How I Got Here: Hillary Graves

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with Little Dish founder Hillary Graves

Related tags: Children

The food entrepreneur and Little Dish founder on building her business, and the need for higher nutritional standards in children’s food manufacturing.

Why children’s food?
When I had my first child, I was shocked at the quality of baby, toddler and children’s food that was sold in the supermarket. No one was making fresh, just like homemade meals made from 100% natural ingredients and no added salt or sugar. I started Little Dish to fill this gap in the market.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Always trust your instincts. No one knows your brand better than you do as founder.

What’s your favourite kids food brand (besides your own)?
Besides Little Dish, I love the Yeo Valley children’s yoghurts with no added sugar.

What motivates you?
The company mission behind Little Dish to make a positive difference in children’s health and bring higher standards of nutrition to the children’s food industry.

What keeps you up at night?
Sometimes working with the UK supermarkets can be challenging and we have had some tough negotiations along the way. It has been helpful that providing healthy food for kids is a strategic priority for most of the retailers, so that has worked to our benefit.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to your business?
In 2014 my husband joined the business as CEO and brought a new level of commercial rigor and analysis that was critical in helping us scale the business in a profitable way.

Best business decision?
Staying true to our high standards of nutrition and never compromising on the quality of ingredients.

Worst business decision?
There are some things I would do differently with hindsight; however, I can’t think one specific thing worthy of the gravity of worst business decision. Some key lessons I have learned are the importance of recruiting and making good hires, as well as picking the right partners who share the same values.

Coffee or tea?
One very strong coffee in the morning; herbal tea in the afternoon.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
My kids love Italian food, so pasta bolognese and lasagne are both family favourites.

Typical Sunday?
Attending my children’s football matches and then coming home to cook a late lunch.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
This summer we got a puppy, which was very spontaneous but, in the end, a great decision.

What are you currently reading?
The New Yorker magazine, every week.

What boxset are you currently watching?
The Undoing​ with Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, which is riveting and also filmed in my old neighbourhood.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Lean into your strengths and hire very talented people to fill the gaps.

If you could change one thing about the children’s food industry today, what would it be?
We need to set much higher nutritional standards for children’s food manufacturers. There is too much unhealthy food being marketed to kids and families with artificial ingredients and high levels of salt and sugar.

Bio

Born in New York, Graves studied for a bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University. She spent six years working with mass media company iVillage, first as vice-president of marketing, and later managing director. She then spent a few years working as a consultant before developing and launching Little Dish in 2005.

Related topics: People, Profiles

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