Nimisha Raja, Founder & CEO – Nim’s Fruit Crisps
Nimisha Raja is on a personal crusade to create healthier snacks, a crusade that is still on course despite the turmoil of Brexit and Covid-19. Business Influencer talks to her about the power of ‘air’ and why The Queen continues to be a major source of inspiration.
When 15-year-old Nimisha Raja started work on the tills at a Tesco store in London, few people would have put money on that same young girl one day supplying an innovative ‘food on the move’ product to the supermarket giant.
Dream big has always been her philosophy and one that has stood the test of a rollercoaster career that has seen her own five dry cleaners, a wine bar and a coffee shop.
Now, if she sets foot in the same shop she started her fledging career in, she will see four different varieties of her fruit and vegetable crisps on display alongside some of the biggest snacking brands in the world. It’s a proud moment for the African-born entrepreneur, but one she doesn’t like to bask in.
“The minute you stand still and believe you’ve made it, is the minute someone else takes over you,” explained Nimisha Raja, founder of Nim’s Fruit Crisps, the UK’s only manufacturer of air-dried fruit and vegetable crisps.
“You’ve always got to keep one eye on what the next big thing will be and looking at how you will deliver something different to the consumer. It’s a lesson we’ve heeded and it has stood us in good stead to weather the double whammy of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19.”
She continued: “Retail figures with the big supermarkets have held up ok, but they are nowhere near where we projected them to be. The good news is that our air-dried ingredients and infusion range for drinks has gone through the roof during lockdown, which means we will still be on for our best ever year.”
Nim’s Fruit Crisps is viewed by many as one of the food sector’s most exciting disruptor brands, tapping into the demand for an alternative to unhealthy snacks that currently dominate the eating habits of adults and children in the UK.
The business, which employs 19 people at its purpose-built factory in Kent, is now into its sixth year of trading and produces a fifteen-strong range of fruit and vegetable crisps (apple, pineapple, watermelon, tomato and cucumber and beetroot and parsnip for example), edible teas and its hugely popular infusions.
It all started after Nimisha continually overhead parents and children arguing about what snack to have when they visited her coffee shop. There just didn’t seem an alternative to crisps, cakes and chocolate that was healthy and tasted great – this is where the lightbulb moment arrived.
“Everyone thought I’d lost my mind. I decided to sell the home I loved and my coffee shop to plough all the money into launching a company that would produce air-dried fruit crisps. There was nobody else doing it and you could tell there was a movement to eat healthier,”
“It was now or never. I outsourced manufacturing in the early days – that didn’t work out well. I didn’t have control over volumes, quality or new product development, so the only option was to set-up a dedicated factory in Kent. That was the first big lesson learned; fortunately, I still had enough capital to create the production facility and the rest is, well, history.”
Nim’s fruit and vegetable crisps contain just one single ingredient and are one of your five-a-day, nut/gluten free and certified vegan and Kosher. They are currently available in Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and across hundreds of independent retailers, not to mention featuring at Wimbledon Tennis Championship and in snack packs for a major airline.
Packs have been sold in over 20 different countries to date, with the latest interest coming from distributors in Canada and the United States.
“Export is going to be difficult over the next six months,” admitted Nimisha. “We had some really positive talks with a big German supermarket and everything was going in the right direction. However, the buyer will not make the final decision until Brexit has been sorted – there’ll be a lot of that over the next few months.
“We’re doing everything we can to plan for what the change might be and, ironically, have even accessed some EU funding to help us prepare. This is around increased administration, understanding what the tariffs might look like and how we manage the supply chain. It’s just as important for us to get fruit in as it is to sell overseas.
“Brexit would have been difficult enough at the best of times, yet now we have to try to navigate it with the added implications of Covid-19 and a global economy shaken to its core. It’s a perfect storm and all we can do is focus on what we do and try to capitalise on our USPs.”
Delivering Something Different
Life as a SME in the highly competitive retail arena isn’t easy, especially as you are often competing against multi-national brands that have an annual spend and marketing budget that make the eye water.
This is why innovation and doing things differently have to be part of the entrepreneurship manual and something Nimisha and her close-knit team spend a lot of time keeping on top of.
Regular meetings are held on new product development, market trends and consumer thinking, with everyone encouraged to put forward ideas and suggestions.
“In short, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. It may not work in its purest sense, but there could be elements of it that provoke other conversations and opportunities,” continued Nimisha, who cites her daughter Freya as her greatest achievement.
“We’d noticed that consumer shopping habits had changed drastically with ‘food on the move’ declining due to the pandemic, so introduced share bags that have helped to stabilise sales. The biggest success this year, however, has to be our infusions range.”
Nimisha continued: “Kumquat, lemon, lime, orange and pink grapefruit have all been launched and have been used by hundreds of bars and restaurants (pre-lockdown) and, in possibly the most telling trend of this year, with subscription packages where you receive monthly products through the post.
“The Craft Gin Club is one of our biggest customers now. Our air-dried products are perfect for sending through the post as they are lightweight, easy to fit in packaging and retain all of their freshness as soon as you put them into your drink.
“We’re just shy of our sales target this year, which is a tremendous achievement by all of the team. Encouragingly, we have turned over a profit for the first time in our history and this will help us in the pursuit for a new investor for our business.
“I want a strategic investor as opposed to just a large cheque. It would need to be someone who has experience of taking challenger brands in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) arena and scaling them up. A passion for manufacturing and healthy snacks would also be welcome.”
Nimisha’s business journey continues to attract headlines from all over the world and her passion for creating healthier snacks for children and adults still burns as bright as it did when she decided to start Nim’s at the tender age of 50-years-old.
“My biggest inspiration? Easy, The Queen, as she understands her role and her focus is relentless – accepting that you will have to make sacrifices and are in it for the long haul are characteristics that entrepreneurs need in abundance.”
Somewhat fitting then that with 20+ industry awards under her belt, this likeable entrepreneur secured her biggest accolade yet last year, when the company secured the Queen’s Award for Innovation.
Nimisha concluded: “The royal seal of approval is amazing and has already led to new sales. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about visiting Buckingham Palace, that will be the real icing on the cake when we can eventually do it.”