From pulp to granola, from blog to business
Where does the name nibs etc. come from?
It’s kind of two fold I guess. Nibs is short for nibbles, small bites and snacks and the other part is … I am personally obsessed with chocolate and a lot of people don’t realise that chocolate is made from cocoa nibs. They look kind of sandy, grainy and not much like chocolate at all. You know how sometimes kids don’t know where vegetables come from? Some people don’t know where chocolate comes from, so the idea behind the name ‘nibs etc.’ was to celebrate misunderstood ingredients. And etc. stands for bits and bops, odds and ends, which we’re also celebrating.
What was your main driver to start this business? Have you always wanted to eliminate food waste or did it start somewhere else?
I guess the main driver to start the blog was that I had been out of college for a couple of years and I was cooking quite frugally at the time because you kind of have to when you have a recent graduate job. I wanted to make my ingredients go as far as I could and not waste anything. And also partly laziness. I had just moved back to Switzerland with my parents and was figuring out my next steps. We were living in the mountains and the next shop was a 20 minutes walk down the mountain. So I just tried to use up all the ingredients that we had accumulated in our family home. I went into the cupboards and used up what we have had for years. My mum actually commented on the fact that I have been using left overs and parts of foods that people normally wouldn’t consider an ingredient and she kind of encouraged me to do something about it. So I decided to start my blog.
I have learned a lot from my parents actually. They are slightly on the hoarder side of things. We collect all the plastic bags and keep them until they get reused. They always encouraged us to not buy things we don’t need and not to throw things away.
Also living in different parts of the world where food is handled in such different ways has influenced me a lot. For example in Asia, food is stacked pile high to show abundance and wealth even though it doesn’t even get eaten. And then moving to the US where portions are just ridiculous. Nobody should consume that much food in one sitting. And that also means more waste. I moved to California, where I was living in an apartment with two girls, one of which was definitely more on the sustainability conscious side of things. She always kept her compost in the freezer, which I thought was genius (no fruit flies!). So all these little things contributed to my awareness of food waste and that it is happening everywhere in the world. It definitely inspired me and that’s how it all came to be.
How did you go about turning your blog into a business?
Initially I got asked to do a lot of catering with the concept of using ‘waste' or 'unwanted’ food. That was a couple of years ago when I didn’t really know where I wanted to go so I just took on every opportunity but I quickly realised that I didn’t want to be a catering company. It’s not really scalable and you're also not able to save that much food from waste. However, it is a really good way to educate people on the topic.
Where did you get your ‘waste food’ from?
At the time I was getting bread and pastries from a few bakeries around the city and I definitely did a bit of scavenging at wholesale markets which you’re not really supposed to do anymore. These foods are totally fine, they just look a little bit wilted or something. I also befriended a juicer at the time from who I got fruit and veg pulp and started experimenting with it.
How many products do you sell?
I have reduced it down to one product now, which is the pulp granola with 30% pulp. Currently we only sell one flavour but I would like to do three different ones based on the typical juice bar flavours green, orange and red.
We used to make pulp crackers as well but they are a little bit more laborious to produce which isn’t really scalable for us at the moment. They are definitely a bit more innovative and I know people love them, but they are so physically intensive to make. Once we can mechanise the production process the crackers will definitely come back though.
Did you find it hard to make it as a sustainable business? There is a sense that a sustainability focussed company will have it much harder.
I was talking about this at a talk by zero waste founders club the other day. There is a green tax for being more sustainable as a business, which is frustrating as it impacts the prices of your products and services to your customers. And as a new and emerging brand in the space this is really hard when you are just starting out.
Also while pulp is a waste product and it’s free the costs are in the collection and transport of it. But once we scale up a little bit these costs will go down again.
Do you do the collection of the pulp and the delivery of the products all by yourself at the moment?
Yes, I do. And all on public transport too. I have seen a lot of businesses that use cargo bikes, so I am currently considering that as an option.
Have you ever felt intimidated by the food and drinks industry?
Definitely. I have thought about my journey a lot recently and I am glad I had learned about how to set up a business plan and everything in school. For the WeWork Creators Award I had to submit a quite detailed plan of my business including a forecast and that really helped too. I think the way I did it was quite useful because it’s not like I looked at the food industry before I started - it has all developed quite organically, which definitely helped. I did take my time to build a network, won a couple of accolades and slowly but steadily made myself known in the industry. Because I have allowed myself to take the time I feel like I am now more than ever ready to take this on.
Who are your customers? Why do they come to you?
We currently have a stall at Borough market, which is very interesting because it is such an eclectic mix of people. The tourists for example are just shopping around looking for a yummy treat. Then there are very loyal customers who come because they just love your product. And then I have a few customers that shop at nibs etc. because they love our company ethos and want to support it. Those are also the ones that will passionately tell your story to others.
What’s next for you?
We are currently working on a brand refresh to make our appearance and packaging more fit for wholesale and I am talking to several different distributors which is quite exciting!
I also want to run a lot more events. I have been running a yoga brunch with my friend Lucy who is a yoga teacher and that has been absolutely fantastic. Putting the actual food in front of people so they can try and taste it – that’s when they get it. You can talk about your food as much as you want, but people need to taste it.