With sales of his restaurant-licensed products tipped to top £16m in 2012, MD and entrepreneur Phil Lynas shares his recipe for success

For a company called All About Food, there is surprisingly little of the stuff around at the company’s Chorley offices. But this is a grocery business, albeit an unusual one. All About Food is a virtual company. It doesn’t manufacture food or distribute it.

And it’s not a retailer. Its mission is to pick thriving restaurant brands and take them into retail and, says MD Phil Lynas, “to have fun making money”.

It’s certainly doing that. Thanks to its downturnfriendly proposition of enabling consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home, its sales hit £13m in 2010, £15m in 2011 and are on course to climb a further 10% by the end of this year after the company made Gourmet Burger Kitchen its seventh brand partner last August.

The business, which is owned jointly by Lynas, Nando’s, venture capitalists Capricorn, and its own senior managers, expects to sign up a “very, very significant brand” shortly, says Lynas, although he won’t disclose its identity. And his aspirations don’t end there.

“When I started, if someone said I’d be turning over £3m I’d probably have gone ‘Good, we can make a living’.

But when you start turning over £7m, £8m, £9m, you don’t want to do £15m, you want to do £30m. It’s not a case of shooting at stars, it’s just that your expectations change over time.”

In 1999, when Lynas created Nando’s Grocery (the chicken chain remained his only brand for the first eight years), he did not envisage one day having a portfolio that included Pizza Express, Wagamama, Loch Fyne Oysters, Cranks and La Tasca. But the business model has proved as robust as it is simple.

All About Food generates an idea for a product, a licence fee and royalty base are agreed upon, and then the company develops the product with a manufacturer, buys the stock and takes all the risk.

It’s a low risk proposition that has become increasingly attractive to brands in the current economic climate, and the benefits go beyond retail sales.

Lynas points to a study by Nando’s that found 14% of awareness of the restaurants had come through its retail sauces. No wonder a host of other high street names are now interested. “The sort of brands we are selling every single day are the sort of restaurants we want to go to,” he says. “These are the brands of the future.”

That means care needs to be taken to ensure the retail proposition doesn’t compromise the restaurant brand in any way. “We have to be very careful we don’t damage these brands,” explains Lynas. “We’re dealing with brands that might turn over between £50m and £500m in restaurants. These are big brands.”

Fortunately, damage is the opposite of what’s been done to date - and with the help of All About Food, these big brands are poised to get bigger still.

All About Food

1999: Nando’s Grocery established
2002: Buys Cranks out of adminstration. Rebrands as The Grocery Company
2005: Decides to focus on taking restaurant brands into retail. Hires a marketing director
2007: Agrees licences with Pizza Express, Wagamama and Nando’s
2008: Rebrands as All About Food
2009/2010: La Tasca and Loch Fyne Oysters come on board
2011: Appoints new commercial team. Adds Gourmet Burger Kitchen to portfolio
2012: Set to annouce at least one new agreement and looking to hire more staff