How I Started a Successful
Superfood Snack Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Michaela Hardt and I started my food business Nutmad at the end of 2017. Nutmad is a nut snack made with activated nuts. ‘Activated’ basically means the nuts have been soaked in water. After soaking, nuts and seeds are easier to digest and our body can absorb more of their nutrients because the effect of certain natural chemicals that nuts contain has been reduced.
The idea behind it was to offer a snack that not only tastes delicious but also has a whole spectrum of health benefits. Healthy food is commonly considered to be not very tasty compared with less healthy food options, and snacking is often considered to be a guilty pleasure. That doesn’t need to be true though. With the right ingredients we can have healthy, nourishing and at the same time great-tasting snacks.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I moved to London from Germany, where I used to work in trade PR. After I had my children I wanted to do something different, which would help me grow but also would allow me to work more flexible hours around my twin daughters and spend more time with them.
I love all kinds of snacks but nuts have always been among my favourite ones. When I first tried activated nuts at a party I was fascinated by how much better they tasted compared to raw nuts. My husband and I started making them at home and after some research, we found out about their health benefits.
‘Activation’ of nuts is a traditional practice in countries such as India and Sri Lanka, where people have been soaking nuts and seeds overnight for generations to make them easier to absorb. Soaking is recommended in the Ayurvedic diet where good health is associated with good digestion.
Healthwise, people who eat nuts regularly can benefit a lot from activated nuts. Nuts and seeds can put a strain on our digestion when we eat them often, because of the enzyme inhibitors they contain.
Over the last few years, we’ve made quite a few batches of activated nuts, soaking and drying them in our own kitchen and had many tasting sessions with friends and family. They all loved the nuts for their taste since after drying they become crunchy and creamy. I decided to combine my passion for snacking and interest for a healthy lifestyle with the growing market demand for healthy food. This is how Nutmad was born.
Currently the product range includes five types of activated nuts in a range of different flavours.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
One of the challenges of building this business is that activated nuts are still quite new, and most people haven’t heard about them. The consumer still needs to be educated about the health benefits; that activated nuts are more easily digested, and that we get the full complement of nutrients from them in this form.
Time management is another challenge. As a parent of young children, I can’t invest 100% of my time in building the business. I’ve found myself sitting with my laptop every possible moment when my children are asleep, staying up late at night, which can become very exhausting when you have two toddlers in the house.
Flexible working hours often mean late working hours and not enough time to work in general – which can lead to putting off tasks and not having a typical working day with a set cut-off time. These are things you want to do but you don’t have the time to focus on everything at once. Right now we are in a lockdown situation due to the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak. I have four years old twins and no childcare. It is pretty challenging.
Another challenge is the feeling of being overwhelmed. This is something that all entrepreneurs struggle with now and again, it’s not unusual. What helps, is remembering why you started your venture and how far you have come on your journey.
Who is your target market?
The Nutmad products are a great snack for people who are active, often on the go and need an energy boost between meals, but want to move from chocolate bars and crisps towards healthier options. My customers are also people who love good food and care about their health and wellbeing.
Most orders so far come from the UK, though I have just recently begun shipping to the EU too. The most popular flavours are Walnuts Salted Maple Caramel, and Cashews Maple & Rosemary are quite popular among those with a sweet tooth since they taste sweet but are not too high in sugar.
Our healthy snack box, featuring portion-sized bags of all five products, is a very popular gift option. So for someone like me, who loves to snack on nuts, or for people who eat less or no meat and use nuts as a protein source, activated nuts are the right choice.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Our main marketing channels are social media; collaborations with food bloggers and attendance at key industry events where we can more easily pitch to our target audience. PR and reviews in widely circulated publications has also proved to be an effective way of spreading the word about Nutmad and attracting new customers. We have utilised paid advertisements on a few occasions, but so far they haven’t proved particularly effective.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
What our customers appreciate is the high-quality of the products and our excellent customer service. I always respond quickly to customer queries and listen to customers’ feedback.
Every Nutmad box goes out with a handwritten thank you note. I want the customer to know that I appreciate their trust, and I’m really happy they chose our product.
To keep customers up-to-date, I send out a monthly newsletter, in which I share Nutmad recipes, tips about healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle and some special offers only available to newsletter subscribers. Some of the Nutmad products are also available via subscription, so I often add a bonus to the subscribers’ boxes such as a sample of a different product, chocolate for Valentine’s Day, etc.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since I mostly work with other solopreneurs and freelancers, it’s important that we connect on a personal level. The working process is so much easier when people are nice to each other. Often they are parents, who work around their children, or young people who are just starting off as freelancers after they’ve gathered some corporate experience.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
For my daily tasks and projects, I like using the Asana app that gives me a very good overview of what I’m doing. I like that I can access it from both PC and phone. It’s great for putting down ideas when I’m on the go. I also still use the old school notebook and pen for mapping out projects.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I had not previously worked in the food industry so there are many areas that I had to learn in the last two and a half years. Food production, sales, working with retailers, social media mastery and building an audience to name just a few. I also realised that doing PR for yourself is a different ballgame than doing PR for someone else!
There are certain decisions I wish I would have made quicker than I did, but there is a fundamental reason I didn’t. We aren’t born with retrospective knowledge. We need to go through a process to gain experience and learn. So I don’t want to beat myself up for making mistakes because I learnt from them, developed confidence and next time I will be able to avoid them. This is vitally important for all would-be entrepreneurs to grasp as early as possible.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I enjoy the flexibility I have, not only in regards to the working hours but also in the decision-making process. The steep learning curve and personal growth I’ve experienced over the last years is something I wouldn’t have had in another job.
Through the networks I’ve joined, I’ve met some very hard-working and inspiring people, many of whom have also become good friends. Additionally, I’ve developed my creativity, resilience and patience, and have gained a lot of confidence.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
One of my favourite business books is Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. I would recommend it to anyone, who is about to or has already started their business. It will show you how best to be clear about your message and how to communicate it to your audience.
For building a food business in particular, I found very useful reading The Winning Mix by Claire Brumby, Flying off the Shelves and Packed by Tessa Stuart, as well as Recipe for Success by Karen Green. They offer some great advice on how to start a food business, how to get on the shelves of the (big) retailers and what your products need to have to get consumers’ attention.
A podcast I have been listening all the way is the one by Janet Murray. She offers a lot of advice on building an audience and creating engaging content. It’s suitable for both product and service-based businesses. I have found it particularly useful for building my social media strategy.
I also like listening to The Ideal Life Club podcast by Michelle Reeves, for some entrepreneurial mindset inspiration and to Unleash Your Niche by Amy Caiger, who gives some great advice on how to successfully find your niche and how to communicate to your ideal client.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’d love to establish the Nutmad healthy snack box as a popular subscription box for people who want to snack healthy without compromising on taste.
Also, it would be great to see Nutmad products begin to feature in the travel industry, for example as a part of an airlines’ snack offering.