Praveen Vijh, Eat Natural
A firm belief in the importance of keeping things simple has enabled co-Founder Praveen Vijh to grow healthy snacking business Eat Natural into a company with 350 employees and a £45 million turnover, which has just been bought by European food giant Ferrero.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
My best friend Preet Grewal and I always used to eat nuts and dried fruit and we thought it would be a simple idea to blend these two together and create a bar that could be eaten conveniently on the go, made with all natural ingredients and without any additives or preservatives or anything nasty. At the time, 25 years ago, there was nothing like that on the market.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
We started the business with £30,000 of personal savings, then we grew the business by reinvesting whatever profits we made back into the business. That has been the philosophy of the business ever since we started. We never raised any finance; we have never believed in outside borrowing. We were very scared about that kind of thing so we always tried to maintain a relatively debt free business. We still owned 100% of the business when we sold it.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Trying to run a business that was growing very rapidly, particularly in the early years. And then once the business stabilised, how to grow the business without sacrificing margins.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business?
The impact has been quite significant. We make bars for people who are eating on the go but if you are not going anywhere then obviously you are not eating. So all of our convenience trade business, which is a big part of the business, fell off a cliff, but at the same time turnover was buoyed up by our breakfast cereal, which increased significantly. As a result our sales were down last year but we expect them to come back again this year to 2019 levels.
The pandemic also reinforced our decision to sell the business because we felt it was time to find a proper home for it under one roof for the foreseeable future.
- Have you changed your business in any way as a result of the pandemic?
Yes, in many ways. The business has gone through a complete overhaul. All the basics had to change because of the pandemic, such as staff working from home, changing the layout of the offices and production facilities, the way we run our forecasting and promotional activity, and now going forward under the Ferrero umbrella there is a significant change in terms of reinforcing the business through its infrastructure, people, quality systems and innovation. There is a far greater ambition for the future.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
That the most important part of our business has been team building; ensuring everyone feels extremely motivated and has a sense of ownership of the business.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
We shouldn’t have been so scared of selling the business. We have now seen the impact that someone like Ferrero can have; they can give it the structure, solidity and reinforcement it needs to take it to another level. I think in running a business you have to know when your time is done and we could have probably sold it a couple of years earlier.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
We had the right products at the right time. I think people over-complicate healthier eating – for us it has been about keeping it very simple, just nuts and dried fruit blended together made in a homemade kind of way, being able to see the product through the clear packaging, and keeping the marketing extremely simple.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
More than anything else, you have to believe in what you are doing and that what you are doing is going to make an impact on the world. And to need to test that. It is very easy to get carried away with what you think is a fabulous idea but it needs to be tested on consumers who actually going to pay real money for your product, not just your friends and family who are always going to say wonderful things about your hare-brained idea.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?