Kim Innes founded Humble Crumble in 2018, but it wasn’t until October 2020 that things took a pivotal turn for her business.
With Halloween in sight, Kim produced a moment of magic; introducing the famous Pumpkin-Spiced Crumble, which will forever be recognised as what thrust Humble Crumble into the limelight, making people aware that a crumble bakery existed. The special dessert gleaned viral attention following an Instagram post from Time Out, and then a TikTok video from a customer. Although London was in a lockdown, the queues simply wouldn’t surrender for Humble Crumble, and the ever-growing demand for the perfect British grab-and-go crumble continues.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role:
My name is Kim Innes, I grew up in St Albans and am the youngest of 5 kids. I’ve always been interested in baking and entrepreneurship, however, I’ve never had any formal training in either.
I started Humble Crumble in a farmers market in 2018 when I was 23, and I learned about business on the go. I have since grown the company to three bakeries (with a fourth opening this year), and a team of over 50 and we sell around 1,500 crumbles per day.
I’m the founder & CEO of Humble Crumble – I am responsible for the whole team, the decisions that are made and the products that we sell. I mainly focus my time on how to grow the business, how to make the business more efficient and how to support my team in their roles.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I have never planned my career – if I’m honest, I was unsure of what I wanted to do for work, however, I knew I was interested in running my own business. I have tried a couple of other ventures before Humble Crumble, such as a soap business and a tutoring agency. I had small successes with them but those businesses did not align with my passions which ultimately meant I struggled to work on them. Humble Crumble encompasses many passions of mine; hospitality, baking, design, art and business. I’m so interested in Humble Crumble and just find it fascinating to work on.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Persevering with Humble Crumble and my dream to create this unique business through the early years and through Covid were big challenges. The first two years were lonely and difficult. All I had was an idea. So I set up a stall at markets by myself, carrying tables, a gazebo, weights, stock and equipment in the early hours of the day in all weather conditions to test that idea. It was exhausting. People didn’t understand the concept of a business that only served crumble. I had to persuade customers to try something new: most people only ever thought of buying crumble at a restaurant or pub. At my market stall, some of them thought the crumble topping was couscous and the fruit was soup.
I did weekend market stalls in various locations for two years but I didn’t have any lasting success. I couldn’t get a permanent space to fully test my idea. Then I was offered the opportunity to open a seven-day-a-week stall in Old Spitalfields Market where the footfall was high and the rent was too. It was a real risk but I figured that if it didn’t work here, it wouldn’t work anywhere.
Three days after I launched in Spitalfields, the country went into lockdown and I immediately had to close Humble Crumble. I thought that would be the end of my business journey. But I didn’t give up. When we could reopen, business was slow. On one day, I sold only two crumbles. But I had two ideas that, as it turned out, saved the business. At a time when other businesses drastically reduced their social media activity, I decided to continue investing in it. My other idea was to introduce monthly specials. It was coming up to Halloween and I decided to use the inside of the pumpkin for the fruit filling, and the outside of the pumpkin as a container for the crumble. We promoted the pumpkin crumble and it went viral on Instagram and TikTok. Almost out of nowhere, I had a queue of people (in an otherwise near-empty market). Suddenly, the concept of a crumble bakery caught people’s imagination. And because the product is so good, they’ve kept coming back. In the past three years, we’ve had to move four times within Old Spitalfields Market, each time into bigger premises. I’ve been able to build a team of 54 people and open two more bakeries: one in the world famous Borough Market, and the other in Camden Market. A fourth bakery in Covent Garden is coming in 2024. From the days of my market stalls, I now have four bricks and mortar sites with an actual front door!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
The innovation that has happened and continues to happen at Humble Crumble is my greatest achievement because it has enabled Humble Crumble to grow and thrive. The virality that Humble Crumble had on social media meant that the business had an almost overnight transformation in October 2020. We went from serving a few crumbles a day to selling hundreds, and now thousands of crumbles per day. The growth of Humble Crumble has been phenomenal: our sales have more than doubled year on year since 2020. With this massive boom in demand, I’ve had to keep my ears to the ground, be reactive and experiment with new ideas. This has meant implementing new systems, technologies, equipment and team training and transforming Humble Crumble from a market stall to three fully-fledged bakeries, with a fourth on the way..
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Before I started Humble Crumble, I read the book ‘The Lean Start-Up’, which essentially outlines the test-feedback-tweak loop. Essentially, the book outlines that it’s virtually impossible to know from the outset what your customers will want so creating a business plan on an idea alone is pointless. Instead, start (and eventually run) a business by constantly testing, getting feedback and then tweaking the idea/product based on that feedback and then testing it again. This way, you’ll be responding to what your customers want, keeping your finger on the pulse and saving time by focusing your efforts in the area that the data leads you (rather than planning for an untested idea).
As Humble Crumble is the world’s first crumble bakery, I had no idea what was needed to make the idea a success (nor did I know if a dedicated crumble bakery was something people wanted). So, I started small and set up in different markets around London. I was able to easily test an idea (e.g. presenting a crumble in a certain way, using certain equipment, pricing, size etc) easily and get feedback and tweak the product into what it is today. I’m certain that this Lean model has allowed Humble Crumble to become a customer feedback-led company, which has been a major factor in its success.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is great if you can find the right person to mentor you. Before HC became successful, I was feeling unconfident in my abilities as an entrepreneur and because of my lack of self-confidence, I sought advice from almost anyone I could find – and they probably weren’t equipped to give me the right advice. So, I’d say be wary of the advice that is given to you (lots of people told me that Humble Crumble wasn’t a good idea).
I think mentoring can be great when you have someone to work with you to outline your goals and hold you accountable. I’m part of the Natwest Accelerator and the Innovate UK programme which both come with mentorship. It’s been helpful to have the goals set with them.
I also work with my partner, Gabriel Unger, who is a co-founder of Chai Guys. As we’re in the same industry, we help each other out and talk about ideas, problems and goals and sort of mentor each other. His parents also are a great source of support, offering advice and often playing devil’s advocate, which is so helpful.
I have been asked to mentor people before, however, I haven’t had the time to do it. I think it’s something I’d enjoy doing and so I hope to do so in the future. In the meantime, I have started an Instagram account @kimcinnes, where I post the journey of running this company and I hope it helps give some insight into what it’s like to run an F&B business.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Providing financial education to women. Female Invest are a great resource for learning about investing and the stock market. I think encouraging more women to understand how to manage their finances and make their money work harder is a great way to reduce Gender Inequality as investing and money management are still largely done by men.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Have more confidence in yourself.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to grow and scale Humble Crumble further. I hope to expand our e-commerce line and get products stocked in different retailers in the UK – this is a whole new area of business for us and so I have a lot to learn. I’m also looking into international expansion, with my sights set on New York – it’d be great to be a part of the food scene there.
Read more from our inspirational women here.