Who better to create products that are free from the 14 most common food allergies in the UK than someone who is an allergy sufferer themselves? We chat to Creative Nature's founder Julianne Ponan about the realities of setting up a free-from business
When and why did you launch Creative Nature?
I started Creative Nature in 2012, when I was 23 and fresh out of uni.
All my life I’ve lived with life-threatening allergies to multiple things like tree-nuts, peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, sesame and more. Growing up, I was never able to eat out or pick up snacks due to allergens in foods or the allergy-free ones tasting revolting!
I decided to create my own that were safe for all Top 14 Allergens and 100% vegan
What’s your USP for Creative Nature?
Our products are free from the 14 most common food allergens in the UK and are produced in an allergy-safe environment, so we don’t have to include ‘may contain’ warnings on pack like most of our competitors.
Our products are palm-oil free and our supply chain is free from child labour or slavery.
The best part though, is that we’re multi-award-winning on taste (The Grocer Innovation, Quality Food, Great Taste, Nourish and Free From Food Awards!), so you know you’re going to enjoy eating our goodies.
What do you find the most challenging thing about being a business in the Free-From sector?
Trying to get buyers to understand that gluten-free isn’t the only important thing about the ‘free-from’ sector.
A lot of the time we’re put next to nut products, which is really scary for our customers.
The ‘free-from’ section needs to be a safe haven for the majority of allergy sufferers and have a focus on brands like Creative Nature or Eat Real, who also have Top 14 Free offerings.
Owner Julianne is very proud of Creative Nature's baking mixes
What’s your process for developing new products?
It’s top secret!
We like being ahead of trends though, rather than followers.
We launched our nut-free, dried fruit bars when everyone else was following the Nakd recipes.
We launched our baking mix range when it was really only Betty Crocker and supermarket own brands, now there are lots of companies following in our footsteps, which is great!
Our Gnawbles are another unique offering, with the HazelNOT (trademarked) flavour being an absolute gamechanger!
Which is your most popular product at the moment?
During lockdown, the baking mixes went crazy, especially the banana bread!
The Gnawbles are new, but definitely becoming very popular and people are intrigued by the hazelnut-free, hazelnut flavoured product with some customers hailing it as the vegan love-child of Maltesers and Ferrero Rocher.
What’s your advice for other small businesses trying to get their products into supermarkets?
There is nothing worse than going to food shows and seeing loads of brands all selling the same product, just in different packaging.
If you’re launching something, have a USP.
Our baking mixes were unique when we launched them back in 2017 and that’s why supermarkets wanted them. We created a market and now other brands are joining us.
I always say that a product should ‘have a purpose’. So find that purpose and then keep knocking on doors until there are none left. If that doesn’t work, go back to the beginning and knock on them all again!
Why did you decide to apply for the Vegan Trademark?
We were always going to be a vegan brand, so getting the right vegan logo on pack was key.
The Vegan Trademark stood out to us and we really like how the logo looks on pack. It gives the brand an extra level of credibility within the vegan community and lets us go with the Vegan Society areas at trade shows.
The instant logo recognition is great as it means we don’t have to tell people the product is vegan because the logo is there.
We’ve loved being part of the Vegan Society stands and areas at shows and that gives an extra boost too because some buyers might be at that show specifically looking for vegan products.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about learning to live with allergies?
Preparation is key.
There are allergies all over the place and they are unavoidable, but if you prepare yourself properly before heading out, you can limit the risk.
Flights are incredibly scary for allergy sufferers, especially those with airborne allergies like tree-nuts, peanuts or dairy. If you prepare you allergy pack beforehand, even if ignorant passengers refuse to listen to you or the air stewards, you will feel safer and stay calmer.
I always have my Cheeky Panda wipes (ask to board early so you can wipe down your area), Creative Nature snacks (in case the meals don’t cater), 2 Epi Pens, face mask and ‘comforts’.
I just wish Piriton did a 100ml bottle for flights too!
What’s next for Creative Nature?
We’ve got some yummy new products launching, new supermarkets taking our goodies and some really exciting news for vegans abroad as we’re launching into a few more countries around the world!
Please check out our Instagram page for more news and recipe ideas.
Inspired to find out more about businesses trying to make the life of vegans and allergy sufferers easier? Meet the team behind Crackd, The No Egg Egg replacement