Start-Up Stories – Nutmad
This time we got to chat to Michaela Hardt, the founder of Nutmad, a challenger brand who are making waves in the snacking industry. She gives us her insight on entrepreneurship, gut health and more!
What is Nutmad?
Nutmad was created to offer a snack that not only tastes delicious but also offers a whole spectrum of health benefits. Healthy food is commonly considered to be not very tasty or otherwise more boring compared with less healthy food options, and snacking is often considered to be a guilty pleasure. This has to change.
“Because healthy can be tasty and Nutmad, together with other challenger brands, are on a mission to prove it!”
How did you come across activated nuts?
A few years ago, I was offered a handful of what I presumed were regular nuts to nibble on at a dinner party, but little did I know that these nuts that had been soaked in water and then baked. Fascinated by how much better they tasted compared to raw nuts, my husband and I started making them at home and after some research we found out about their many health benefits. By that time, we didn’t know yet that they were called “activated”.
In fact, “activating” nuts is an old traditional practice in countries such as India and Sri Lanka, where people have been soaking nuts and seeds overnight for generations. It is presumed that such countries must have realised that after soaking, the nuts become much easier to digest. This is a method that has withstood the test of time, as soaking is recommended in the Ayurveda diet where good health is associated with good digestion and has been for around 3000 years.
What are the health benefits of Nutmad products?
It turns out that nuts contain natural chemicals, which help signal to the nut the right conditions to sprout. These natural chemicals are called phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. They are good for the nuts, but we humans are not able to absorb them and that’s why eating nuts regularly can put a strain on our digestion, making us feel bloated or uncomfortable. These natural chemicals can also bind to some of the minerals in nuts, such as manganese, iron, calcium etc., so our bodies can’t absorb them fully. Nuts are known to be a very healthy food but when we eat them raw, we can’t benefit from them to their full potential – but we can if we soak them. What’s more, some raw nuts like almonds and walnuts can taste quite bitter naturally. Soaking them reduces this bitter taste and makes the flavour milder and creamier. So, soaking nuts makes them not only more nutritious but also more delicious!
When did you decide to take the products to market?
Over the last few years we’ve made quite a few batches of activated nuts in our own kitchen and had many tasting sessions with friends and family, who all loved the nuts for their taste! Interesting fact, during my pregnancy I was struggling with heartburn and I read that eating almonds would help to alleviate this. That was great news for me, since I’ve always loved almonds regardless. I noticed that raw almonds made me feel unwell, yet I was fine with their activated counterparts. Through the hormonal changes and with a stomach squashed by my twin babies breaking down certain foods must have been difficult!
The idea to turn my passion for snacks, good food and leading a healthy lifestyle into a business idea came to fruition after our daughters first birthday. I used to work in trade PR before, but I wanted to do something different which would help me grow. I also wanted to be able to work more flexible hours around my children and spend more time with them while they’re still little.
“I was aware building my own food business would be a challenge, not just because it was a new venture, but also because I haven’t worked in the food industry before.”
However, I also knew that I have a great tasting product, and that the demand for good food and especially healthy food is growing. So, I decided to take the plunge.
I’m sure you’ve come across many challenges in the last year, what were they? How did you overcome them?
Very often I get asked if working on my own feels lonely, without colleagues or a sparring partner to bounce back ideas. At the beginning it could feel that way and it took me a while to adjust to this new way of working. Living and building a business in London means for me that, luckily, I have a lot of opportunities for networking and meeting other people, who are at a similar stage of their entrepreneurial journey. The food scene is especially buzzing in London and I have found the community of foodies to be very supportive. There are so many different brands with amazing innovative products!
I would recommend anyone who’s starting a business in this field to join the Food Hub, a very active and supportive Facebook group. Also, Bread & Jam is an annual conference for the food and drink industry where you can learn a lot about building a business. Enterprise Nation and Virgin Start Up offer a great support network for small businesses and host a lot of interesting and useful events.
What I find most difficult about building Nutmad is time management on a daily basis, without having a full time childcare. I’m lucky to have my mother around very often and my husband is also extremely supportive. But flexible working hours often mean late working hours and not enough time to work in general – which can lead to putting off tasks and not having a typical working day with a set cut-off time. There are all these things you want to do but you obviously don’t have the time to focus on everything at once. Overwhelm is something all of us entrepreneurs struggle with every now and again, that’s not unusual. What helps, is remembering why you started your venture and how far you have come so far on your journey.
Gut health is becoming more important to consumers, do you think its growth will continue?
I do believe that the healthy food trend is here to stay and that there will be even more brands focusing on wellbeing in the future, with innovative products but also with products that go back to certain cultures who used to (or still do) eat simple food that helped them stay healthy. Hopefully the focus of a healthy lifestyle will shift from trying to cure what makes us ill, to preventing illnesses through a healthy lifestyle.
It’s very positive that gut-health is gaining popularity. Also, we’re not all built the same, so listening to our bodies and our individual needs is something that we should do more often – instead of counting calories, sticking to rigid diet and exercise regimes that don’t make us feel good.
Where can people find your delicious products?
At the moment the Nutmad range includes five different products, consisting of activated nuts in different flavours. For me it was important to use just simple natural ingredients and a very light and subtle flavouring, which still allows you to taste the mild, creamy taste of the nuts.
A very happy moment for me was recently when our salted maple caramel walnuts received a Great Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Food. For me as a consumer, the award has always been a trustworthy indication of quality and taste, and since starting out with Nutmad I’ve been hoping to have a star for some of my products as well. It’s a great achievement for a small business and a recognition that I offer a high quality, delicious product. The fact that I created the recipe for the walnut flavouring myself makes me particularly proud.
The Nutmad range can currently be found online and in some independent delis and health food shops. I hope in the near future to find a manufacturer to produce larger quantities of nuts, which would help me reach more customers and spread the joy of Nutmad further afield!