Meet the co-founder of Hunter & Gather
How did you get into condiments & cooking oils business?
Our big idea is to make seismic ripples in a product sector (condiments and cooking oils) where all-natural, top drawer recipes have been in painfully short supply. We wanted to be a go-to brand for influential ‘food minorities’ (coeliacs, paleo, dairy-free, low carb/high fat eating regimes) who’d historically been short-changed both in terms of taste and nutritional vitality. By creating brands with a healthy dis-respect for lazy sugars, harmful seed oils and synthetic extras, we felt confident that we could grab the attention of an increasingly influential ‘healthier living’ community.
We’re very strongly opposed to unduly fussy and finicky ingredient decks. We believe that every ingredient that makes it into our jars and bottles (free-range eggs, top notch avocado….) has earned the right to be and that any fringe ingredient that brings nothing to the party should be kicked into the long grass.
As a coeliac of some 25+ years I was only too aware how an inappropriate diet can lead to a silent draining illness that evades your life like an unwelcome shadow, constantly impeding and undermining one’s freedom to eat and live freely.
If that wasn’t reason enough to set up Hunter & Gather’s ‘clean living’ agenda, there was also the small matter of Jeff’s own childhood being tarnished by his own ‘food demons,’ (eczema, asthma and severe acne) which once again impinged significantly on his childhood/sports loving ambitions.
When you created your 1st batch of H&G Goodies were you nervous at all?
No not nervous at all! We only produced 300 jars in our first run and we thought we would be happy if we sold these by the use by date. Little did we know how well Hunter & Gather would take off. The nerves kicked in when the runs went from a few hundred jars to thousands pretty quickly. The realisation that we had something that could be huge was a little daunting but the challenge was accepted and we have blossomed ever since.
How did you perform when your 1st batch launched into the market?
We made 300 jars for the first production run and popped them online. We remember jumping around the living room when the first order came in a very short space of time from a complete stranger. Within a few short weeks we had attended an event at Bread & Jam in London where we pitched to both the Food Market and Wholefoods, securing out first listings. We quickly became Wholefoods best-selling line which was the perfect starting point for an amazing year.
Little more than a year ago we launched 1 sku in Wholefoods, yet today we have 5 skus which are not only making waves at home but overseas.
What were you doing before Hunter & Gather & do you think your previous experience contributed to the creation of an amazing brand?
My degree was in Equine Studies and Business Management which married my love of ‘all things horse’ with a naturally inquisitive personality. My early years were spent in the blue chip world of a big corporate pet food brand which provided the perfect stage for establishing strategic processes and a wider category outlook.
In more recent times I worked for a start up making proper food for pets, which provided a ‘disruptor’ brand masterclass in how to provide superior choices for the consumer versus slow-moving corporates whose food is made with sub-standard ingredients.
By working both sides of the fence (data driven corporates & ambitious underdogs) I’ve learned that there are many ways to make stand proud of the crowd).
How do you balance business & personal life?
Working with my partner in life as well as business can be a challenge when it comes to separating business from work. Fortunately I have a horse called Hippo which provides me with opportunities to prioritise time with him away from business; even if it’s 10 minutes, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with nature and get some personal life separation. I also aim to see friends and family at least once a week but it can be tough during the busy times. Recently I imposed a ‘no phone’ rule post 8:30pm so that we have time to wind down time before bed. It’s certainly helping me sleep better and feel more rested.
Were there moments when you thought you'd bitten off more than you can chew & how did you get over such moments of doubt?
There have certainly been times when the going has got tough - whether it is keeping multiple plates spinning or building an exhibition stand in our living room from cobbled together Ikea furniture, there are tense moments when you think the world is against you. But in terms of biting off more than we could chew – never! I feel it’s part & parcel of a bigger journey so simply take each day as it comes. We will work our hardest to take Hunter & Gather to the mainstream, there will be low points but we will get there! The support from our followers and other Founders in the start-up space really play their part in ensuring we keep pushing forwards. Without the lovely comments and reviews a fledgling business can be a very lonely place.
What gives a brand longevity?
A brand with longevity is a brand with the capacity and mindset to constantly innovate and nudge forwards. The moment you stand still and pat yourself on the back is the same moment you invite your peers to steal a march. Food & drink history is littered with brands that got too comfortable at the top of the heap, brands that failed to acknowledge or adapt to ever changing consumer needs (low calorie, high protein, clean deck, gluten-free…..). On the flip side it’s important to never lose sight of what made your brand special in the first place, because too many brands have overstretched themselves only to find themselves being challenged simultaneously on too many fronts. Top brands know when to twist and when to stick!
What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs?
‘Stay true to your convictions and crack on,’ would sit at the heart of any advice I’d pass on.
Fine-tuning an idea and a theory is all well and good but in truth you don’t really get a really good feel for the terrain until you get out there and do your thing. It goes without saying that unfortunate mistakes and unforeseen events are part of the journey, so it’s imperative to keep any setbacks in perspective and keep a stress ball close at hand.
On a more positive note rest assured that you will also get some ‘lucky breaks’ along the way, so on the proviso that you can a) spot them and b) work them to your advantage, sleep easy in the knowledge that there’s nothing really wrong in jumping in, absorbing everything that happens, tweaking where appropriate before trying again. If you’re 100% with your vision, logo, identity and range before you set out, you’ve probably left things too late.
Do you have a strategy for getting things done?
Being a business of two enthusiastic co-founders our model is all fields of expertise, which is why I tend to focus on sales and marketing whilst Jeff concentrates on production and procurement.
Other than that it’s important to establish a bigger vision in tandem with a series of meaningful stepping stones that provide a regular stream of high 5 moments over the course of a year.
As life and business partners it’s also imperative that Jeff and I persevere with hobbies and activities outside work because nothing’s worse than a young couple who only talk shop!
What trends do you think food entrepreneurs should be focusing on this year?
Keto, Pegan and lower sugar are trends that don’t feel as though they will run out of steam any time soon. Thankfully we now live in a time when food and drink is no longer treated as ‘convenient fuel’. Nutritional worth and great taste (not convenience) are the new calls to arms that you’d be foolish to overlook as is excessive packaging. The wider environment penny has finally dropped which means recyclable/compostable/ minimalist packaging has never been in greater demand. You could argue that Hunter & Gather has made its name looking after the distinct interests of vocal minorities which seems eminently sensible because today’s niche is tomorrow’s starting point.
A strong element of social responsibility also seems appropriate in these tough economic times which is one of the many reasons we work with wonky avocado stock that is rudely jilted by the major supermarkets despite being perfect for pressing for oil – meaning no good fruit is wasted.
Future plans for diversification?
When you operate in the field of condiments and have a fair slither of the clean deck mayo (the no.1 condiment) it’s only a matter of time before you venture into other dressings or condiments that are also riddled with sugars and inflammatory fats.