Essential advice from food founders

Starting a business is an exhilarating experience – but also a tad nerve-wracking. It can involve leaping into the unknown. The most valuable lessons are often learned the hard way, but wouldn’t it be great to get advice from food founders.

In our Food Founders Interview podcast, we dive into the stories of remarkable entrepreneurs who have started and scaled their food and drink businesses. We often ask them what advice they wish they could have given themselves at the start. The podcast is a great place to go if you’re looking for inspiration and insight.

“Trust your gut.”

Hunter & Gather Foods helps people improve their health by making it easier to adopt a real food lifestyle. They offer products, information and inspiration to help people change their diets and cut out ultra-processed foods. The business was founded by Amy, a lifelong coeliac, and Jeff, who suffered from acne, asthma and IBS as a teen. Asked about things she wishes she’d known at the start, Amy says:

“Trust your gut, always. My gut has got me out of so many situations. Change also becomes your friend, so don’t be scared of that in a fast-paced environment. At the end of this year, the business will be twice as big as the year before, and it was nearly already twice as big then as the year before that. If you think of that pace, of how you have to scale everything up, from team to infrastructure, to everything, it’s a really quick change, and you have to get comfortable with that. Be almost six months to a year ahead in your mind. It’s a journey, so don’t take it for granted, and don’t feel inferior to those that have tread the path. Your naivety, your grit, your determination and your gut will see you through.

“Focus on the product.”

Disappointed by the vegan cheese on offer, Mike Moore founded Honestly Tasty in 2018, creating products like Bree, Shamembert and Blue and getting them listed with M&S, Ocado, Vegan Kind and independent specialists. He says:

“A hundred things. I would probably have not launched in the same way as I did in terms of going out to smaller independents. I would have concentrated on food tech and increasing the shelf life of the product beforehand. These are things that you don’t appreciate the importance of if you’re not from the industry. We probably would have gone down a co-manufacturing route, and I’m quite pleased that we didn’t – it’s quite nice to have full control over the quality and production scheduling. I would have also put a lot more focus on branding, as it’s always been a product-led business, getting that done a lot quicker.”

“Find a great supply chain partner early on.”

Nix & Kix is a refreshingly different soft drink brand that wants to give people better choices when it comes to soft drinks, with natural ingredients, refreshing combinations and the natural benefits of botanicals. Julia Kessler, Co-founder, says:

“The biggest learning is to find a really great supply chain partner early on. Because when you fall in love with the idea you created on the kitchen table, to find someone to match that is really difficult. It’s coming back to what’s the idea, what you’re trying to solve, and finding someone relatively early on to solve that with you. In food and drink, there are so many technical aspects that you underestimate initially. That’s probably my number one learning: find good partners early on.”

“It’s going to take a long time.”

Juspy is an innovative collagen and protein cacao superfood blend. It’s packed with functional ingredients and boasts a clean label. The business was founded by Leonie Lynch, who has achieved a lot during her seven-year journey, including winning a Great Taste Award. She says:

“It’s going to take a long time. I thought: I have an idea; I’m going to have a product in two weeks, I’m going to sell it, and everyone is going to love it, and it’s going to be really easy, and there you go. That was seven years ago. And things change. I have developed patience, which I have very little of. I’ve also learnt that nobody else is on your time trajectory; people are busy, and when you’re looking for things, they’re not always there to fulfil your needs. When you’re outsourcing things, you want to get your operations timeline in play. If more products are selling, you need to be more prepared.”

“Focus on one thing”

Black Mamba is on a mission to make the world tastier and spicier with a range of ‘venomous’ sauces, chutneys and pestos that bring the heat. Based in Eswatini in Southern Africa but with stockists on four continents, founder Claudia Castellanos wanted to build a better world through good food, ethical practices and impact entrepreneurship. She says:

“I’ve thought of that question a lot. For me, one thing I wish I would have done before is focus. When you’re starting, you can get distracted by every shiny or dangling thing that gets thrown your way, and sometimes, you put a lot of effort into things that are not necessarily worth it for your business. So, focus on one. And learn that everything takes time. You want things to be achieved very fast, but building a brand takes time. That would have saved me a lot of frustration.”

‘Manage the costs’

Origin Kitchen has gone from kitchen table to commercial kitchen with its delicious plant-based products, all made with natural ingredients and packed with nutrition. Co-founder and Operations Director Leah Brown says:

“Very unglamorous, but it’s managing the costs. There are so many hidden costs, and everything costs at least four times what you thought it would cost. So, I would say, making sure you understand what those costs are and how you’re going to cover them. Because it’s not just whether you can afford the costs of what you’re doing today. As you scale, those costs scale with you. Therefore, the cash flow requirements scale along with them. The temptation to undercharge is very real, and try to avoid it if you can, because the big brands can fight it out on price but the little brands have got to fight it out on quality and uniqueness.”

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