Organic healthy snack nom was founded by -year-old Steph Croft-Simon after she developed severe food allergies in her late teens. Four years on, the organic food brand continues to go from strength to strength, and Steph is on a one-woman ethical mission to change the nation’s snacking habits, naturally!
nom is a well-known brand in health food stores, Steph. What inspired you to start it?
Nom was born out of my own health issues. While I was studying at University I suddenly and unexpectedly developed severe allergies. I had to quickly get my head around a whole new way of cooking and eating and became fascinated with how diet and nutrition affected my whole way of life.
With a lack of options in everyday supermarket aisles I started spending lots of time in places like Whole Foods researching free-from healthy snacks and ingredients. I knew that there must be other people in my position, and I was already really into cooking and baking, so I started experimenting at home. It was here that the original nom recipe was born and after so much good feedback from friends and family, regardless of whether they had an allergy or intolerance, I decided to see what the reaction was like outside of my kitchen. After only a few months, my homemade creations were launched into Planet Organic, Whole Foods and more – it was a great moment seeing them line the shelves I was so used to browsing!
Before nom was founded, what had been your career plan?
Having studied Sociology at Bristol University, I went into an A-Level Sociology teaching job after university. I thoroughly enjoyed this time, but my allergies were taking more and more of a toll on my life and I was becoming increasingly fascinated by how a change of diet could help with my overall feeling of wellbeing. It was at this time that I cut refined sugars from my diet and immediately started to see a difference in my energy levels, immune system, hair, skin, sleep, everything! I was, and still am, convinced that there’s a massive proportion of society walking around with allergies, intolerances and other health niggles that could be vastly improved by a diet which is free from processed foods, refined sugar and nasty chemicals – and rich in nutrients.
That’s a big change in direction! What have been the toughest challenges in starting your business?
Starting and growing a business is really hard. From a personal point of view, for the first couple of years I was doing it solo, and that presents many challenges. It can be very isolating, and there are lots of sacrifices to be made when growing a business – including not taking a salary and seeing friends and family less, so you can put in the hours at work.
The two biggest obstacles from a business perspective would have to be finding funding to grow the business – and finding a manufacturer who can create organic, free from products exactly as I’d make them in my own kitchen.
If you had to choose – which nom product is your favourite and why?
I have different flavour preferences at different times of the day! In the morning, I quite often grab a Cacao & Raspberry bar for breakfast… in the afternoon and evening I like a savoury popcorn to snack on!
I obviously love them all, but I’m really proud of our new recipe bars. They took a year of experimenting with different ingredients but it’s completely changed the texture as we have included whole gluten free oats so they are more like a traditional flapjack. A great healthy snack whether you have allergies or not!
Do you still experiment with new recipes at home?
Absolutely. It’s my favourite part of the job. I am from a Greek Cypriot family, so food and cooking has always been a really focal part of my life! I am always cooking or baking in my spare time.
The Nom Foods website has a blog which gives me a great excuse to get in the kitchen and come up with new healthy recipes at least once a week! I always have new product development in the back of my mind.
What would be your key piece of advice for women looking to start their own business?
I think it’s really important to have a good support network around you – and have as much resilience as possible. Whatever business you start, the chances are that you’ll need to overcome lots of challenges, so it’s important to have a positive mind-set. I would also urge people to reach out to others in the industry they’re in.
I’ve met lots of incredible people through nom, who are on the same mission as me – and facing the same hurdles. It’s an incredible source of strength to receive / give support to others
Why are noms ethical credentials so important to you?
A lot of brands talk about the importance of doing ‘ethical’ business. For me, part of being ethical involves a commitment to being open and honest about practises.
Nom’s mission is all about making it easier for customers to put good, nourishing food into their bodies. By good, I don’t just mean healthy. By establishing core values, nom can ensure: optimum nutrition for the customer, better pay for the farmers who grow the ingredients in our products, GMO-free crops, sustainable methods of farming and manufacture and no animal cruelty. It’s very important when you think about it!
When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?
I have a little pug called Tiggy, who I take everywhere with me. I love spending time with friends and family – and if I can incorporate cooking and baking into that, even better! My happy place is by the sea in Devon.
Protein, gluten-free and sugar-free have all been huge health trends in the last couple of years, what do you think is going to be next?
In my experience, people are being more genuinely engaged and interested in what they’re buying, eating and cooking – now more than ever. This means that they’re often looking for products which tick all the boxes. By ticking all the boxes, I mean genuinely healthy (not just posing as healthy, or free-from gluten but loaded with sugar to compensate for a lack of taste!)
Organic and vegan are other hugely growing markets. I believe that healthy, convenient and ethical products are fast becoming the go-to criteria for the convenience shopper. Far from being ‘trends’, I genuinely think that these ways of shopping and indeed eating, are here to stay. Bloggers like Madeleine Shaw and Deliciously Ella are leading the way for health and wellness – and the media attention to the sugar tax on drinks has meant that refined sugar is finally getting the negative press it deserves – and that is having an effect on what we’re buying. People are more conscious of fuelling their bodies with slow-release energy.
I also predict that free-from will become far more mainstream. We’re seeing it already in the retailers who are stocking our nom products. Free-from snacks are, and should be, ‘grab and go’ items. With so many people diagnosed with allergy and intolerance – it makes sense that these people should be able to access the same choice of snacks in the same area of the convenience store. Free-from is becoming just an extra bonus of so many tasty products on shelf – rather than the main focus.