Drinking, dining & disruption
In days gone by, the Food & Drink sector was fairly static.
The shelves were filled with heritage brands, many going back decades, and things changed very little in terms of products, methods of manufacture and so on. Not any more. We have grown increasingly used to seeing a constant stream of new brands, new technologies and new kinds of food and drink – all of which makes this a really exciting sector for consumers, companies and IP attorneys alike.
But these aren’t the only changes. It’s no longer enough to have a product which looks and tastes good. These days, social responsibility and sustainability are key to the success of a brand – and authenticity is an absolute must.
So how do disrupters in the Food & Drink sector see things themselves and what do they think the future holds? We decided to speak to some of the sector’s most innovative and passionate founders to find out.
Our second revolutionary
Julie Waddell didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur in the food & drink industry. Especially not by launching a product in one of the most competitive food categories. But 10 years on, her smoked humous and dips brand Moorish continues to go from strength to strength, listed in retailers all over the country and winning countless awards, while Julie herself has been named one of DEFRA’s “50 Food Stars”.
But how did it all start, why is the brand so different and how have Julie’s personal values been so instrumental in the success of the business? We spoke to Julie to find out.
Q. We love that you’ve chosen to build a brand in a category like “dips” which is so dominated by supermarket “own brands”. That’s obviously an exciting opportunity but surely also a challenge.
Tell us about your inspiration!
Well, obviously I know a lot more now than I did back in 2012 when I came up with the idea of smoked humous! They often say that if you knew then what you know now, you might not have done it…so I’m glad I didn’t! I wasn’t thinking about categories and own label dominance. I just knew that I’d come up with something absolutely delicious which I found no one else was doing and I decided that everybody needed to be able to buy this lovely humous that I’d created for my own family at home.
Q. So how do you protect your lovely humous against copycats and what role does IP play in that?
There are really two aspects. First, trade secrets which protect how we make our humous It’s very hard to make it the way we do and we’ve been told numerous times that even when retailers have tried to copy us, it just doesn’t taste as good. We use an artisan smokery to smoke our chickpeas and all our ingredients are of the highest quality, so we know that even if we are copied, we’re still the best.
Second, instinct told me right from the start that trade marks and protecting our brand would be really important – especially because you can’t patent a recipe. I knew that as soon as our humous was out in the market, it could be copied, so I thought I’d get in there early and protect the name. I wanted to be sure that Moorish smoked humous would be the one that was known as the original and the best.
Q. How are your own personal values reflected in your humous?
At the end of the day, I want to feel proud when I know someone’s got our humous on their table and they’ve given it to their family. I want it to be as if I’ve made it at home myself – so the ingredients are absolutely critical. We call our humous a “clean deck” product, which means it doesn’t contain any preservatives or other “nasties”. It’s not easy to do and it’s not cheap, but it’s so important and I think our customers really value and respect that.
Q. Talking of values, we hear you’re working towards B Corp status - a first for any humous brand. That’s a fantastic goal. Tell us a bit more about B Corp status and why it’s so important to you.
B Corp certification is all about measuring a company’s entire social and environment impact, looking at everything from employee benefits to charitable giving to supply chain practices and ingredients. Consumers are increasingly seeking out ethical, trustworthy products and brands and Ocado now even have a specific B Corp section within their online shop. As a mum, this is great - businesses taking steps to ensure there is a planet for our kids in the future. As a business owner, we already knew we were a really ethical company that does things the right way, not because we have to but because we want to – but we thought why not put a label on it to prove it. It’s a really rigorous process, so it will mean a lot when we achieve B Corp status.
Q. Sustainability will surely play a big role in this. What does that mean for Moorish?
There are really two elements: environmental and people. On the environmental side, we are working hard to make our packaging as environmentally friendly as possible. In November 2021, we were proud to launch a pot which uses 60% less carbon, but we think we can do even more and will be working on this over the coming months.
On the people side, having originally created smoked humous for my own children, I really want to support and help kids and young people who aren’t as fortunate. We want to do something as a business to give back and use the good fortune we’ve had to help others. So back in 2012, we started supporting Magic Breakfast who provide healthy school breakfasts to children at risk of hunger in disadvantaged areas of the UK. What they are doing is amazing. And just last November, we started working with the Foundation of Northampton Saints, the rugby club. The Foundation works with young people in the Northampton area who’ve not always had a great start in life – helping them with qualifications, employability, apprenticeships etc. It can really transform lives; 92% of the young people they’ve helped have gone on to good jobs or further education, which is just incredible.
Q. Speaking of opportunities, it’s been said there are too few women business owners and women at senior levels, not least in the food & drink industry. What has your own experience been as a successful female entrepreneur?
Well, I don’t like to follow other people’s rules; I prefer to set rules I believe in myself and follow those instead. Also, my grandfather was an entrepreneur with a catering company, so maybe it was just in my blood! I’m very like him; I’m very driven and focused but equally, I’m a bit chaotic. I managed three years in corporate life and realised it just wasn’t for me.
I also think that the traditional linear path up through the ranks of a company is a bit outdated these days, especially for women. Everybody is finding their own way and it’s just about having belief in yourself and being creative. Flexible working has helped hugely – especially if you’re self-employed - and even more so now everyone is working from home. It wasn’t flexible at all when I was working with a young family years ago; I always felt like one of those working parents who wasn’t doing enough either at work or at home.
I guess the big question is whether or not I’d have been an entrepreneur if I hadn’t had children. Certainly, I wouldn’t have had the need to feed the kids and pay the bills while my husband went back to university! There really was no Plan B: Plan A, the humous business, just had to work! But equally, I’ve always felt very entrepreneurial, so perhaps it was just meant to be.
Q. And lastly, how do you see the food & drink sector evolving over the next five years and how do you think that will impact Moorish?
I’d like to see lots more really successful female-founded/-led food & drink companies getting listings in major retail. Women really do lift up other women in this sector and it’s a tough industry to crack and a tough game to stay in.
I also hope that B Corp really becomes a thing, or at least we see lots more ethical businesses and food products. I’m not even setting the bar that high, am I?! Wouldn’t it be good if we could actually trust the food we’re eating. Despite economic pressures, I firmly believe that every company is capable of making great products that sell well and don’t have to be filled with bad stuff. If we could see more of that please, that would be nice!
So there you have it: a delicious yet ethical product, competing with and beating the retailers, led by a female entrepreneur who does the right thing not because she has to but because she wants to. That certainly counts as disruption in our book!
If you would like to carry on the discussion, please contact Rowena.