The Interview: Jane Milton

16 March 2018, 03:22 AM
  • A passion for food and a knack for making things better are behind Jane Milton’s illustrious career
The Interview: Jane Milton


People who start food businesses are very gutsy – it’s not the easiest thing to do, and there are much quicker ways to make money. I love the passion and enthusiasm that those people have, and their willingness to embrace change. They don’t just have an entrepreneurial spirit, they have a desire to bring something to people and make them happy. This is something I’ve seen it a lot on Dragons’ Den. Having said that, it astounds me the number of business owners who don’t crunch the numbers properly, or have an unrealistic view of what their brand is worth – not knowing your numbers is fatal, and I worry about how they’re running their business, and how they’re supporting themselves and their staff.

Small-scale retailers are at the forefront of the industry, and they’re always looking at what’s next – no wonder that where they go, the multiples follow. They’re also closer to their customers, and a producer’s range is more likely to soar in an independent retailer; its team would have more of a connection with the producer than that of a multiple, and the people selling the products will have tasted them. Getting into a multiple is a good thing from a producer’s perspective because of the volumes, but their product would be just one of thousands.

Independent retailers are doing a great job and I don’t think the industry would ever be without them. Everyone thought that when we got huge out of town stores the independents would suffer, but in my experience that hasn’t been the case – food is an emotional thing, and people will always want that connection with what they’re buying.

I never tire of meeting people who have an idea, or have started their own business and are making it work. I enjoy working with those people and would never want to only be working with bigger companies, who would likely be slower-moving and less open to adapting. I also love Oprah Winfrey as she is such a positive person. I subscribe to her magazine and it’s such a pleasure, as there’s no gossip or negativity, it’s all just inspiring content which celebrates good people. A lot of my friends call me Pollyanna as I’m such a positive person; I’m a doer rather than a thinker, and will always help people to be doers in their own business rather than relying on me long-term.

I have two sayings I’d like to live by. The first is to make the most of every day; I’ve been off my feet for six weeks following an operation and even then couldn’t sit still – that’s just not who I am. I would rather try something, fail, learn from it and try again than not try at all. The other is to treat everyone as I would like to be treated; it doesn’t matter if I’m speaking to the managing director of a business or someone on the bottom rung of the ladder.

The potential of tea is not being realised. Black tea with milk will always be popular in the UK, but infusions and benefit-added products are going to become more popular – as will options like green tea and rooibos. People will start to make their own iced tea and use it within their cooking and baking, mixologists will be experimenting with tea as an ingredient in cocktails, and we’ll be seeing more tea being paired with food in restaurants as an alcohol-free option.

Read the full interview in the latest issue of Speciality Food, free to download here.

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