Business Advice finds out how the entrepreneur behind The Paleo Foods Co. built a home-made granola recipe into a nationwide health food brand.
Having struggled to convince a manufacturer to take her toasted seed and nut granola seriously, Claire Dinsmore decided to shoulder production responsibilities on her own. Four years down the line, the brand’s almond milk and grain-free granola products are stocked in major supermarkets and independent food stores across the UK.
Business Advice sat down with Dinsmore to hear how she navigated the manufacturing and distribution challenges of supplying national retailers in the early days of business, and what the future holds for The Paleo Food Co..
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Claire, I am 29 years old and I’m the founder and director of The Paleo Foods Company. The Paleo Foods Co. is a premium health food brand that creates products and sells them into independent and national retailers mostly in the UK.
I was born and grew up in County Down, Northern Ireland. I have one older sister and three older brothers, so there was a lot of eating in our house. When I was six, my mum became a single parent working full time. She’s amazing.
I moved to London when I was 22 to complete my degree in business studies and have lived here since. I met my partner Francesco shortly after I moved here, who is also a foodie being Italian.
How long have you been around for?
We were four years old in August, although the idea started two years prior. I always had an interest in business and liked to experiment with cooking and making recipes. Although I never thought I would end up putting the two together one day.
Now, we sell our grain-free granola and almond milk in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Ocado and Planet Organic plus a host of lovely independent retailers nationwide.
Where did your business idea come from?
I could see a clear gap in the market for a grain-free cereal. A cereal alternative which was low in carbs and in sugar, but was still really good for you and tasted great.
I was trying to avoid refined carbs for breakfast but I missed the crunch of cereal so much. So, I started making my own “granola”, but I made it based on a mix of toasted nuts and seeds. I chopped different nuts in different ways, together with seeds and coconut to try and imitate the texture of regular granola. The results were successful and the granola tasted amazing – the concept just grew from there.
I also had a drive to work for myself from early on. When I was in my first graduate job I realised that I didn’t want to be sitting at a desk working for someone else for the next 30 years. I felt suffocated in the corporate environment so that was also part of the inspiration to go out and work for myself.
What was key in terms of getting started?
Quitting my job and committing to it. Just taking that risk and going for it. At the time I had nothing to lose. I quickly realised I was good at finding solutions for difficult problems, and keeping a positive mindset. There is always a way.
What makes you different and why should people take notice?
I think we are testament that you can start a business from really very little if you have something people want to buy and bags of determination. I really had zero, and my family weren’t in a position to help. I had a small loan from my brother and a £5,000 startup loan.
In the beginning, I couldn’t get any co-manufacturer to take me seriously, I just had an idea and a homemade sample, but with no money or customers it’s a real challenge to find someone who will manufacture for you.
So rather than do nothing I figured the only way was to make it myself. I hired a production kitchen, did the health training course, invested in ovens and someone to help me. I started making the granola into paper bags with a sticker on top and selling it into Whole Foods and independent food shops in London.
I just kept re-investing everything and doing all the jobs myself at the very beginning – including actually making the granola. This meant a lot of mistakes, learning new things and not a lot of sleep for the first two years.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?
After 12 months, I decided to take the bold step and pitch the product to Waitrose. They wanted to stock it which was amazing, but I still had no way to supply them – it was quite a daunting situation. But with a Waitrose listing in hand and proof of sales in Whole Foods, I was finally able to secure a manufacturer to take us on.
It was an extremely tight deadline, but we made the product just in time with the new factory to get it shipped into the customer to and land their first order. And really from there that was the turning point, we had a manufacturing partner who could help us scale up and a listing with a major retailer.
The product sold well in stores, and we soon had other retailers on board, including Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett, Ocado and more independents like Planet Organic.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Making it to year four and maintaining all my ownership of the company and having no debt. That’s something I am really proud of given that I started with zero. Also, just having my own product on a supermarket shelf and people buying it feels pretty incredible.
What one tip would you give to others starting out?
It sounds obvious, but an in-depth business plan and cash flow forecast are really important tools to get you off the ground and convince others to believe in your idea. Also remember that progress takes time, just keep moving forward – every small step counts.
Lastly, perhaps some people are afraid to start a business as it seems like it’s too expensive, but you really can start small and build it up organically without getting into debt or giving away equity in your company if you don’t want to.
What’s the next step for The Paleo Foods Co.?
We are looking at more product opportunities which is really very exciting. Our new nut milks are part of this – it has always been the goal to create a cross category brand so I am focusing on growing the business, I enjoy what I do.
Who are your business heroes and why?
Tim Ferriss would have to be one. His book really inspired me on designing my own work day. Looking up to other startups, Pip & Nut did a fantastic job at building brand awareness in a short period. Rude Health, dominating the space, lots of product innovation. It’s good to keep a close eye on the competition.
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