Elin Roberts is a co-founder of Better Nature, an environmentally conscious business located at the recently opened Food Exchange in Nine Elms. She talks to the Enterprise Hub about lessons learnt from lockdown and why they’re keen to introduce tempeh – a natural plant-based source of protein – to the world.
Describe your business in one sentence?
We make healthy food choices easier and tastier, through tempeh – an all-natural Indonesian plant-based protein.
When did you launch and who is behind it?
Better Nature Foods was founded in 2018 by four foodies: Indonesian-born food scientist Dr. Amadeus Driando Ahnan-Winarno, biochemist-turned-entrepreneur Christopher Kong, marketing strategist Elin Roberts and product developer Fabio Rinaldo. We launched in January 2020.
When did your ‘lightbulb moment’ happen?
Our love and appreciation for tempeh came at different times. Although we have varying backgrounds, we all came together and are bound by a common goal, which is to make nutritious foods tastier and more accessible through tempeh.
How did you prepare for launching your business?
We did plenty of research to understand what else was out there and found there were very few tempeh brands. None of those brands were looking at it the way we were – pioneering tempeh science to naturally enhance its nutritional and sensory properties, as well as turning tempeh into a whole range of products.
We also read a lot of books, listened to podcasts and searched for entrepreneurs and advisors we could learn from as we started our journey. These resources have been invaluable!
What inspired you to launch the business when you did?
Being one of the most naturally nutritious, sustainable and delicious foods on the planet, we knew how special tempeh was and that it was very under-appreciated, in Indonesia and further afield. So, we decided it was about time we brought the joy of tempeh to the world!
What type of support have you received since starting your business?
We have been part of some great incubators, including ProVeg (based in Berlin) and IMPACT Hub (based in King’s Cross). We have also joined a few start-up groups, like Young Foodies and Vevolution, that have been really helpful. Other start-ups and founders have also been so generous with their time and advice. There are so many amazing people out there helping businesses like ours to thrive.
What would you say were three of the most challenging aspects of setting up the business?
There are too many to name…! But the top three would be:
1) Defining a clear business & marketing strategy: This is one of the most important things a business needs to make the progress to succeed, but it’s also one of the hardest things to nail down and stick to. Everything feels constantly in flux in a start-up, with new challenges and ideas flying your way most days. Sticking to a clear strategy across the business and making sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet can feel near impossible.
2) Learning to say no: When you’re starting out, you feel like you have to take every single opportunity that comes your way, just in case it leads to something bigger. However, you need to realise that your time is precious and how you spend it should be considered in as much depth as how you spend your money. If it’s not delivering real value to your business, then as hard as it is, it’s time to say no. It’s as simple as that!
3) Creating a strong culture: Your team is the most important asset you have. A team that is motivated, empowered and genuinely excited to work for you can be the making of you. A team that is de-motivated, frustrated and unhappy can totally derail your business. So, this is something we’ve tried to pay a lot of attention to and make sure we create a supportive, empowering and exciting culture. It requires constant work, but it’s so worth it!
What happened to your business during lockdown?
As we had a relatively international team, with team members in London, Indonesia and Slovenia, we were used to some remote working. So, the transition to working this way full time was much easier for us, though it certainly had its challenges!
Online sales initially grew massively, while retail sales slumped, especially for smaller independent shops. Over the past 18 months there have been such variations between the two depending on the latest restrictions, but things are starting to get a bit more steady – thank goodness!
Lockdown also impacted our progress when it came to research & development and product development, as we couldn’t physically be in the lab for months. But we made do with at-home set-ups and still managed to make the progress we needed to, thanks to our incredible team.
What business lessons have you learned from Covid?
1) Have a clear business strategy: The stronger your strategy, the easier it is to deal with disruptions and changes as you’re able to refer back to it for guidance. For us, how to help people be as healthy as possible obviously changed a lot during Covid, so we offered virtual retreats and care packs to support those who needed it. When we started this wasn’t part of our business model. However, if we were truly going to live our mission, we knew we needed to step up and help people out during very challenging times.
2) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: our retail and online sales have jumped around a lot over the past 18 months, depending on the latest restrictions. We’re so lucky that we had already set up our own online shop, in addition to launching with retailers, as it meant our sales were not totally wiped out overnight. No one could have ever predicted how devastating Covid would be, but it has definitely been a good lesson. We’ve learnt to always ensure that that we are working with enough partners and available on enough channels to avoid being too reliant on anyone.
3) Always put your team first: We would not have been able to get through such a challenging, confusing and ever-changing time without our amazingly passionate, resilient, driven and caring team. When challenges like this come our way, our team is the only way we’re able to get through them so it’s important to foster a caring and supportive culture. As part of this, we work with a company called Spill link to offer our team members free mental health care and resources.
If you had the opportunity to do it all again, what would you do differently?
We’d be much more strategic from the get-go. At the beginning we had so much to learn, about running a business, about ourselves and about the market we were operating in, that we took a bit more of a learn-and-adapt approach. While it is important to be able to adapt, it’s even more important to make sure you do everything with a clear vision of who you’re doing it for and how you can appeal to them.
What three tips would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1) Before you do anything on your business, define the gap in the market you want to fill.
2) Define who your target audience is. Do plenty of research on this and be as narrow as possible. You can then broaden this as the business grows, but it’s better to appeal strongly to a smaller group than weakly appeal to a larger group. Weak appeal doesn’t get you anywhere!
3) Be guided by what your audience wants, not what you want. It’s easy to think you are part of your target audience, but you’re not. Step out of your own perspective, listen to what your audience/customers are saying and focus on appealing to them – even if it doesn’t feel right to you.
Tell us about your latest venture
We recently launched a new range of naturally nutritious and delicious products: BBQ Tempeh Ribz, Sweet & Smoky Tempeh Rashers, Roast Tempeh Bites and Kebab Tempeh Strips.
Finish this sentence. I like being based in Wandsworth because…
It’s central enough to make it easy to access, but still feels quite calm and welcoming. There’s nothing better than taking a break to go for a walk around Battersea Park or going for a meal on the river. Where we are, at the Food Exchange, there are so many exciting new food brands to chat to and learn from too!
How can people find you?
Food Exchange, New Covent Garden Market, London, SW8 5EL