News Column

Chopping and changing in the kitchen: British brand that rethinks familiar implements found its inspiration in New York

August 4, 2014

Shane Hickey

It was an unlikely place for Richard Joseph to find inspiration for the beginning of a multimillion-pound business. But there, stuck behind glass in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and having failed to take off from the shelves of department stores in the United States, was what was to become the cornerstone of a new family venture - a chopping board.

Then called the No-Spill, the white board stood out in that it could be folded into a chute so that all the chopped food would flow straight into the pot, an idea that failed to draw the attention of consumers when it was designed about 25 years ago.

That same board, in different colours and sizes and with a few design tweaks, is now known as the Chop2Pot and has become a calling card for Joseph Joseph, the British kitchenware brand that reinvents how mixing bowls, tongs and knives look and function.

"It got lost - it didn't stand out in the store," said Antony Joseph, the other half of Joseph Joseph and non-identical twin to Richard, who says that the simple chopping board has gone on to sell millions since it became the pair's first major product to reach the market 10 years ago.

The London-based company has now grown to more than 80 people and has 400 products, ranging from a compact tin opener and a square colander to individually coloured boards labelled fish, meat and vegetable, to avoid cross-contamination, and compact, foldable weighing scales.

Behind the range is an attempt to blend design and fresh, functional ideas for everyday products, said Antony Joseph. Another hallmark product is the Nest, a collection of bowls and measuring cups which stack inside each other to save space.

"It is not just about functional ideas. That is key, that is the starting point, but it is how we marry it with a really distinctive aesthetic and colour in a lot of cases and how the two come together and how the product communicates to the consumer so that when people look at it, they get it," said Antony, who heads the design end of the partnership, while his brother controls the business side.

The pair, both of whom studied design at college, came together in their late 20s to reinvigorate a side of their father's glassware business which was selling glass chopping boards. With new designs - the glassware is still for sale today - the pair abandoned clocks and plates, which were part of their range, to focus solely on the kitchen at around the same time as Richard had his eureka moment in New York.

Other chopping boards such as Cut&Carve, which has grips to hold meat in place and rims around the side to keep in liquids, and the Index coloured boards - influenced by similar products in industrial kitchens - were quickly added but failed at the time to interest establishment retailers such as John Lewis. This lack of success pushed the brothers to find new customers abroad, in turn opening up fresh markets that now account for 80% of sales.

The brothers work with up to 30 designers, half of them in-house, to come up with new ideas for products, of which about 40 are launched a year. Each product takes between two and three years to go from idea to being on the shelf, meaning careful planning is necessary in an attempt to spot "macro-trends" that will emerge in the future, said Richard.

"It is different with all of the products. Sometimes we will have a very clear idea of what we want and we have identified an opportunity and we will brief that to the designer. Sometimes we will say 'we would like to get into (for example) colanders, we think that colanders will fit well into our range, let's investigate colanders,'" said Antony.

These products are at the mid to high end of the price range. The set of Index chopping boards comes in at pounds 48 while a carousel of utensils is pounds 55, although a number of individual utensils come in at less than pounds 10. It is unlikely that these will be stocked in the mass-market supermarkets, said Antony, although some of the range is available in Waitrose. "We are happy where we are," he says. John Lewis is now their biggest customer in the UK.

Where the brothers are not happy is having to defend their products against counterfeits, some blatant, others involving minor alterations. They fought a two-year legal battle in China to get the name Joseph Joseph back after a factory registered it as its own. British companies had also copied the products, said Richard. "The quality is bad and then we start getting customers thinking it is our product and calling our customer service, so if you are not on top of it, this can be quite dangerous as far as the brand is concerned."

Cultural differences have played a part in placing products abroad. They were quickly alerted during a presentation to the fact that the Japanese generally do not eat cheese or mashed potatoes, leaving the potato masher and grater largely redundant - although the brand has proved particularly successful there as well as in the US. The brothers now sell in 105 countries, mostly through third-party distributors.

The company is evenly split between the two, who are work in different buildings in their Southwark headquarters. Although they have been confined to the kitchen thus far, it is likely that they will soon extend to other parts of the home, said Richard.

"Life is getting faster, whether it is your groceries delivered, your Amazon delivery - convenience is just speeding everything up. More and more people are living in cities and therefore space is a premium and an expense.

"I think when you buy a house, you are buying the luxury of space and so it is a case of can we make life more efficient," he said.


Antony Joseph (left) and his twin brother, Richard, founders of Joseph Joseph Photograph: Eddie Mulholland

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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