Our June Entrepreneur-spiration Interview is with Louisa Wilkinson, Founder of The HANGRY Food Company, and aka The HANGRY Boss.
You know that feeling when you’re HANGRY. The silent unidentifiable rage when you are so hungry you become inexplicably angry or frustrated, or both; these emotions boil over until you get something in your belly and then the feelings subside as quickly as they arrived.
It's not a made up word. Officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, HANGRY is a scientific discovery! A recent study shows that people have difficulty regulating their temperament when their blood sugar levels drop, which is why they become a bit of a grumpy mess when HANGRY.
Well, Louisa is here to help you control your HANGRY emotions with her new range of delicious and nutritious HANGRY snack bars, and she is on a mission to provide you with honest and healthy good food to put you in a good mood.
HANGRY? Snack out of it!
Made with real food ingredients, and hand rolled and cold pressed to retain all their goodness, HANGRY bars are an honestly healthy snack bar in a sea of questionably healthy ones. Seriously people, read the ingredients and see what’s really in them! Healthy packaging does not equal healthy eating.
HANGRY bars have been specially developed and designed to help balance your glucose levels and therefore help you manage your HANGRY urges, with no nasties added to the making process. They are made of just fruit, oats, nuts and seeds, that means no dairy, no added sugar or vegetable oils and are even vegan friendly. Honest, nutritious and a substantial snack bar that will starve off those hunger pangs and the emotional HANGRY beast.
Available in 3 flavours - Original Nutter, Cranky Cocoa, and Berry the Rage - each with characters to help you identify with the HANGRY rage, this range of snack bars certainly stands out from the crowd.
So where did it all begin? Where did the idea stem from and what made Louisa take the plunge from corporate career to embracing the entrepreneur lifestyle and helping the world with their HANGER pains? We set out to find out….
The start of the HANGRY journey
Louisa begins,"like lots of us I guess, I used to make the long, packed and often unpredictable commute into London every day."
"Healthy snacks are still so difficult to find when you’re on the move – especially in major transport hubs like train stations, so my boyfriend, Mark, and I started making our own bars to take to work. We made big batches on Sundays as fuel for the working week ahead, experimenting with lots of different recipes and flavours, trialing them with family and friends."
"Mark would regularly refer to me as HANGRY, especially after a long day where I’d been manically busy and under-fuelled, so we just started calling them HANGRY bars.”
“Launching a business to manufacture and sell them never occurred to us until a leisurely bike ride, which sparked some debate around whether or not someone would have trademarked the word HANGRY .
We later looked into it and saw that no one had and thought that this is a sign! We couldn’t believe that no one was already using it so we jumped to it.”
Passion for nutrition
“Being healthy is something I’ve always been very conscious of since my early teens. My mother laughs, because as a kid I refused to eat anything without ketchup on it. She blames herself for pushing fruit and vegetables too forcibly on me, luckily it did work in the end, just took a little longer to make an impact.
“Nutrition has been an education for me, there is so much information out there, which is why it’s quite shocking that a lot of people take products at face value and don’t do their research. Transparency is important to us. All of our ingredients are clearly listed, there are no added sugars, syrups or vegetable oils. We bind the ingredients in the bars with a little water and I’m proud to say that’s it."
“From the beginning we wanted HANGRY to be a healthy brand - honest and simple ingredients, with a fun personality. To many people, health food can be so boring and serious, which in itself is a barrier. Our HANGRY ethos is honest and healthy good food to help you #SnackOutOfIt.”
“Once we’d agreed to take the plunge, I started meeting with a lot of different suppliers and kitchens to see who could make it for us on a larger scale. It was so important to us that it could still be hand made to our exact specifications, but achievable at a scale so we could sell it into a number of shops. I quit my job and started working on HANGRY full time at Christmas 2015. I first cracked the packaging, before building the website and then busied myself getting samples out to potential customers. As soon as I had enough people interested, we made the first packaged batch at the end of April, and in May it’s just stared going into its first stores.”
That lightbulb moment
“As soon as we had registered the name for trademark, it sparked the idea of the brand image.
“The word HANGRY is in the furry, hairy monster style font, because we wanted the brand to embody what HANGRY is. It embarrassingly relates to me, I do become a bit of a yeti style monster if I am HANGRY.”
She laughs, looking at Louisa I can hardly imagine this and I tell her this but she insists she does!
“Sometimes I just go silent, that’s when you can tell it’s really bad, I can’t even talk to anyone because of I’m scared what I will say! We’ve all been there when you snap irritably at someone and only live to regret it later.”
“We really wanted to convey HANGRY in a fun and playful way, and use the characters to emphasise this. Mark and I would doodle the characters over stock images and then send them over to the designers who would work them up and make them look as you see them today. They’ve come up with a load of different characters for our new snack range and we’ve had fun going back and forth with different HANGRY expressions.”
“I’m really pleased that we spent proper time on the packaging and design, and that we didn’t try and rush and do it whilst I was still in my full time job. I think if we had tried to launch it whilst I was still working full time, we would have not only struggled time wise but we would have either not launched it or may have settled for something quite mediocre and safe, rather than pushing for it to be unique.”
Sales & Marketing the HANGRY way
Louisa, who is a natural sales and marketer for the brand, and who comes from a marketing background was sure to have a plan for how she started to make waves with the brand with the right customers and the right audiences. I was keen to learn what she had in store.
“It was so funny because after I quit work I was thinking “oh I don’t need to do marketing plans anymore” and then it took about 3 days of going round in circles before I took a step back and realised “right, I need some structure, I need a strategy, I need a brand plan!”
"We are a healthy brand, and our niche within the health market is that we are a bit more playful and fun than other brands in the same category. The HANGRY name allows that.”
“I’m currently focusing on building distribution in both health stores and coffee shops. I feel that many coffee shops are missing out on revenue at the moment. As the number of health conscious individuals grow, treat days become rarer. Many people are choosing to only buy a coffee and not a snack if a healthy option isn’t available.”
“Vending is also a key opportunity for HANGRY, which actually takes us back to where it all started – our unpredictable commutes and lack of accessible healthy snacks.”
And in terms of marketing, what tools is she using to drive awareness of the HANGRY brand?
“We are focusing on social media and tapping into the #hangry phenomemon. We are slowly building this organically. We will be developing gif campaigns this Autumn, as this style and tone fits well with our brand look and feel, and personality!”
“It’s been great getting our product out there and to see people coming back with their own images – often HANGRY faces or captions. The fact that we haven’t asked people to do it, they have just seen the brand, understood the humour of it all, is amazing. I couldn’t have asked for anymore at this stage.”
“We’ve been teaming up and sampling with a lot of health and fitness brands from Active In Style to Fat Buddha Yoga and Fitfluence. It’s been brilliant for building our network and hitting the right audience. If you have a new healthy product these are the people who are interested in hearing all about it. It’s important to work with brands and individuals who get what we are trying to do and happy to introduce us to their communities.”
“We also teamed up with Sourced Box, which resulted in vloggers like Niomi Smart (co-founder) and even Zoella talking about us on their snapchat and Youtube channels. These endorsements has really helped to drive our message and our brand awareness.”
What’s HANGRY got in store?
“Lots of innovation, we hope the HANGRY bars are just the start. We plan to extend our bar range and expansion into new categories... I can say no more now, but just watch this space!”
At the age of 28, Louisa is quite the inspiration; full of passion, determination and with a huge likability factor. I asked Louisa who does she look to for inspiration now she is an entrepreneur?
“My Mum is a huge inspiration because she started her own business, a nursery school empire - she actually set her first up when I was six months old. Growing up with that taught me a lot about running a business, a lot of it I absorbed without even realising. Friends often ask me “how did you know how to do that” and I can pinpoint it from overhearing discussions between my Mum and Dad and her business advisors. I’ve been really lucky to grow up with that insight.”
“But in more recent years, it’s other start ups that inspire me! Those like me, who are setting up their own business - I have so much respect for what they are doing. I’ve always respected those who take a chance. Admittedly it’s always been something I have wanted to do myself, but until you actually do it yourself and live and breathe it, you can’t understand half of the emotions you go through or really appreciate what it takes. Without having Mark to support me, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to do it.”
I was intrigued to understand more about the issue of confidence. As a business that supports Women & Entrepreneurs, we often hear that confidence is the area where our clients need supporting; building their self belief in their capabilities. I wanted to understand more of Louisa's experience of this, and asked why she wouldn't have had the confidence?
"Because it’s taking a huge bet on yourself, your ideas and your abilities." She explains. "I can get hugely carried away with enthusiasm for ideas and then waste an enormous amount of energy dissecting them and thinking of a million and one excuses not to pursue with it. One of my best friends, Lisa, identifies with this strongly also. We call it our ‘climax of confidence’ and then our ‘crises of confidence’. We only have to whatsapp each other ‘crisis of confidence’ (normally in caps) and then the other will ring and give a big motivational speech to get us back on track. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we support each other."
So a strong support network have helped bolster Louisa and her business as it grows. I wanted to understand more about what overall has her experience been like as a female founder, and whether she always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
"On the whole, great. The amount of encouraging words and praise I’ve had from others, especially other independent businesses and start ups, has been overwhelming and ultimately what keeps me going day to day."
“I always wanted to start my own business. At the dinner table every Christmas with my wider family, I was always asked when I was going to do it, and my standard response was always “When I have an idea that’s good enough!” “
“It’s always been on my mind, and over the years I have had a few ideas and even gone to the point of trademarking words, and buying domains and thinking I’ll do it, but there had always been something that held me back from doing that bit more. That’s when I knew I either didn’t have enough faith in the idea or enough confidence.”
“I love running my own business, I love that now if I have an idea I can just go out and do it and there is no corporate hierarchy slowing things down or holding me or the brand back. I am proud of what I am doing and want to give it my all. It’s pretty good that work doesn’t really feel like work any more. But my god, the highs and lows. One email can sometimes make or break my day. I think because you are so invested in the business and the brand, and it is a reflection of you, the highs are higher, and the lows are lower and generally everything means a lot more.”
Time to learn
As with all startups, there are the good times and there are the bad. Mistakes are not mistakes but just opportunities to learn. What have been Louisa’s biggest learnings to date and what has she taken from them?
“I’ll go with a bad one because I think everyone will have that moment of thinking “oh god! I can’t believe that’s happened”… We had a bit of a packaging mistake.”
“In my old job I was always obsessively proof reading brand collateral, adverts, press releases etc, but with this I was even worse! Because it was our brand and our money, no budget room for errors(!) it became something I was overly paranoid about getting right. I checked it repeatedly, we had friends and family checking it, the packaging agency, our printers checked it, anyone who would give me the time of day. I had nightmares that the barcode wouldn’t work. My friends kept winding me up about it as a joke, and I laughed along with them.. and then it actually did happen!”
“On our first box print, on one of our shelf ready boxes one approved file got mixed with an old error file at our printers. To cut a long story short, we ended up with “Vegan friendly (not suitable for vegans)” printed on the box - which is at best confusing and at worst a bit of a nightmare - especially for Vegans - I mean is it or isn’t ok for them to eat?!! It was only when the product was being boxed that we noticed, and it had been printed on a 3,000 print run!”
“I had about an hour wasted in panic, and then knowing that I didn’t have to go to any boss and tell them what has happened, was a bit of a relief. It was up to me entirely how it was dealt with. No naming and shaming needed. I just emailed everyone to let them know matter of factly what had happened, and then presented the solution- simply a heavy duty sticker with a reprint to cover it up.
"I actually ended up sitting in the warehouse sticking every single box myself with music blaring and laughing about it all. I did think had I been back in my old job some other poor sod would have been sat doing this (although paid), but I was more than happy to do it."
"Things go wrong, and you think it will be the end of the world, but it’s not. The irony was that I had many sleepless nights stupidly worrying about a costly mistake like this, but when it did happen, I was fine. I didn’t lose a wink of sleep over it.”
Passing things on
I asked Louisa if she were to pass on any tips from her experience to date to encourage other entrepreneurs - what would they be?
“Have a strong unique selling point - keep questioning yourself to make it unique and different. Drill yourself to death on this, because it’s all your customers and retailers will ask you, and if you don’t have a compelling answer to that, then you are pretty much done before you get started.
“Network and talk to people - don’t wait to get started. I actually wish I’d made some of the contacts I made now about several months earlier. Go meet and talk to people who have been through it or are going through it, so you can get a clear understanding of whatever area you are going in to.”
“Save money or make sure you are really secure on investment, because you can plan the best budget, but with a startup there are always hidden costs and things you haven’t foreseen. Like heavy duty stickers for packaging errors…”
“Finally, and very pragmatic but I would say the legal side - trademarking, contracts and all your IP protection. I’ve been so lucky that I have family with legal background but I don’t know how I would have afforded the advice otherwise- I probably would have spent a long time tearing my hair out over it trying to get my head around what I needed to do. You have to protect yourself. If your idea is that good then someone else might try and take it, so if any problems come up you want to be protected. Every other new business I speak to I always ask them this and then end up sending instructions. I just don’t want anyone to get caught out.”
Finally, I asked Louisa what advice she would give to her 10 year old self if she were to meet them now?
“Mmmmmm, that’s a tough one.”
“Enjoy learning through your mistakes. I used to really beat myself up when I did something wrong, but now I realise that the things that have gone wrong have taught me so so much - so don’t let it hold you back.”
“Finally, be more confident. I don’t want to make a sweeping statement for all women but it is amazing how dreadfully self deprecating we can be. I am definitely guilty of it. If you’re not confident, you can quickly undermine whatever brilliance you have - and so being confident in yourself and how you present yourself to others is so, so important. I wish I had learnt this from a young age, luckily I made some great friends to help me through. If you’re having a ‘crisis of confidence’ just give a good friend a call.
We couldn't agree more!
A huge thank you to Louisa for her interview and being part of this month’s Entrepreneur-spiration series. We will watch with interest as The HANGRY Food Company as it continues to build and grow on its mission to change snack behaviour for the better (and the better for you!)
You can find out more about Louisa and The HANGRY Food Company at www.hangryfood.co.uk.