Decisions -

James Beaton, Discovery Foods, Founder of the UK's leading Mexican food brand

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


Being the first to introduce wrap sandwiches to the UK. About 10 years ago, I was in LA and went to eat at a place called WorldWraps, where they served huge sandwiches with all kinds of fillings - Thai, Chinese - wrapped in a big, soft, flour tortilla.

Discovery had been supplying tortillas to Mexican restaurants and caterers and supermarkets since we started in 1989, and I really liked the idea of those wraps. When I got back we worked up a few recipes and sent out a special 'wrap kit' to supermarket buyers and the sandwich makers - people like M&S, Pret a Manger and Geest. No-one had seen them before, but within six months we were selling 500,000 a week.

I think money spent on good design is never wasted. At the start, we couldn't afford above-the-line marketing, so the packaging had to be really good - it had to do so much work.

Hiring our MD, Brian Ridgeway, was another great decision. The firm would have gone bust long ago if I'd tried to keep doing everything myself.


Avoiding confrontation is not the best way of managing people, but it was something I tended to do when I was younger. Nowadays, I realise that it is a more caring response to tackle problems with individuals as they arise - as well as being better for business. But it is a very hard message to push all the way through the organisation.

I also regret that not everyone has been able to grow as the company has grown. We now make six million tortillas a week and have just opened a third factory to cope with demand. But sometimes the person who was right when there were only three of you just isn't right now there are 300.

Last year, we launched a range of New York-style pasta sauces. I always wanted to take us beyond Mexican food - that's why we chose the name Discovery, because it's not specifically Mexican. The sauces didn't take off, because we couldn't afford to support them with enough investment.

We turn over £40 million a year, but my biggest regret is that we haven't created the kind of wealth to let us advertise our brands better.

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