoy the journey of building your business rather than the end result

  • How to set your business up for sale from the beginning

  • What to consider when raising funds and giving away equity

Q&A with angel investor John Stapleton - The Sunday Times

Every week we talk to a business angel, one of the early-stage investors who collectively inject £1.5bn a year into British start-up companies

Liam Kelly

October 21 2018, 12:01am, The Sunday Times

John Stapleton: ‘I invest in businesses only where I think I can add value’DIANA GRAVE

John Stapleton, 54, co-founded the New Covent Garden Soup Co straight after graduating from Reading University in 1987. After 11 years and with sales of £20m, he sold it to Daniels, a London-listed food company. He later started Little Dish, which makes children’s snacks, and sold that last year.

Stapleton started angel investing two years ago and backs food and drink start-ups including Capsicana, which makes Latin American sauces, and Spoon Cereals, a health food maker.

Stapleton typically funds founders with £100,000.

Why I invest
When you start your own business, you go very deep into a lot of detail — but it’s only one business. Investing gives me a breadth of experience I never had before, and keeps me in touch with the market.


Read the full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/q-a-with-angel-investor-john-stapleton-56r2sm2hl

HeForShe: John Stapleton | Co-Founder, New Covent Garden Soup Co., Little Dish & Glencoe Foods - We Are The City

John Stapleton is the ‘Authentic Entrepreneur’ with 30 years’ experience in pioneering new FMCG categories and establishing and growing successful consumer-led businesses in both the UK and the USA.

John now actively manages an investor/Non-Executive Director portfolio contributing value-added business growth advice, guidance and mentoring to business owners.

John has first-hand experience in start-up, early stage growth and scale-up stage businesses, having co-founded three FMCG businesses, building and growing each to exit. John helps design creative, practical, experience-based solutions to problems, challenges and opportunities that brand owners encounter in starting, growing and scaling their companies, across all areas of business.

In 1987 John co-founded the New Covent Garden Soup Co Ltd., which pioneered and grew the fresh soup category in the UK. On reaching over £20m revenue, Daniels PLC bought New Covent Garden Soup Co in 1998. In that same year, John co-founded Glencoe Foods Inc., to bring the fresh soup concept to the US. On returning to Europe, John established a consumer branded food consultancy and worked with a number of corporate and early-stage growth businesses across the FMCG sector in the UK, US and continental Europe.

In 2005, John co-founded Little Dish, which supplies healthy, natural and convenient meals and snacks to children over one year. Little Dish created the chilled toddler food category, developing full UK retailer distribution and became the go-to brand in fresh toddler food. Having grown to approaching £15m annual revenues, John exited Little Dish in 2017.

Leveraging his extensive experience, John provides business growth advice and mentorship to growing businesses; is a business thought leader and speaks on a wide range of entrepreneurial management & motivational leadership topics. Get in touch if you’re interested in having him speak at your event.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?

I grew up in a family where both my parents worked, but my mother took a leading role in financial and family commitments. I grew up believing it was normal for a woman to take the lead and play a central role. When I realised this was not necessarily always replicated throughout society, I felt a need to help rectify this.

My admiration for the HeForShe campaign resolution to operate equally and share responsibilities, with no consideration of gender strengthened my resolve to encourage and support this mentality within the work place.

 I believe the understanding of gender equality is at a turning point and many people generally recognise that gender equality is not just a cause which women need to fight for. I also recognise that there is still a long way to go.

Gender equality is not solely a female issue, it is a human rights issue. The HeForShe movement is an inspiring initiative of solidarity which provides a platform for men to engage on gender equality issues and become catalysts for change for both their own gender and for women’s.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

For gender equality to reach its truest form, the support for change must also be shared equally.

Women alone cannot solve the gender equality issues that are present, even prevalent, in the workplace. I believe we need an inclusive solution that understands men’s perspectives – while at the same time challenging those perspectives when they hinder gender equality. It must be possible to break down stereotypes while creating an alliance between both genders who are inspired to work together for both diversification and collaborative leadership in the workplace.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

Women’s rights seem to be synonymous with feminism, even though gender equality benefits men as well. It is a lazy approach when men label feminism as anti-men but women could prevent (some) men from marginalising gender equality initiatives by presenting it as a movement which benefits both genders.

Having a male’s voice in an issue that is commonly misconceived as primarily female, is a positive step forward in breaking down traditional gender role pigeonholes.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

It is impossible to get an answer to a question if you don’t ask it. And you can’t fix a problem you don’t see (or chose not to see).

Gender equality is an important focus in many, but not all workplaces. It is often not at the forefront of business change at the most senior levels. I believe this is gradually changing but we need to maintain the momentum that comes from movements like #HeForShe.

 ‘Women in…’ or ‘Female’s in…’ networks ensure that the importance of gender equality message is heard by men and by women. These groups help to promote and educate leaders (many of which are men) on the need gender throughout all levels and facets of a business.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

Thought processes and attitudes need to cascade from the top. Strong leadership and clear communication surrounding the importance of gender equality must be a prime focus of management. It is their responsibility to ensure that the message and representation of gender equality is reflected as a company whole.

Male leaders can provide an inspirational environment for women when they visibly support women’s rights through gender equality measures.  Male leaders in business need to encourage women to speak out on the relevance of diversity and gender equality, while feeling this message will be well received.

Values and behavioural based rationale teamed with two-way engagement will promote a cultural shift. Similarly, the more that gender equality measures are successfully introduced at the workplace, the more their benefits will be recognised (by men) and the more broadly they will be supported.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

I have made sure I have shared my professional experience and advice with both males and females, throughout my life. I have worked with and mentored some extremely talented women and I am proud that they feel comfortable talking with me about issues and seeking guidance, regardless of our gender differences.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

Throughout my mentoring experiences, I have mostly found that women have no problem being strong leaders, entrepreneurs or business advocates. Some can take a more cautious approach to putting themselves forward for senior positions, though I believe this is changing. Men that speak out about women’s rights contribute to women being more assertive regarding  their abilities.    It can also promote workplace culture which is built on trust, reliance, open communication and encouragement.

The best businesses are built from the inside out.  Gender equality not only stimulates, challenges and enables the workforce to achieve its true potential, it inevitably also has a positive impact on business performance and ultimately the results.

How can UK SMEs prepare for life after Brexit? - Just Food coverage

When it comes to Brexit, almost everything is uncertain and unclear. As entrepreneurs and leaders of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it can be tricky to anticipate and take proactive action to future-proof your business when the post-Brexit business environment remains so unpredictable, John Stapleton writes.

The UK business community, and the SME sector in particular needs information on which to make decisions and confidence to deliver against them. Small businesses need to understand what they can do and need to do now to mitigate Brexit risks and take advantage of opportunities that will surface. Despite the lack of clarity, failing to prepare for a post-Brexit world is tantamount to preparing for failure.

In any big instance of change (and it doesn't get much bigger than Brexit, the UK's departure from the European Union next March), it is important to understand the risks and opportunities that will likely emerge. However, for SMEs, the distractions from doing this are numerous.

It is easy to put Brexit to the back of our priority list. After all: 

- "Brexit is seemingly out of our hands anyway"
- "SMEs don't have any influence and if anyone, the politicians and big lobbyists will shape Brexit"
- "I need to just concentrate on managing my business"
- "We have enough problems on our plate - consumer confidence, GDPR, internal challenges like recruitment and building company culture, the list goes on…"

While the post-Brexit landscape still remains unclear, it is important entrepreneurs and business leaders remember that no business is too small to be challenged by the upcoming risks and opportunities. In order for FMCG start-ups to prepare for a post-Brexit world effectively, there are five key areas they should evaluate as jumping-off points:


Business leaders should look to embrace the (already and potential further future) devaluation of the pound and see it as a powerful commercial opportunity. A weaker pound has, across the board, already facilitated demand overseas and increased supplier margin. There is an appetite for Brand Britain abroad, so 'heritage-focused' marketing and branding makes for great commercial opportunity. Significant benefits exist in implementing hedging tactics against current contracts to mitigate the risks of supplying orders at a loss.


Devaluation has, on the flip side, increased the price of imports, which makes the purchasing of British-grown or originated goods more appealing to customers at home. Growing FMCG brands may look to "product substitution" - designed to develop home versions of imported products sold to UK consumers with UK-designed and manufactured products. Why can't British consumers buy Brie made in south Wales rather than in France - once the "protected designation of origin" rules don't apply post-Brexit?

This approach can be further positioned through a concerted emphasis on innovation and new product development, as well as a focus on re-positioning or re-targeting consumers at home with local products. "Brand Britain" is already a recognised trend in the UK marketplace that can be capitalised upon to achieve further prominence, including the desire for consumers to support their local, vibrant economies, the growing preference for organic and artisan products and the emphasis by many challenger brands on authenticity, provenance and craft.

Staff & Skills

Many UK businesses employ significant numbers of EU-origin staff - especially in the food and beverage industry - and this group (unless they have already become UK citizens) needs reassurance and support regarding their future presence and status in the UK. Businesses can avail of an audit process or an 'Action Kit' (different industries have developed approaches best designed for their needs) to provide their relevant staff with the advice and direction they need to understand the various options available to them and help with following procedures to secure their future in the UK and within the businesses to which they belong.

Such 'Action Kits' serve to answer questions such as, 'Who is affected by Brexit and in what way?' 'How can their current and future status be secured? ' 'How can I, as a business, provide reassurance and security for them and their families?' One can also outline the relevant regulations and demystify bureaucracy and provide tactical information ranging from legal support to technical information on government regulations.

Tariffs & Customs 

It's important that all business leaders are, at the very least, anticipating the introduction of new or increased trade tariffs. Business needs to lobby government in a coherent way through relevant organisations (e.g. the Food & Drink Federation, which acts as a mouth-piece for food and soft-drink manufacturers operating in the UK) for greater clarity on trade and customs arrangements. Together, business and government must work together to ensure we all avoid disadvantage and disruption.

In instances of increased self-sufficiency, growing FMCG brands might look to develop further options within their supply chains by increasing export opportunities outside of the EU. This will not materialise overnight but small businesses need to lobby government to develop trade channels with non-EU countries which will mitigate potential loss of export trade with the EU.


For those wishing to grow their trade opportunities within the EU, it might be worth considering developing an EU manufacturing base. This approach can lead to the avoidance of UK tariffs for buying and importing ingredients and similarly avoiding EU tariffs when selling and exporting finished goods. This should be designed to sustain a growth strategy, and not detract from UK-based activities. When launched successfully, an EU manufacturing base may increase job security and stability for your total business - especially in the long-term. Obvious options to consider are Ireland, given the benefits of the same language, business culture and very similar tax structures and legal systems, or eastern Europe, where a low unit cost and a great proximity to certain raw material sources and ultimate consumer markets may be deciding factors.

When it comes to Brexit, almost everything is uncertain and unclear. However, as entrepreneurs and business leaders, this is precisely the environment in which we thrive. Being prepared - whether for Brexit or for the next market change - presents an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage over your industry competitor who doesn't.

John Stapleton is a serial entrepreneur behind food brands New Covent Garden Soup Co. and Little Dish. He is also an angel investor, industry advisor and speaker on a range of topics including entrepreneurship, leadership and #GetBrexitReady  

Six reasons angel investors say no - Natwest Content Live coverage

Standing in front of an angel investor can be daunting, and things will quickly fall apart if they don’t believe in you. Three UK angels tell us what makes them say “I’m out”.

John Stapleton, serial entrepreneur and angel who co-founded the New Covent Garden Soup Co:

1. The entrepreneur won’t listen

Some founders, says Stapleton, simply cannot handle advice. “They claim to want the value-added ‘smart money’ that angels bring, but in truth they believe they have it all figured out and are not interested in what the investors have to say,” he says.

Stapleton has a way of weeding out such people: he will ask them to justify some of their fundamental business assumptions during their pitch. “Founders who don’t listen tend to get defensive and their answers either demonstrate this, or suggest that they think you’re not ‘getting it’,” he says.

Another gripe of his: “Many founders believe they know exactly what their target customer wants, but haven’t actually asked them.”

While angels definitely don’t like know-it-alls, they give equally short shrift to wishy-washy ‘yes men’ or people who expect their investor to hand-hold them through every step of their business journey.

2. The product or concept is not scaleable

“Many times, an entrepreneur doesn’t understand the commercial reality of setting up and growing a business,” says Stapleton. “It turns out that what they really want to do is to build a lifestyle business in which they plan to draw a decent salary.” That’s fine, he says, but it doesn’t constitute a growth plan and it probably doesn’t warrant much external investment.

What has often happened, he explains, is that the initial motivation to develop the product was born out of frustration that it did not exist – but the founder often failed to seek out real consumer insight. “They end up designing a product which is relevant only to themselves,” he says. “For angels, the return on investment will be non-existent.”

When owners do have loftier ambitions, they sometimes fail to see that they can’t produce their product at margins that are attractive enough. It’s another frustrating example of a business that won’t scale.


Phil Mitchell, angel investor and co-founder of funding experts Harbour Key:

3. The business is overvalued

Angels see red when people value their business at hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds when they haven’t even got off the ground.

“You need the founder to have a realistic expectation of what stage they are at and therefore what value they really have,” says Mitchell. He explains that if a business has already established a revenue stream or has a product that has been patented – perhaps alongside some big customers who are ready to take it – then they’re going to be a much more valuable business to an investor than “if you’d just stepped out of your bedroom with two bits of plastic”.

If a business has barely begun, he says, then potential investors should be viewed as more of a partner – and the equity the founder is prepared to surrender should reflect that.

4. The management team fails to make a strong impression

“When we have the initial meeting, angels want to know who the people are and feel that they have not just passion but also the skill set to take the business to where they want to go,” says Mitchell. “I like to understand where these people come from. What’s their story?”

The easy way to convey this, says Mitchell, is to add a team sheet in your pitch deck with a bit of information about who you are and why you’ve gone into this. “The angel needs to feel that these people are going to make it happen,” he says, “because it could be two or three years before they take any money out.”

What angels really like are people like the man Mitchell saw last week: a founder on his fourth start-up, who had sold his previous three. “He sells and comes back with another idea: you could see he had a lot of drive, good skills and you could have a lot of faith in him,” Mitchell says.


Jamie Waller, entrepreneur, investor and committee member at The Supper Club, a community of founders and CEOs of high-growth businesses:

5. The founder wants a large salary

About 90% of the investment decks Waller is sent don’t give him the vital data he requires: numbers. “Not just pie-in-the-sky revenue forecasts, but actual costs,” he says. “What are you going to spend my money on and when?”

When these details find their way to him, he says that in more than half of all cases he is stunned to see founder/CEO salaries at £150,000 – £250,000. “I built my business for seven years before paying myself £100,000,” he says. “It took me 10 years to get to £200,000. Entrepreneurship is about taking risk. Paying yourself £150,000 in year one of a start-up because you can afford to with investors’ money is not risk.”

A more reasonable salary for a founder in their first venture, he says, would be between £50,000 and £80,000.

6. There is too much focus on perks and fun

“I get around two investment pitches a week in which the founder has budgeted for pool tables, weekly staff entertaining and unlimited holiday entitlements,” says Waller, who was once very close to making a £100,000 investment in a business only to be told by the boss to “come along on Thursday after 3pm as the team will have stopped working as we have pizza and beer on Thursday afternoons”. He cancelled the meeting and closed his wallet.

“Investors want to see money being used in the right way and at the right time,” Waller says. “A good example is a business I invested in recently that had a £15,000 budget for a staff party – but the criteria for the party was hitting a £5m sales figure that year. That’s good business. You’re paying a fee for success.”

Speciality Food Magazine Coverage - VIEWPOINT: JOHN STAPLETON - Meet the champion of SMEs and passionate advocate of facing Brexit head on

John Stapleton was recently interviewed by Speciality Food Magazine where he spoke about his passion for Getting Brexit Ready and how he is helping SMEs face it head on.

You can read the full interview in this month’s magazine - which can be found here: https://www.specialityfoodmagazine.com/retail/the-interview-john-stapleton

Why business success depends on surrounding yourself with self-starters

Here, John Stapleton, founder of the New Covent Garden Soup Co, gives his four top tips on surrounding yourself with self-starters to drive growth and scale.

Building a culture where staff are self-starters can be key for a business

Ben Lobel

Being a new entrepreneur can feel both bewildering and exhilarating. In the early days of any business journey, as an entrepreneur you will need to be all things to all people. Because of this, you will need to be extremely tenacious and ride the rows of obstacles that will be thrown your way. In the beginning the entrepreneur does, and almost is, everything – simply because there is noone else and everything is down to you.

The setbacks you face will often feel both challenging and time consuming, and there will inevitably come a time when you can no longer wear all the hats you needed to wear when you were getting started. Eventually, you’ll need to find people out there who are better suited to managing some of the areas of your business than you are.

At this point, you’ll need to build a support network, improve your processes and structures for business scale and free up some of your own time so that you can focus on the areas you’re more passionate about (and probably are best at) – it’s very likely it’s these areas that drove you to start your business in the first place!

Read the full article: https://smallbusiness.co.uk/why-business-success-depends-on-surrounding-yourself-with-self-starters-2544528/

New Covent Garden Soup Co. founder John Stapleton backs Latin American food start-up - Just Food

New Covent Garden Soup Co. and Little Dish co-founder John Stapleton has backed UK-based Latin American food business Capsicana, investing in the company as part of a crowdfunding campaign.

Read full article: https://www.just-food.com/news/new-covent-garden-soup-co-founder-john-stapleton-backs-latin-american-food-start-up_id138316.aspx