The company (originally called Sambava Spices) was started by James Ransome in 2003 in his spare room at home, with £5000 of his own savings. The money stretched to paying for a single metal table, a set of scales, a few gripseal polythene bags, a stereo, a small electric grinder and of course a few boxes of spices.
The first delivery of metre-long cinnamon quills from Sri Lanka tucked in the corner of what was originally his bedroom (he was sleeping on the living room floor at the time!)
James had spent several years working as a chef in some of the top restaurants in the UK and Australia, together with long periods travelling around India and South-East Asia which really helped to fuel his interest in food from around the world, the people who produce it and the places it comes from.
He had his lightbulb moment while standing in a Marrakesh market having a conversation with a girlfriend about future life plans. In answer to a question about what on earth he was going to do with the rest of his life (at that point there was no obvious answer!), he looked around at all these incredibly beautiful, colourful, fragrant ingredients which are so full of mystery and romance and thought to himself ‘I'm sure I can do something with this!’
Moment of clarity - spice stalls in Morocco provide inspiration
Although he'd worked as a chef, it quickly turned out that he wasn’t quite as expert in spices as he’d expected... but he did know that freshness is all-important so the business has always had the aim of grinding and blending our spices in small batches and selling them as quickly as possible to make the most of their magical scent and flavour.
The business started on a weekend stall at Green Park market in Bath with a few resealable bags of ingredients and some simple blends. In those days he had to use manilla wage envelopes or brown parcel paper as packaging because he never had enough money for ‘proper’ packaging, but nobody seemed to mind too much!
The early recipe kits on display at Green Park market, Bath; artefacts from the Spicery archive
The mail order business slowly went from Order #1 (sent to James' Mum) to eventually include many of the best restaurants in the UK (the Fat Duck, Ottolenghi, Rick Stein and many others were all good customers over the years), and finally to a simple homemade website all funded from that initial investment.
From the start we've always focussed on creating completely new and innovative products that make cooking delicious food with freshly ground spices really easy and accessible to all. We were the inventors of the world's very first recipe kit subscription way back in 2004 (after realising the recipe kits we sold at the market could be made seasonal to fit the produce available, and then could be sent by post), and to date have sent well over 1million subscription boxes out to happy customers around the world.
We've developed hundreds of unique recipes over the years, and more recent times have seen us introduce the cookbook kit (which as far as we can tell is another world first!) - a combination of cookbook together with 4 specially created spice blends that can be used to make ANY of the recipes in the book. As you'd expect, there are plenty of other big ideas bubbling away in the Spicery kitchen so watch this space as we continue to introduce new products and innovative new ways of making our ingredients fun and easy to use at home!
Our first market stall with an anxious-looking owner hoping for a customer to finally turn up; James' Dad helps man the stall at the Bath Christmas Market in 2008 (or 2007 ...or possibly 2009!)
Our first dedicated spice base was this small unit a mile from the centre of Bath...and here it is filled out a bit. By this point we'd expanded into 3 more units next door!
We’re now up to over 30 staff and more than 150,000 customers around the world but it still feels a bit like we’ve only just started. We aim to continue helping our customers discover new flavours, cook and share fantastic food from around the world. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come…
The Spicery Team (now 20+ members) circa Christmas 2014!! ; where all the action now takes place in Bristol