Founder Q&A: Onist Food

If there's one thing we love more than finding an awesome new 'health' product, it's meeting the founder behind it and realising a). how much love has gone into creating said product and b). that their beliefs and ethos and seriously on point. And when we met Mary, the founder of Onist, we found just that. And because we were so intrigued about her journey, how working with Jamie Oliver had inspired the company values (and name), and the development of the brand, we thought we'd quiz her and share it with you all too!


Q. Where did you get the idea of creating the brand 'Onist' and how did you come up with the name? 

A. When I started out I knew I wanted the name to represent what the company stood for and highlight that it was different to other food companies; it was honest, transparent, sustainable and innovative. I used to work for Jamie Oliver on the food team and when I left I continued to support Jamie with a nutrition diploma that he was doing. I was in a session with him and we were running through his coursework and he had spelt something incorrectly and we were discussing that we both spell things phonetically as we're both dyslexic. On the bus back to Oxford that evening I thought, what does honest look like written phonetically, I loved it and that was it.

Q. Seeing a gap in the market for the product, was it an easy decision to make the jump into creating the business? 

A. For me the decision was probably the easiest part. I think in some respects it was a little reckless but I often think you need a little bit of recklessness to start your own business, the odds are against you. It was never really an option for me, I always knew I had to try and run my own business.

Q. How did you decide what to create and what’s your thought process when coming up with new flavours and ideas? 

A. I used to go to the gym and always craved something after that would hit the sweet spot but wanted to stay on track health wise. I'd make avocado chocolate mousse with avocado, cocoa and maple syrup. My partner who hates avocado loved it so I thought, that's interesting, he's a milk chocolate eater and is happy eating an avocado mousse, maybe there's a business here. When I started the business though I knew I wanted to be able to safely say I'd made it as nutritious as possible and so months of testing were ahead of me. In terms of new varieties, this is just up to lots of trial and error. If it's good enough, it will pass!

Q. How did you get your product to market and how would you best advise other food startups to get up and go? 

A. I'd say if you are really really passionate just do it. Before selling I contacted everyone I knew in the industry and bought people A LOT of coffee, I had a lot to learn and I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is that they pretend they know everything. No one does and in my experience, everyone has a valuable opinion, so listen to people. Once I was ready I searched the whole of Google for buyers I thought would suit it, and continue to do so today. It definitely doesn't happen overnight, unfortunately as I am very impatient. It takes perseverance and buyers will come up with almost every excuse not to stock you. At the end of the day I believe that if your brand is strong enough, your product is good enough, you're very organised and you believe in the mission of your business, it will take time but stockists will take you on. My first stockist was a small health food bakery in Oxford, which was great as I was working there at the time and could get immediate feedback. Next was Fortnum and Mason, which was very fortunate.

Q. Who is your main business crush - which company do you respect and adhere to be like the most?

A. This may sound strange but Elon Musk at Tesla. I think he has a vision of the world where anything is possible. He has an incredible determination, work ethic and confidence. He approaches tackling world issues through pragmatic business which I think is inspirational.

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and how do you find a balance in a hectic schedule? 

A. When I wake up I do 10 minutes of yoga followed by 5 minutes of mindfulness, when I'm being good! It makes a massive difference to being able to approach one thing at a time rather than get overwhelmed by ever growing to do lists. I should do it everyday but I don't always, it's something I'm working on! I also work out a lot and also try and have 1 whole day a week where I don't work. I need to socialise and so I've learnt over time this is a necessity for me to stay sane.

Q. What inspires you to keep going? 

A. I massively believe that businesses are the solution to the world's issues and I think if I can prove that you can be both commercially and responsibly minded you can build a long lasting brand. If I can do this and convince just one big food business to do the same I'd be very happy.

Q. What makes Onist different? 

A.  We are a food company run by a food nutritionist so we don't just put healthy on the label, we critically analyse why we use each of the ingredients that we do. We are organic and Fair Trade and for every pot of Onist you buy you are buying a healthy breakfast for a child in need in Gambia. We believe in raising the awareness of farming communities.

Q. What does the future hold for you? 

A.  I hope to widen the range of products we offer and the type of work we do in different regions across the world. I hope to tackle a different issue in the food industry with each of our products. Eventually I hope Onist becomes a household brand.

To find out more about Onist Food, head to their website here
Find their avocado pots at Eat17, Soho House + more, or head over to our Instagram and enter to win a week's supply of our Banana Bread and Onist's avocado pots! 

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