Despite its famous love of meat dishes (bangers and mash, anyone?), the UK recently overtook Germany to become the global leader of plant-based food product launches.
Other strides of progress include these positive findings from – well, Finder:
- Currently, around 14% of adults (7.2 million) in the UK are following a meat-free diet
- A further 12% (6.5 million) of the population intend to become vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian in 2021
With such significant spikes in plant-based consumerism, brands are queuing up to join the clean-eating bandwagon.
But how can producers ensure these values are being upheld at every step along the way? What about consumers?
At Addition, we’re proud to be financial allies to some incredible people.
We’ve asked Stephanie Peritore, founder of plant-based treats brand Mindful Bites, to talk about her journey as a conscious entrepreneur.
What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur. There wasn’t this burning desire of ‘I should do a start-up’. I was working in finance. And for a number of reasons, I started looking at the big problems in the world. It was probably the beginning of people looking at ESG as its own investment class.
I noticed that whatever the problem – malnutrition, obesity, sugar levels, C02 emissions – it was leading back to one thing: food and the food system.
Again, looking at everything and asking ‘why did we have this problem’ – it was really food. A broken food system.
I thought ‘The big producers are propagating waste and people are being conditioned to eat it. How can we rewrite the message around food? We need to make consumers part of the conversation.’
It wasn’t about being my own boss. In fact I was aware that it was going to negatively impact my life at first as I had a very comfortable corporate job. However I was finding it difficult to continue committing to that level of intensity as my passions were elsewhere.
How did you come up with the name for your company?
I had this sort of lightbulb moment. For me, food has to be about the experience, not just nutrition.
You should feel a sense of gratitude for that food – beyond food security. It’s the fact that someone out there has actually physically handled every aspect of the food production process. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
All I wanted was every single bite to represent something – whether that is the moment that you’re grateful for, or the memories it brings. That’s one aspect of Mindfulness. Another is the integrity of our process.
I know we are a vegan brand. But at the same time, I don’t view ‘veganism’ as the beginning and end. The moment we don’t apply those ethics to every part of the supply chain, we have failed.
Arsenic is also vegan – that doesn’t mean it’s good. We’ve seen this with the rise in ‘greenwashing’. Being true to our values is another part of Mindfulness.
How do you build a successful customer base?
Instead of focusing on a client base, I focused on the shared intention – to eat in a sustainable way. Is my product meeting that intention, or is there a disengagement between the product and the customer’s intent? If so, it’s not the customer’s fault – it’s my fault.
We never really set out to ‘build a customer base’ – it happened organically. We were out there with a message and people responded.
We did have the ‘persona’, but did we get it right? Of course we didn’t. ‘Sophie’ didn’t exist. My early adopters all had elements of this persona, but they were all different. It wasn’t so much the demographics – it was moving along the intention.
We also kept messaging consistent by staying true to our values. For example, we don’t participate in Black Friday. The farmer has still had to get up at 5 AM, the worker has still turned up to the production plant. Either the prices were already too high, or someone isn’t getting paid. That’s not mindful or sustainable – hence we don’t engage.
Can you describe/outline your typical day?
I always start my day with physical exercise. As I spend so much time alone, my favourite workout is attending a local class. This is the only thing I have genuinely missed during the pandemic. I’m not great at working out at home.
Once I start working, I usually make a to-do list as it helps me to focus. I’m not a procrastinator – but there are some things that deserve procrastination (like phone calls that could have been handled by a simple email)! However, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t finish everything.
I have learned to be kinder to myself. Most of us would never talk to our friends the way we talk to ourselves.
I’ve also been better at trying to switch off in evenings and weekends too. Working from home can easily blur the lines, especially when you are your own boss and no one is telling you to stop. Enjoying a cold beer in a friend’s garden with nice music in my jeans – there’s nothing better.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
1. Strength of conviction.
The day of an entrepreneur is a sequence of decisions. And often, we’re making these with incredibly limited resources and data – a sub-optimal climate for making informed choices. Sometimes, we’ll get it wrong.
Using your brand mission as a compass helps keep conviction strong in these cases.
My grandmother lived for over 100 years old. She was a very shy and timid woman most of the time. And yet, whenever an earthquake would strike (as they often do in Sicily), she would almost single-handedly manage the entire family to safety.
The same applies to entrepreneurship. If you are uncomfortable with pain, starting a business is not for you. You need to almost be able to thrive in that environment.
There is a new rhetoric emerging that the ‘customer is not always right’. This might be true of disputes, but I don’t think it’s true when it comes to actually selling your product. In this case, yes, the consumer IS always right.
If your target audience was there and they didn’t buy, you have the problem, not them. Be objective and honest with yourself – otherwise you’ll never grow.
What are some things that kept you awake at the start, but in the end were not worth it?
At the beginning, this was definitely the fear of failure.
I had a launch date with Whole Foods, and I had this scenario in my head where consumers would look at my product and laugh at me. I thought ‘what if they laugh at me ?’ over and over. Some of my more rational concerns were being squeezed out by this one possibility and it was crushing me. I thought, ‘I need to stop this voice’.
So I started asking myself: ‘If they do laugh, what happens next? They’ll just laugh and then I’ll laugh with them and we move on to someone who does get it’.
Ask yourself, ‘What actually happens if I fail?’ Start moving past that and asking ‘so what happens next?’.
I apply this to every business scenario – what is truly the worst case scenario? And then once you face that, you go ‘ah okay – well, whatever then’. It’s liberating.
What would you do with unlimited resources?
I love the innovation that’s happening in the alternative foods space, such as fermentation processes and lab-grown meats. If money and time were not an issue, I would really like to implement a number of ideas in my head.
Also, I’d go on a really long diving holiday! I’ve always loved diving. I watched Seaspiracy recently (I wouldn’t go as far as saying David Attenborough and I are pals but I could watch him all day). I’ve always been obsessed with sharks, and this documentary made me see how endangered they are as a species. I’d love to go diving with them and find out more about how we can help them.
Speaking of innovation: you recently used Addition’s R&D tax relief service to file a successful R&D claim for your Mindful Bites Biscotti. Can you tell us more about that?
It was even harder than it sounds! It was a very delicate process working with sourdoughs. It was really more like alchemy.
These recipes are even protected by Italian law! For me to make a vegan version, I would have to go through so many different approval levels that it was easier to call them something else entirely.
I am very lucky to have an amazing group of producers. Their commitment to the end product is impressive. We’re now filing an R&D claim for our vegan Nutella. .
We are taking on these heavyweight copyrighted products and trying to achieve the same flavour, texture and joyfulness associated with it, while completely overhauling the recipe to wipe it clean from harmful ingredients. That’s innovation at its best!
What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?
It can be easy to feel that ‘the longer hours I put in, the harder I work and the more I suffer, the closer I am to an exit’, but this is wrong. The more you stay isolated, the louder the (often toxic) narrative in your head becomes.
You need to drown out this voice by getting out and speaking to other people. Start reconnecting with like-minded individuals – family, friends and other entrepreneurs and founders.
Having said that, do be selective in the company you keep. Avoid what I like to call the ‘Misery Chambers’. Of course, you should be comfortable expressing pain and coming to terms with things – but this needs to come with bouncing back and getting out there again.
There are online groups or circles where people are constantly regurgitating negativity. In these Misery Chambers – do you think you’re going to walk out feeling better about the world? Sometimes you need to say ‘I can’t listen to this anymore’. So do socialise, but choose your trusted network carefully.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Failure is my greatest fear. However, you will always encounter it. You can’t really be a winner unless you are a very gracious loser. In reverse: be a gracious loser, then you will win. You need to see both success and failure as one and the same.
Even when you win, you’re still not invincible. Even if you win one day, the next day might hit you in the face.
There’s no point in being desperately sad about loss, or overly-cocky about your wins. Just take it all in stride – that’s the best way to manage things.