‘My idea brings recipes to life!’
Keen home chef Pia Varma, 35, from Cheltenham, was fed up with buying bottles of alcohol for her cooking when all she needed was a splash
‘Ihad my eureka moment at Christmas two years ago. I was buying ingredients to make cranberry sauce, which required a splash of port. It’s not something I drink, so I scoured the shelves for a small bottle, aware that a large one would sit in my cupboard unused. I couldn’t find anything, and thought, “If only you could buy little sachets of alcohol to use in your cooking.” I decided there and then that I would make it happen.
My family have always loved cooking. I grew up experimenting in the kitchen with my dad, Anil, and my mum, Kimmy. They loved my idea, so we decided to pool some savings and start the business together. I was working for an electrical engineering firm at the time but, after a few months, I quit so I could pour all my energy into the business.
IT’S IN THE BAG
I knew I wanted to name the brand Just A Splash, and I wanted the alcohol to come in sachets, so it had a ‘foodie’ feel. They would cost only £1.99 each – a big drop from the price of a bottle.
Starting the business was a steep learning curve. We had trouble sourcing the products; port needs to come from Porto and sherry from Andalucía, and after paying import duty we couldn’t have such a low price point. We considered making flavourings, but when I tried cooking with a “brandy” flavouring, it tasted like medicine...
Eventually, we found a company that specialises in cooking alcohol. They already sold to restaurants, so we worked with them to make the liquor suitable for home cooks, using the exact alcohol percentage to add a delicious flavour but not overpower the dish.
We launched at the International Food and Drink Exhibition last year. Our stand was exciting; we had chefs cooking with the products and attracted lots of attention. Mum started chatting to a man who, we later discovered, was an Ocado representative. We booked a meeting with Ocado for a few months later. Mum sadly passed away that summer, and the meeting was booked the day before her funeral. Dad and I nearly didn’t go, but because Mum was so passionate about the business we decided to do it for her. Ocado now stocks our products, and I know she would’ve been thrilled.
Another amazing achievement was winning the Foodbev Award for the best ingredient innovation. Some of our cooking alcohols, which include sherry, marsala and rum, are sold in the London branches of health food chain Whole Foods, and we hope to get them stocked in supermarkets. We’re growing rapidly; I’m so excited to see where it will go.’ • Find Just A Splash on Ocado.com
For Pia, good things come in small packages