The young Muslim entrepreneur who is hungry for success

Shazia Saleem

Shazia Saleem jokes that she started her food company simply because she was hungry.

The bigger story is that she spotted both a gap in the market and a way to celebrate the two parts of her cultural identity - being British and a Muslim.

The 29-year-old from Luton is the founder of newly launched ready-meals business Ieat Foods (as in "I eat"), which makes a range of traditional British and Italian dishes - such as shepherd's pie and lasagne - prepared in the halal manner - according to Islamic dietary law.

Ms Saleem first came up with the idea for the company when she was at Warwick University eight years ago, because she was fed up with having to buy vegetarian food to avoid non-halal meals.

"Most of my friends at university were non-Muslims, and when we did a weekly food shop together their trolleys were full of really tasty-looking ready meals, and all I could buy were things like cheese and onion pasties," she says.

"It was really frustrating, and I used to whinge a lot that I was missing out. I thought, why wasn't anyone making halal ready meals, other than the odd curry?

"That was when I decided I needed to do something about it. While moonlighting on other things, I then spent the next eight years putting together all the pieces of the jigsaw that needed to be in place before I launched Ieat."

Cambodian adventure

Ms Saleem can certainly be described as a serial entrepreneur.

Start Quote

Some people thought I was mad, but I needed to go and do something completely different”

End Quote Shazia Saleem

Good at sport, while at university she ran her own sports-coaching academies, focusing on netball and hockey.

While not making a fortune, she said it provided enough money to pay her bills.

And in recent years she bought and redeveloped a holiday resort in Cambodia.

Yet after leaving university Ms Saleem first got a salaried job, working for UK entrepreneur Peter Jones, one of the "dragons" from the BBC TV show Dragons' Den, in which inventors and business people pitch for investment.

She says that getting a job in Mr Jones' investment and portfolio office was an "unbelievable opportunity", and a great way to learn about running a business.

I-Eat Foods' lasagne Shazia says that all the ingredients in the company's food are fully traceable

But just two years later, aged 25, she resigned.

"It was great working for Peter, but I needed to go and do something for myself," she says. "I needed to push myself."

So, having built up some savings, she left the UK and went to Cambodia. Despite no experience in the travel industry, she bought 50% of a run-down holiday resort.

"Some people thought I was mad, but I needed to go and do something completely different," she says.

"I was like a project manager, and we turned the development into Cambodia's first eco-resort. We made a success of it, and ultimately I sold my share."

Late father's influence

Returning to the UK, Ms Saleem says it was time to finally launch Ieat Foods.

Start Quote

I have hand-picked the best suppliers who adhere to the highest welfare standards, not just at the time of slaughter, but throughout the life of the animals”

End Quote Shazia Saleem

She says the final impetus for setting up the company was the death of her father at the beginning of 2013.

"One of the last things he said to me was, 'You must go and do it, and make it successful'," she says.

Ms Saleem conducted market research, which showed there were thousands of second-generation UK Muslims like her who wanted to buy halal ready-meal versions of traditional British and Italian dishes, made from all natural ingredients, and that tasted good.

"The first generation of Muslims who came to this country typically would have stuck to the food they were used to," she says. "But us younger Muslims want to try different types of foods, we want to eat the 'normal' foods that British people do.

"Ieat gives those that follow the halal rules a convenient and healthy chance to do so."

Animal welfare

Ms Saleem says her next task was to establish a supply chain she could trust, with all the food ingredients being fully traceable. A halal-only factory in Yorkshire was secured, and all natural recipes finalised.

Then six months ago, Sainsbury's agreed to take Ieat Foods' first 12 product lines in its stores in London, Birmingham and Leicester, and they are now being stocked.

Lambs Ieat Foods defends the halal slaughter process and says it rigorously checks on suppliers' welfare standards

But isn't halal slaughter - which involves cutting the animal's throat without first stunning the animal - at odds with the business's boast of good animal-welfare practice and ethics?

She says: "There are lots of credible studies which show that when done correctly there is no more suffering than non-halal.

"I have hand-picked the best suppliers who adhere to the highest welfare standards, not just at the time of slaughter, but throughout the life of the animals."

With just five employees at present, Ms Saleem has big plans to expand Ieat Foods.

"I get my ambition from my parents, who came to this country from Sri Lanka with nothing and both worked multiple jobs to make a good life for themselves and their family," she says.

"And my faith and my British identity is why I'm doing this particular business. I'm just mixing the two."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    08:46: MARKET UPDATE

    Markets are down again today. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.35%, the Dax in Frankfurt declined 0.31% and the French CAC dropped 0.11%.

    • ARM Holdings led the gainers up 2.5%
    • Reckitt Benckiser led the losers down 2.4%
    • Whitbread fell 2.2%
    08:36: BAE BUYER

    BAE Systems continues its movement into cyber security, stumping up £144m for Perimeter Internetworking Corp, which trades as SilverSky, a cloud security firm. The purchase will add to earnings in three years, says the firm

    08:24: TOTAL SHARES

    Shares in French oil firm Total are understandably lower this morning following the death overnight of the company's widely respected chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plan crash in Moscow. Total has opened down nearly 3% to €42.94.

    08:12: WHITBREAD
    General view of cup from a Costa Coffee shop,

    Revenue for the owner of Costa Coffee and Premier Inn was up 13% to £1.29bn for the six months ended 28 August. Whitbread chief executive Andy Harrison said: "The trading momentum of our strong first half performance has continued into the first few weeks of the second half and positions Whitbread well to deliver full year results in line with expectations."

    08:00: GKN RESULTS

    GKN, which makes parts of planes and cars, said sales fell of the third quarter - that's July to September - but profit rose. A stronger pound than last year caused much of the lost revenue. For the rest of the year, the motor and aerospace market will grow, while agriculture "looks set to continue its recent decline," it says.

    07:50: ARM CHIPS BBC Radio 4

    Simon Segars the boss of chipmaker ARM is on the Today programme. He says lots of companies license his firm's tech so he's not worried about competition from the likes of Intel, which is now targeting ARM's market. "Competition is a good thing," he says. He adds: "History has shown the technology solution that we produce is the one that goes into most devices. Virtually every smartphone in the world uses an ARM processor". So, safe to say he's not worried in the slightest then.

    ASOS webpage screengrab

    Online retailer ASOS has reported as 14% slump in profits to £46.9m. Last year ASOS reported profits of £54.7m. There are no surprises here, though. The firm has previously warned "disruption" from investment in warehousing and the launch of its new business in China would hurt profits and that remains the case. Boss Nick Robertson says the firm is "in a period of major investment that comes at a short term cost, but the medium-term benefits will be significant."

    07:20: ARM CHIPS

    ARM, which could well make the chips in your mobile phone, says it made $320m (£195.5m) of sales in the third quarter, up 12% compared with last year. It will probably sell $350m in the final three months of the year, it said.

    Reckitt Benckiser products

    Reckitt Benckiser says it now expects full year revenue growth at the lower end of its total revenue growth target of 4-5%. The firm "delivered a robust performance in tougher markets in the third quarter" it said.

    07:00: CHINA GROWTH BBC Radio 4

    China's economy grew by 7.3% in the three months to September, compared with expectations of 7.2%. But it's still the lowest growth in six years. The BBC's Chief Business Correspondent Linda Yueh tells the Today programme Chinese monetary policymakers want to slow the Chinese economic growth gradually and allow the rest of the world to get used to it. China is becoming a "middle income economy" she says and will revert to a normal path for a developed economy over time of around 3% to 4%.

    Via Twitter Linda Yueh Chief business correspondent

    tweets: My interview with CEO of Oscar de la Renta fashion house, Alex Bolen, from Talking Business

    06:41: ENGINEERING SKILLS Radio 5 live

    We don't have enough engineers in the UK or scientists for that matter argues Ann Watson of Semta, an engineering skills charity, on 5 live. She says: "We need a million scientists, engineers and technicians by 2020, We are starting to see a shortage in education; people training those recruits." The perception of engineering as a "dirty, oily industry" doesn't help, she says.

    06:30: STOCK MARKET Radio 5 live

    Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank is on 5 live talking about the falling stock market. "If we see stocks fall more we may see companies bargain hunting," she says. So more firms may start purchasing each other.

    06:21: HEATHROW TRAVEL Radio 5 live

    Travel writer Simon Calder is on 5 live talking about the weather. He says he sees about 50 weather-related cancellations at Heathrow, so perhaps about 5% of flights so far. Flights to Frankfurt look hard to come by, he says.


    Heathrow airport has said this morning that around 10% of flights will be cancelled today as the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo hit the UK. Flights with the 20 biggest carriers would be affected, it says. British Airways has already cancelled some ahead of the expected severe weather. The remains of the hurricane are predicted to bring heavy rain and gusts of up to 75mph in some areas, causing disruption to rush-hour travel. If you're travelling today it's worth checking before you arrive at the airport.

    06:02: TOTAL CEO DEATH Radio 5 live

    Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of French oil company Total, has died in an air crash in Moscow. Sarah Rainsford, the BBC's correspondent in Moscow says poor weather with low visibility is a possible cause of the crash. His plane crashed when it collided with a snow-clearing machine killing him and three crew, she tells 5 live.

    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via email or on twitter @BBCBusiness.

    06:00: Matthew West Business reporter

    Morning folks, we have the latest public borrowing figures out at 9:30 today. But before that we have full year results from online retailer ASOS, and interim figures from Whitbread, plus the weather is promising to play havoc with the transport network today with 10% of flights out of Heathrow already cancelled this morning. We'll bring you everything as it happens.



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.