Switching from an engineering career to become a food entrepreneur
8 min read
20 June 2017
Despite having a background in engineering, Siddhi Mehta decided to fill a gap in the market – and people’s stomachs – by creating a healthy snack business and forging a path as a food entrepreneur.
Mehta is the founder of Rhythm108, a company that produces snacks that cater to those with a sweet-tooth. However, the difference is that the food entrepreneur has managed to give them a nutritious edge to avoid falling into the realm of junk food.
She’s worked in a copper refinery and management consultancy, and is also a qualified engineer. So how did she become a food entrepreneur exactly?
“It wasn’t about purposely moving away from the engineering sector – it was just that I saw a need for the type of products we made; a personal need, so it was a matter of moving into another sector,” Mehta explained, going on to reveal her engineering skills are still used as a food entrepreneur.
“The things I love about engineering are the problem solving and practical hands-on nature of the subject. I think that’s all transferrable into a food startup environment. We do all production in-house, so I am using a lot of skills I learnt. I still love engineering.”
Despite possessing an idea she thought was brilliant, it wasn’t a case of waking up and saying “I’ll be a great food entrepreneur”, but a matter of taking small steps. Rhythm108 started off as a market stall, with Mehta making products by hand and selling them directly to consumers, which she called low risk and low investment.
“As sales built, we got more and more confident and I built that along the way. Now I’m in a place to take bigger risks because of that,” Mehta revealed.
The first risk was moving out of a shared baking facility to build one dedicated to Rhythm108. It was a risk from an investment point of view, but also whether the capacity was necessary, which it certainly turned out to be.
“It was a big risk for us, as I didn’t know we would have enough orders to maintain our own bakery, but we took that risk and it paid off. The risks are just getting bigger, but we’re becoming more confident we can pull them off as well.”
Founded out of Switzerland, where the food entrepreneur was living and working at the time, Rhythm108 is scaling significantly.
“Our Home market is Switzerland, so we do everything there. We’re in small organic stores and supply one of the largest supermarkets in Switzerland. We launched in Holland and Belgium last year, selling to food service clients, independents, and we’re in about 250 Holland and Barrett stores in Holland,” said Mehta.
The UK is the next market that the food entrepreneur hopes to dominate. With relationships with independents and counting Natural Kitchen, Planet Organic and As Nature Intended among clients, Rhythm108 is also moving to mainstream retail now with a launch across WH Smith.
Making that transition from market stalls to stores and large retailers was all down to the staff, she insisted, who keep the product quality high. Admitting it was difficult to let go of production herself, she was adamant that she wouldn’t sub-contract to a large factory.
“One thing we really pride ourselves on is we say we’re a bunch of yogi patissiers, so we understand indulgence and wellbeing – that reflects on the choices we have made,” she said.
“The first hire I made was our head of production who was a trained patissier. So it went from me making products myself over to him making them and maintaining quality – and every hire since in production is a trained patissier.
“It was difficult to let the production go, but I know it’s in really good hands and we’ve been able to maintain the high quality because of that.”
Find out what Mehta said during her Q&A on the road:
With all production done in Switzerland, Rhythm108 exports its products to the other markets it serves. And there are two main things to be sure of when sourcing suppliers, Mehta detailed.
“Sourcing directly from farmers and organic farmers, and supporting them is a big part of what we do. We source lemon zest from Sicily, for example, but there are always things we need to look at.
“Apart from being really good quality and sustainable farming, if we grow as a business, we need to know they can support us in that growth, and the second thing is the logistics of getting products over. If you can tackle both of them, exporting becomes relatively easily.
“You have to invest a lot of time into finding the right people and farmers, which is something we’re willing to do.”
Food entrepreneur Mehta claims that the business wants to have a positive impact on the lives of consumers, so just who buys the product? She originally expected fitness-loving females to be the main demographic, but that’s not the case.
“Our products are really for anybody who loves food and indulgent sweet products, but is looking to incorporate healthier foods, such as fruit, nuts and whole grains, into their lives,” she said.
“We have everyone from families, individuals on the go, those working long hours and people who are sporty and looking for nutritional food.”
With around 400 stores served in the UK now, Mehta is keen to make larger retail part of the roadmap in the coming months and years, while ecommerce will be a key focus too.
“We want to be anywhere that makes it easier for our consumers to find us. We are starting to build a strong brand loyalty through the marketing and face-to-face interactions, so we just need to make it easier for people to get hands on products,” she said.
“And we’re definitely looking to launch more products, two or three new lines a year. We want to be the trusted brand for people who really love indulgent products and have favourites, creating healthier versions of them.”