We had the opportunity to feature Julianne Ponan who shares with us her entrepreneurial journey as well as talk about her severe food allergies and anaphylaxis condition that has led her to create this innovative food brand for those who live with food allergy or intolerance conditions.
Tell us about your food allergy condition that later led to your entrepreneurial journey
Almost ten years ago I was working in a financial institution overseas and on a visit home I was offered the challenge of taking on a failing company, turning it around on a very small budget. I saw the opportunity to create a snack brand for people like me – I have multiple and serious allergies and anaphylaxis. Eating out or eating ‘on the go’ often isn’t an option for someone with a condition like mine – how do you trust what is in a snack, or a meal prepared by someone who isn’t me? That was the beginning of a long and winding road. Today I have a challenger brand in the food & drink sector Creative Nature and we sell our ambient snack products (free of the top 14 allergens and vegan friendly) globally and across the UK. Looking back I realise I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. As a child I used to charge family members 20p to go and get them a drink at a family event! At university I started a little ‘ice cream’ side hustle on campus which was going great guns until we were shut down! I saw the opportunity and went for it. I’ve no regrets. It’s not always been easy but we’ve won multiple awards and the company was named UK Small Business of the Year in 2018 and I was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 to watch a few years ago.
Tell us more about your food brand Creative Nature
Creative Nature sells snack products – bars, baking mixes and sweet treats (Gnawbles) – which are free from the top 14 allergens, vegan friendly and much lower in sugar than comparable products. We also supply superfoods such as maca powder and spirulina which also fits our ethos. I run the business from our HQ in Surrey and I have a small team who support me in that.
Tell us more about your business and its ethical and sustainable approach
We try to have an ethical and sustainable approach to the business so we reuse packaging and pallets, we try to use as environmentally friendly packaging as we can (Gnawbles packaging is PET1) and where we need to import we try to do so via sea rather than air.
How is your business doing so far?
Our turnover is getting close to £2m and we export to many countries mostly outside the EU. We’re currently looking into expanding our reach in to the USA. Also for myself, I’ve become a campaigner around allergies and anaphylaxis in the hope of raising awareness and educating people. Allergies are rising, particularly among children. Natasha’s Law is about to come in (Oct 1 2021) and I’m also supporting the campaign for Owen’s Law. Please look it up. I’m an ambassador for the Teal App which supports families living with allergies and also for the Anaphylaxis Campaign.
What does being a female entrepreneur mean to you?
Being a female entrepreneur makes me very proud because we still have a long way to go in terms of parity. Women in business have to deal with many issues which men might not consider. I had to deal with being young, female and being of mixed race. All of those things have been used against me in the past. From being told to pitch to big companies with a man so I would be taken more seriously, to being racially heckled at a business event. This is on top of the daily struggle of dealing with my severe allergies, which impacts those around me too. For example, no one can eat nuts in the same room or space as me – it literally can kill me. I’m still learning when it comes to work life balance – my fiancé Matt (soon to be my husband) is by my side at work and at home. We’re not planning on having children however it’s very difficult to take time off completely when you run a small ambitious business. I love travelling and I love dancing and I try to integrate these into my life as best I can. I do Zumba classes regularly and Matt & I are off overseas in October 2021 for three weeks for our wedding! Will I be able to avoid the phone or the emails? Who knows?
What other challenges and obstacles have you faced?
Being taken seriously in a competitive sector like food & drink. Being made to feel inadequate because I am still quite young although I am experienced in business, being able to find investment as it’s proven that it’s much harder for women in business to get investment, than men. There is also that drip drip effect of ‘don’t you want children?’ or ‘when are you going to have a family?’ which frankly I don’t want to hear. Men don’t have to deal with that as often as women. I’m making a choice to be childfree, that’s it.
What has been your success story so far?
So so many. Perhaps ringing the bell to open the London Stock Exchange or the moment my business hit £1m turnover, or the moment we secured our first deal with a major supermarket…choosing one is too difficult. I’m a great believer in celebrating every milestone however small as those ‘moments’ get you through the very tough days which will come.
What other business would you recommend?
How about Amelia Gammon of Bide? An entrepreneur from the LGTBQ+ community who has tried to combine supporting cottage industry, sustainability and green ethics.
What’s your top tip or tips that you would like to share?
- Research your sector and understand clearly where you sit within it.
- Learn how to do business in that sector – you need to understand the dynamics and supply chain.
- Know your numbers – don’t be afraid to invest however be clearly what you want to achieve.
- Celebrate success – internally and externally.
- Marketing & PR – this is critical and constant, particularly in a crowded market place, you are responsible for your own visibility. Have a budget.
- Work hard – this is not an easy option. it may be flexible however you do have to put the work in alongside your own goals.
And lastly any exclusive offers or final word?
We have special offers all of the time – do look out for our offers around Halloween in particular.
Visit us on the following website: www.creativenaturesuperfoods.co.uk
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