‘The last six months have proved to be a baptism of fire’: New LittlePod CEO speaks to Business Leader

Business Leader recently spoke to Olly Aplin, CEO of real vanilla company LittlePod, about their international growth and his first few months leading the business.

Can you give an overview of the company?

LittlePod is a unique, environmentally-conscious company, established in 2010 to promote the use of real vanilla. Our natural vanilla paste in a tube is an affordable, easy-to-use and consistent source of real vanilla. We believe vanilla is a vehicle for holistic growth. It is this delicious, complex and delicate spice that connects us all, not just to the natural environment, but also to the communities who grow and look after this fragile and magical orchid on the Equatorial Belt.

Can you tell us about International Real Vanilla Day and what it means to the company?

Taking place on October 17th, International Real Vanilla Day is a special occasion on the LittlePod calendar. This offers an opportunity to stop and take a little time to thank the farmers and communities who work so hard to cultivate this wonderful crop and look after the fragile ecosystems on the Equatorial Belt that affect us all, no matter where in the world we might be. Here in East Devon, we are all very excited to be working with Kookai, our new distributor in Tokyo, who have begun proceedings to establish IRVD as an officially-recognised day in Japan. This year, we are asking LittlePodders all over the world to celebrate with us and share their culinary creations on social media. Real vanilla is a fascinating ingredient, which we are learning more about all the time, and International Real Vanilla Day will give us the chance to further our own education.

You recently expanded into Japan – can you tell me about that journey?

2020 has seen us mark our 10th anniversary, and as part of the celebrations, we developed a strategy to take LittlePod to Japan, with a trip planned to the FOODEX exhibition in Tokyo a little earlier in the year. When COVID-19 prompted the exhibition to be cancelled, Janet Sawyer BEM, LittlePod’s founder and Executive Chair, decided to travel to Japan regardless, a shrewd decision that has paid dividends, as detailed in our previous appearance in Business Leader. Here at LittlePod, we’re all very excited to be launching LittlePod Japan on October 17th, with the full support of the British Embassy in Tokyo and the DIT.

You recently took up the role as CEO – how have you found it so far and what are your goals?

The last six months have proved to be a baptism of fire, given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, but with Janet’s support and guidance, the transition has proved to be smoother and more enjoyable than one might imagine! The enduring relationships that LittlePod has established during our first decade in business have been invaluable, during a time of such uncertainty, and with our natural vanilla paste used and enjoyed by professional chefs and home cooks alike, our versatility has enabled us to keep our heads above water and negotiate this difficult period.

On a personal level, LittlePod is supporting me to complete an MBA. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn alongside leaders from a huge and diverse array of companies and sectors, which will stand both myself and the business in good stead, both now and far into the future. To supplement our efforts in the office, we have been striving to put health and wellbeing at the heart of the company. One of the programmes we have initiated in recent times is working with fit20 Exeter, whose personal training initiative is supporting the whole team to become more active, with obvious benefits for both our physical and mental health.

What are the future plans for the company?

In the short term, survival shouldn’t be underestimated given all that is going on at the moment. Our main focus, however, is on long-term success and I’m building a senior leadership team who want the business to be driven forward by the shared values of sustainability, education and quality. Having won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in 2018, we have set ourselves a target, to use our entry into Japan to support another application, this time in International Trade. As a young CEO of LittlePod, I am confident of our journey and am ready to embrace the testing and challenging times ahead.

Please do visit our website for further information: www.littlepod.co.uk