Interviews

From Zipcar deliveries to friends to Selfridges: The 'fast-lane' story of Paleo brand, Cru8

17 min read

25 April 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Paleo or 'hunter-gatherer' diet brand, Cru8 Foods was started by Alexi von Eldik after being diagnosed as pre-diabetic. The health foods entrepreneur tells us about her journey from personally delivering bread to friends to bagging international stockists such as Wholefoods and Planet Organic.

Many of us have been told to ‘wake up and be wary’ of food brands and the less-than-noble marketing ploys behind them. Statements such as ‘a hearty breakfast is good for you’, which many of us had taken as a fact for years, it turns out, was actually pushed by big American food brands in the 1950s to peddle their products to the masses. It’s the same with the dairy industry, many modern critics say.

So, what brands can health-conscious consumers trust today? Well, not many, seeing that consumers are also bombarded with many so-called healthy brands that have little to no scientific justification behind their ‘healthy’ status.

Into this land of extremes comes foods entrepreneur and academic Alexi von Eldik, and her business Cru8 Foods , a business she started after being forced to change her diet following a pre-diabetic diagnosis. Let’s find out more…

What events led you to start Cru8?

I’ve always been into health, self-development, and food. Before starting Cru8 I was quite depressed and pre-diabetic. A great friend of mine had gone raw vegan.

This was back in 2010 when veganism was seen as eccentric and a bit out there. I was really inspired to change the way I was eating so went largely gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free.

I incorporated a lot more good stuff, predominantly raw vegetables, into my diet and saw great results, I felt so much more energised and mentally buoyant. It was a great revelation and I felt people needed to know about this, namely that that food affects every aspect of your life from physical health to mental wellbeing.

I set out to write my MSc thesis on how food effects work productivity and found that a 10-day gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free diet not only increased work productivity but feelings of wellbeing and increased energy.

What are Paleo based products and why are they are so effective?

Eating Paleo means eating as our Paleolithic or hunter-gatherer ancestors would have. What that translates to is a diet of mostly greens, fruits when available, nuts, seeds, and good quality, preferably grass-fed or wild caught protein. I put protein last as this would have been the hardest to come by and therefore the smallest proportion of the diet.

The modern interpretation of the Paleo diet is often protein heavy, which I take issue with and would suggest that it should be vegetable heavy. I am a huge vegetable pusher, suggesting to my clients that their plate be 75-80% vegetable and the rest protein.

The Paleo diet does not include grains, legumes, dairy, processed sugars or refined foods. Eating a Paleo diet, if mostly plant-based, is hugely beneficial to one’s health with my clients often reporting increased energy, clarity of thought, positive mood and weight loss. By its very nature, the Paleo Diet is anti-inflammatory. Science is now beginning to understand how detrimental chronic inflammation really is.

What were the results of the study you conducted?

The study consisted of a cohort of 17 who were given a questionnaire to fill out before the study, then placed on a 10-day programme of high raw, gluten, dairy, and refined sugar-free diet. To measure the effect, they were asked to fill out another questionnaire after the programme.

The results showed significant improvements in productivity, mental wellbeing, and energy. To break this down, the programme is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet. By removing gluten, dairy, and refined-sugar, one is allowing the body to suddenly stop having to fire-fight, i.e. to have to raise an inflammatory response against foods that are known inflammatory foods. The body is constantly trying to bring itself back into homeostasis and to repair and heal itself.

Going dairy-free means there will be less mucous created. Mucous has a tendency to line the gut and impair nutrient absorption. The programme also manages blood sugar levels by providing food that is slow release and low GI. The effect is a constant high level of energy throughout the day rather than the spikes and crashes so common with the typical Western diet.

When did you launch the business? What was it like during the early days?

I started Cru8 as a detox delivery business back in 2011. I was making an entire day’s meals, i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between, and delivering these to my clients, who were mostly friends initially before 7 am with a ZipCar.

The business grew by word of mouth as clients were getting great results from the food. I was also receiving requests to purchase snacks for continued healthy snacking after the programme.

That was a lightbulb moment. I could make truly healthy snacks, retail these and potentially help a far larger group of people eat better. That was in 2013-2014 when the retail journey really began. We were picked up by Wholefoods Market in 2015 which was a great coup, and then Planet Organic in 2016.

How many health food brands out there are actually grounded in scientific facts like yours is?

I would venture to say that not that many health food brands are based on scientific research and fact. There are unfortunately quite a number of very well marketed products out there that give the consumer the impression that it’s healthy or healthier for you, but you start reading the ingredients lists and it becomes otherwise apparent.

Having said that, I do think consumers are becoming much more savvy to this; they are more knowledgeable, questioning and demanding of quality and provenance.

I think certainly the fact that Cru8 is based on scientific study does set the brand apart from our competition. We are known for high quality, delicious food, based on scientifically proven principles. We intend to further bolster credibility by conducting further research into the area of grain-free and Paleo lifestyle.

Talk me through your products and services, you describe it as a “detox delivery business”, what does that entail?

The detox delivery business is quite a small portion of the business at this point as I’ve focused more on the retail products over the last few years.

We have 22 SKUs, half of that is raw or dehydrated and the rest are Paleo breads which have become our real hero products. We have 7 varieties of grain-free breads. Our two savoury breads won Great Taste Awards in 2018 and are unique in the market for being grain-free, low carb, low sugar.

Tell me about your first experience exhibiting your products at a food market, are they a good way for young food brands to get their products out there?

Being able to sell my products at the Partridges Market at the Duke of York Square, London, was a wonderful way to product and market test. To be interacting with my target market directly was hugely insightful for the direct feedback and very useful for honing not only the product range but the branding and packaging.

What makes your brand truly innovative in the health foods scene?

Cru8 is truly innovative in that we use production techniques that are unique, such as low-temperature dehydration, to preserve the nutritional content of the food, and our products in themselves are innovative in that most of our products are grain-free, taking gluten-free a step further.

What would you say to critics who might argue that “detoxing” is like crash dieting, and consequently, not good for you?

I would say that they only need to look at how our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived to see that a period of enforced fasting in the spring when there was little food available actually allowed for the body to repair and regenerate and was a normal yearly occurrence.

Modern agricultural practices, whilst a blessing, has given us an abundance of food at all times of the year, meaning the body never gets a rest from digestion or an opportunity to repair and heal. Detox allows for this to happen and in fact, should be incorporated into one’s annual calendar at least once a year if not with each change of the seasons.

Detox resets our palate, our senses, and brings awareness to our habits. There are many more benefits to detox than just weight loss.

What’s your founding mission? Has it stayed the same or changed based on the experiences you’ve had since starting the business?

The founding mission of Cru8 was to help people by offering great tasting, truly health benefitting food. This mission has not changed but the ambition has. Our ambition is to help people eat better globally.

What growth statistics are you especially proud of since starting the business?

I’m especially proud of the fact that turnover has increased 5 fold since we launched our retail products commercially, where we now have a strong presence in top stockists such as the Wholefoods Market and Planet Organic. We’re looking to ramp up this year with additional projected sales of £1M.

Tell me about your highest point, and the lowest point since starting the business, what have you learned from these experiences?

The highest point of starting the business was definitely getting into Wholefoods and Planet Organic. It was real validation of the products, the branding, and the concept.

The lowest point would have to be just shortly before getting the Wholefoods listing when it felt like getting a listing was never going to happen. I had actually put a timeframe on this and if I hadn’t achieved the listing, then I would have closed the business.

To what extent is persistence and being in the ‘right place at the right time’ the factors that create business success?

There is a lot to be said for persistence and I do think that has been my greatest lesson. Being in business takes persistence. There are going to be ups and downs but one just has to keep at it. I suppose also to celebrate the small wins and to stay positive despite the knocks.

To be stocked in major and high-end food retailers such as Selfridges and to be part of their great stable of brands feels like real verification that we’re on the right track. We were also really pleased that they took 7 of our range. We were lucky enough to be introduced to the right buyer at the right time. We’ve had a good sales uptick with Selfridges and we ensure that continues with our in-store tasting sessions.

How did you ensure the brand stood out in an increasingly saturated and competitive health foods market? How do you ensure the same today?

Great branding is the key to standing out on the shelf. Consumers buy with their eyes initially but only buy again if they were pleased with how it tasted. There will be no repeat purchase if the product doesn’t taste good. We ensure our brand still stands out with new product development, brand enhancement and making sure every product tastes great.

You say that Cru8 “is on a mission to replicate the success of the craft beer revolution”, what do you mean by this?

Like the beer industry ten years ago, the bread market has had little innovation over the past 50 years. Bread since the 50s has been a filler, a convenient, cheap food. Moreover, it has been a stagnant and even declining market with the typical mass-produced loaf of white bread falling out of favour among a certain demographic due to the perception that the white loaf was doing more harm than good.

It is only in the last five to ten years that we’ve seen the rise of the artisanal breads like Poilane, and Gails who are producing better quality, more digestible, and certainly more expensive bread.

The upsurge in the popularity of artisan-produced bread despite the associated price tag is driven by the more informed and knowledgable consumer, concern for health, the rise of the foodie culture and the eschewing of mass-produced, nutrient-deficient products.

Has the general public lost faith in big food producers, is this justified?

Faith in the large food producers has been dented, because in many cases, they have been misleading consumers over things like nutritional values. People are turning to the smaller producers for products that are better made with quality ingredients that are more nutritious.

Cru8 offers a truly innovative bread that is grain-free and delicious. Not only is it low carb, low sugar, but full of fibre, protein, and Omega 3s; a bread with health benefits.

We’re making bread the main event, a food that truly matters and isn’t just a filler or accompaniment. We’re giving Brits back their daily bread by offering a bread that goes beyond gluten-free, tastes great and is truly healthy