Creating the next big food start-up: Do you have what it takes?

Here, Tom Mercer talks to the owners of two early-stage food businesses about why they started and the hurdles they faced.

We all need to eat, but there are those of us who take our food very seriously. Many people across the UK are using this passion for food to start new and successful business ventures. If you’re thinking of creating a new food-related business but want to find out how to make your business stand out from your competitors, take a look at the insights and advice below from thriving UK food business owners.

We’re talking to Primrose Matheson (PM), founder of Primrose’s Kitchen, a Dorset-based superfood company, and Guka Tavberidze (GT), founder of smoothie company Savse.

What made you decide to start your own business?

PM: I started my own business because ultimately I had never felt satisfied working for other people and couldn’t find something that fitted and felt right. I loved doing farmers’ markets and creating products to sell. I was at a point in my life where I had no job, little money, I was newly single and needed to find somewhere to live and base myself. I chose Dorset, a place full of foodies, which inspired me to put into action the idea I had been playing around with for the previous few months. I felt like i had nothing to lose; everything felt like a fresh start.

GT: I dropped out of university and started working in sales which was going well but I soon realised I needed to do something I was truly passionate about. I think I was missing home and craving the fresh smoothies my mother would make in the kitchen and when I couldn’t find anything that tasted as good as the ones she would make at home I got the idea to create something myself. I wanted to give people a genuinely healthy, great-tasting drink and really shake up the market. At the time everything available was full of artificial ingredients, colourings etc. and I found this dishonest.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

PM: The biggest challenge has been upscaling a small operation without sacrificing the product. It was also a challenge sourcing the machinery needed to grow as I’m more creative than practical!  

GT: There have been a lot of challenges along the way but I’d say the biggest came early on when trying to find a way to preserve Savse without using heat pasteurisation. At the time everyone was telling me this was the only way but if you heat fruit and vegetables you end up losing all the natural goodness and nutrients and I wasn’t willing to do this. It took a lot of time and determination to discover HPP, a preservation technique that involves applying high pressure cold water treatment to the outside of the bottle which kills off any bacteria and gives the product a shelf life of 50 days. It was challenging but worth it in the end. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

PM: The most important lesson is that the things that go wrong are more beneficial than the things that go right. They offer many more opportunities to learn from. Always think of your bottle as half full rather than half empty and you will rise above any challenge.

GT: Nothing is as bad or as challenging as it first seems and there is always a way that works, so long as you don’t settle. 

What do you differently to your competitors?

PM: We make our products in house in Dorset by hand using the highest quality ingredients including organic where possible. Our products are all gluten free and vegan. We are working towards zero waste in our kitchen and are constantly looking at packaging to try and reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible. We use eye-catching packaging that means our products are a great gift for others and stand out from the crowd.

GT: I think our love of innovation and the team that we’ve got really set us apart. We don’t want to be like other brands on the market which is why we had a bespoke bottle shape made so we look different to other drinks next to us on the shelves. We’re really big on responding to what consumers want. We could see that protein was a fast growing market and so back in July we launched the UK’s first ever protein-based drink preserved using HPP in collaboration with bestselling author and nutritional health coach Madeleine Shaw. This became the fastest ever selling new product in a major high street retailer two weeks from launch.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to start a new business?

PM: Research the demand for your product, even if it’s just doing what I did which was to go to farmers markets and shows and see if people liked it and wanted to buy it. Make sure you have a vision of where you want to go mapped out so you can monitor how the business is progressing. This is also important for your own morale as we often miss little things when we are only concentrating on the big things and lots of little accomplishments are as rewarding as big ones. Make sure you have someone who can be a mentor or sounding board when you need to discuss ideas as making decisions on your own is not always easy.

GT: If you have an idea you honestly believe in then just go for it. I believe that with everything you can always find a way that works. People told me no but I refused to listen and I felt the fear but did it anyway and there’s nothing to stop anyone else from doing the same.

Tom Mercer is the founder of MOMA Foods.

Further reading on food businesses

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