We’ve all had a bad airplane meal – but food sector entrepreneur Alison Cooper is no ordinary unhappy customer. Her complaint to BA led to the creation of a multi-million turnover in-flight catering business, which she grew and sold to dnata, part of the Emirates Group. Here, she tells her story…
The early days
Alison Cooper studied hotel management and catering at university and spent a year of her course working for Holiday Inn in Germany, moving over there permanently after finishing her degree.
It wasn’t long before she spotted a gap in the market for good quality snacks and she began importing chilled sandwiches from the UK, using the same supplier as M&S, and selling them to companies such as German Rail and Lufthansa.
Steering the company through the difficult BSE scare of the 1990s gave her the experience and the knowledge that would stand her in such good stead for the future.
In 2001 Alison returned to the UK and it was on this flight home that she unknowingly took the first steps towards creating what is now a global brand.
“I was on a British Airways flight coming home to the UK and just thought ‘this is dreadful bread’,” she explains.
“I decided to call the airline when I got home and tell them. They invited me in to discuss it and told me they were closing their baking plant near Heathrow as it wasn’t performing and that they were going out to tender.”
Two weeks later, in September 2001, Alison started a limited company with her business partner, “We had just six weeks to mobilise, and that’s how En Route was born.” Four months later, En Route won a £1.5m tender with BA.
Deciding to sell
When she started En Route Alison says she always had planned to build it up and sell it within 10 years. It took nine and a half years.
“All along I had been very astute in the way I kept records and ran the business, knowing that I would want to sell it one day,” she explains.