Any other business

Mini nom nom's: The fears and thrills of going to market with a healthy food brand

8 min read

19 June 2015

We meet Pitch to Rich 2015 semi-finalist Lisa Sohanpal, who is set to take her healthy ready meals for children to the shelves of Ocado and Selfridges – and hopes to foster a new generation of healthy eaters.

So what’s it really like to launch a new food brand? Launching any kind of food business takes nerves of steel, more money than predicted and taking risks that are way beyond the comfort zone. Lisa Sohanpal is on the brink of launching her long awaited range of ready meals to market but far from feeling like the beginning – she has come a long, long way to get to this juncture. With the real trial by fire just around the corner, we ask her “how ready is ready”?

“I’ve been told I can’t achieve what I am aiming for so many times now that I am switched off to hearing negativity. If I had listened to all those people along the way who said ‘it can’t be done’ I would not be at this point right now about to launch, I certainly would not have had the product I so wanted to produce. So my biggest strength is being stubborn and listening to my heart, and believing in it!” said Sohanpal, managing director of the new brand Mini nom nom’s.

The demands on mums

Sohanpal devised the idea for her brand when making authentic curries for her three young children after a busy day at work. Despite working hard as a business woman and being a parent she said there is no way she would want to feed her children quick and unhealthy ready food just because it was there. As a dedicated foodie she did not rate the available ready meals as high quality and even suitable for kids as they were high in salt, sugar, preservatives and additives. She explained a disappointment when it came to reading the ingredients list – finding additives and artificial preservatives being used that would not be part of a home-made meal.

Her belief, she said, is that children are “explorers” – but a lot of ready food does not encourage their innate sense to discover things for themselves. If anything it sets them back with bland colours, textures and food that is loaded with sugar and salt to make it addictive, she went on to say.

“My aim was to get kids to mix, dip, pour and sprinkle the food on offer – to engage and stimulate their senses – to give them textures and child friendly spices so their taste buds come alive and are tingling with every mouthful.” commented Sohanpal. “The five meals we chose in the end were authentic recipes that adults would enjoy at a restaurant or cook from scratch at home with all the spices and correct ingredients to bring out the recognisable flavours of the dish. What we had to do was balance the spices in a way so they would not be too firey but just very flavoursome.”

The challenge, she added, was to create an authentic meal that is “bursting with flavour” using spices, herbs and fresh ingredients so there was not a need to have salt or sugar as in other ready meals.

“Initially, when you make a ready meal for a child, by leaving out the unhealthy ingredients you risk losing attraction for children’s desire for the tastes they are used to but we did it with the expertise of Emma Grazette who is the co-author and co-presenter of book and TV programme Spice Trip. She is a culinary spice expert who could create child-friendly blends unique to each dish. It’s so important for me as a mother and I believe for other mums to know you are feeding your children high quality meals from a brand you can trust that has a strict no nasties policy.”

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The long journey to the start

That was the inspiration but since conception of the ideas, she has built a team and a business and before even selling a single meal she has created a legacy pre-launch.

Sohanpal began the journey with a Start Up loan from Virgin and has spent two years building the brand – winning Gold for Innovation at Lunch 2014 and three awards at the World Food Innovation Awards at the International Food & Drink Event (IFE) 2015. The packaging is going to have integrated story telling via innovative Virtual Reality stories that are viewed with the aid of an app. She has also strived to make the packaging 100 per cent recyclable. 

The entrepreneur is also determined to help poverty-stricken children in India by funding their daily school meal so they can focus on education instead of survival. She is sponsoring an entire school with 271 children with a daily meal programme in the city of Mathura, near New Delhi, amounting to serving around 70,000 meals to date. This is all being done without having sold a single product yet.

With the July launch date looming – she “mustered the determination” to enter and fight to win another competition, the now famous Pitch to Rich contest – where SME’s fight to win investment from Virgin’s Richard Branson. Up against hundreds of entrants, she managed to achieve the position of semi finalist.

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“It was a real blow not to win when we have been fighting for this so hard but we now have an extra 4,000 people who know about us and voted for our brand – which is wonderful,” she added. “There is rarely a downside to going for something with huge positivity and raising awareness. That is something I know about business – luck and achievement can usually be explained by determination and grit and believing in something.”

Sohanpal and her team are now on the brink of launch, and she describes the excitement is “almost palpable”. Ocado and Selfridges are on board as retailers and others are hoped to follow soon. Could this be the dawn of the genuinely healthy world food ready meal? Sohanpal believes it is.