Nibble Protein. A Growing, Healthy Food Business.
Just before Christmas, we were lucky enough to catch up with the incredibly talented and hard working Erin Moroney, founder of Nibble Protein. Erin has over 20 years of experience of working in photography and advertising, and is originally from Boston, MA. After co-founding a boutique photographic agency at 22, Erin grew the business to be a major player in the industry and having some of the best newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies as customers. Erin eventually sold the agency when the industry changed as digital photography gained popularity, and stock photography became less about quality. Erin continued to work in advertising and photography; consulting, running a photographic charity and eventually moving to another creative agency.
This wealth of experience really shines through when you examine both Nibble Protein's branding and products. Erin has been successful at creating a fantastic range of products and getting them listed with some prestigious retailers including Ocado and the Whole Foods Market. The future is looking very bright for the brand with interest from major supermarkets and lots of new export opportunities, and we can't wait to watch the story unfold.
Can you describe Nibble Protein in one sentence?
Nibble is an innovative, award-winning, date-free vegan protein snack without all the sugar.
Tell us about the founding of Nibble Protein, how did you come up with the idea?
In 2016 I was marathon training while working in a busy creative agency (the BBC’s former commercial arm). I discovered that I was protein deficient, having been a badly behaved veggie for years. Given the amount of training I was doing, my protein requirements were quite high so I was looking at a way to supplement my diet with protein-packed snacks. I couldn’t find anything on the market that I liked--- they were all full of sugar, whey or soy-based, or they just tasted awful (or fake!). I wanted an all-natural, vegan option that tasted great and was ideally bite-sized—so I could nibble en route to meetings.
We think your protein bites look great and unlike anything we’ve seen before Can you tell us about the initial development process?
Thank you! Having had no prior food product development experience, I was totally unprepared for the inherent challenges in both production and food science. There’s a reason why there aren’t many all-natural lower sugar protein products—they are technically really difficult to make. Protein is hard to bind (so you typically need a lot of sugar or fat) and the sugar helps to preserve the product from a shelf-life point of view. I didn’t want to use any of the usual suspects used by most snack bars like dates (really high in sugar), agave (your liver needs to process it to convert to energy) or Maltitol (used in most low sugar bars but it’s totally indigestible and can upset your stomach—hence why these products legally have to carry a laxative warning!). I had hoped I could come up with a recipe in my kitchen, then a manufacturer adapt it and make it shelf-stable, but it doesn’t work that way. I approached over 30 manufacturers all of whom told me what I wanted to achieve was technically impossible. I worked for a couple of days with a cook, read EVERYTHING I could on food science, found a food scientist in California who was a good sounding board, and ultimately made hundreds and hundreds of trial batches until I finally cracked it. I wasn’t totally sure if I would get there or not!
And as an art director, I was always pretty obsessed with what the bites looked like. I had moulds specially made (based an Italian praline shape) because what I wanted wasn’t commercially available—I wanted quite a small, but flat-round shape. I always wanted really big inclusions (like seeds, choc chips, etc) which created additional challenges from a production point of view. Creating bites (rather than a bar) significantly reduced our manufacturing options.
How has Nibble Protein grown since you founded it?
We’ve been really lucky with stockists. Ocado was our very first retailer which gave other prospective stockists confidence in our products which in turn helped us grow. We launched with 4 flavours (LEMON, CHOC CHIP, MOCHA, and SOUR CHERRY) and much to everyone’s surprise, a year later we brought out another range—our brownies. The brownies were inspired by my niece, Julie, whom I was trying to encourage to eat a bit healthier. As a super fussy eater, she wouldn’t even try the first range because they had visible seeds in them. So I developed brownies that hid all the healthy elements. Unlike the first range, they came together really quickly, and they were so good that I just had to bring them out as soon as possible. I’m currently working on a new range that I hope to launch before the middle of next year.
Nibble Protein is stocked by some huge retailers. Can you tell us why you think you’ve been so successful at growing your business?
I think the main thing is to have a strong brand identity and a clear USP. Our category is really packed but most products are quite samey—they are either packed with sugar/dates or they’re what I call Frankenstein bars (pretty unnatural). Also, developing a strong social media base is really important because it will give buyers confidence that you have a viable audience.
Have you got any advice for entrepreneurs in the food business who would like to be stocked by the major multiples?
It’s a tough one—we’re still working on it! We had a very successful trial with Sainsbury’s this summer (we exceeded our sales targets), but we ultimately have to wait until our category is up for review again. Some categories are reviewed just once a year, so it’s all down to timing and quite a bit of luck. There’s a finite space on shelves, so for your product to be listed, another one has to be delisted (which is pretty depressing when you think about it!). Also, although it’s really hard, try not to be discouraged when buyers go quiet. They are inundated with requests from brands so getting a response from a buyer can be pretty challenging to say the least!
Nibble Protein makes products that are high in protein and low in sugar. How important do you think it is for food businesses to create products with healthy eating in mind?
I’m really passionate about healthy eating because it can be such a game changer when you get it right—both from a physical and mental standpoint. I find it pretty frustrating that there are so many products that market themselves as healthy when they are anything but. Many snack bars contain more sugar than chocolate bars and biscuits. Just because they are “all-natural” doesn’t make them healthy!
What does the future hold for Nibble Protein? Where do you see the business in five years?
Because our bites are so unique, we’re getting a huge amount of export requests. Nibble is now selling in the Middle East, parts of Europe, and we’re soon hitting North America. Ideally I’d like to be splitting my time between the UK and US. In five years, I really hope Nibble will be readily available across the States.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened since you founded Nibble Protein?
The food industry is incredibly diverse so I’ve met some really great people along the way.
As an innovative young company that has achieved some great growth. What advice have you got for entrepreneurs who have just started their own businesses?
You have to be incredibly tenacious and really fixed on your vision because many will tell you that what you want to do isn’t possible or they’ll try and convince you to take a more conventional route. And practically, always raise more money than you think you will need. In many cases it’s easier to raise money before you start trading (it takes a long time to get listings). Finally, have a good network of friends and family around you for support.
Is there another entrepreneur who you find inspiring?
I’m reading a lot of Tim Ferris at the moment and he’s quite inspiring (a member of staff gave me Tools of the Titans for my birthday which I loved). I also think Pippa Murray (of Pip & Nut) has done an incredible job growing her brand. Of course I love that her product was born out of marathon training too!
Finally, can you tell us about a day at Nibble Protein HQ?
My Nibble day starts quite a while before I get into the office. I typically get up between 5-6am and I do a good hour (or more) of work before I go for my morning run. I run about 8-9km or so a day which for me is totally essential mental laundry (most of my creative thinking happens when I’m running). I’m in the office by 9:15 and then it’s catching up on emails, orders, meetings, etc. I typically don’t take a lunch break but I leave the office relatively early (5:30pm). Although I pick work up again when I get home (and work quite late), I find the change of scenery helps to clear my head, and it doesn’t feel like such an epic day.
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