Founder Q&A: Alana of Fermented By Lab
In London in 2018 (and most other places we'd assume), we have a whole lot of services, products and facilities available to us - and with each day, many more are added to the list too. It gets to the point where you have so much 'clutter' of availability, that it's rare to find something that really makes you sit up and pay attention; 'thats a great idea, I need that in my life' products. Cue Fermented By LAB - we all know the health benefits of fermented food, yet finding a store with a wide enough selection is a task in itself and whilst we could just make our own, we simply don't always have the time and headspace to always make the amount we want to eat (kraut at every meal, kombucha in between please). Fermented By Lab is one of those services that makes sense - a monthly delivery of ever-changing water kefirs and krauts inspired by seasonal flavours. We tried a box to check it was as good as it sounds (we can confirm, it's great) then caught up with the founder, Alana, to get all the details on how Fermented By Lab came about:
Q. Where did you get the idea of creating Fermented By Lab + how dod you come up with the name?
A. I first started fermenting back in 2011, when I learned how to manage my chronic full body eczema - without medication - by nurturing a healthier gut. Having experienced the countless health benefits associated with eating fermented foods, I was drawn to the idea of encouraging others to try it for themselves and began teaching my techniques in workshops and sharing my recipes. During this process, I discovered that whilst people wanted to make ferments part of their diet and experience the health benefits for themselves, they often struggled to find anything decent in the shops and for one reason or another weren't able to make them at home. I was determined to find a way to make good quality, delicious fermented food and drink easily accessible to everyone. It was when I was cooking on a yoga retreat that the idea for the subscription box came to life. One of the guests mentioned how they had their coffee beans delivered to them on a weekly basis and a lightbulb went off in my head; I couldn’t stop thinking about making and delivering ferments to people throughout the country. Shortly after I returned from the retreat, I set up the Instagram page, bought the domain and started planning!
I settled on Fermented by LAB after quite a lot of deliberation and WhatsApp messages to friends and family! LAB stands for Lactic Acid Bacteria; the lactic acid producing bacteria that are responsible for fermentation. All LAB products are fermented by lactic acid producing bacteria. In other words, they are Fermented by LAB!
Q. How did you decide what to create and what's your thought process when coming up with new flavours and ideas?
A.To make the subscription box viable, I worked out that I needed to send out a minimum of six items per order, something I later called the Baby Box. I wanted to make sure those six items were a comprehensive collection of ferments that would provide customers with a wide variety of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. In the world of gut health, diversity is key.
Kraut was my gateway ferment, showing me how powerful fermented foods are, so was straight in the box, so to speak! I knew that not everyone liked Kraut or had bad memories of smelly soggy cabbage, so needed something a little softer for those new to the game. That’s where water Kefir came in. They are my two staples, and I build around that, including different flavours of Kimchi, fermented relishes and salsas, and am currently working on a Kombucha recipe for the future. I change the flavours seasonally and really try to celebrate British produce. I’m always so inspired by what’s available, I usually have trouble narrowing the collection down!
Q. Seeing a gap in the market for the product, was it an east decision to make the jump into creating the business?
A. I found it much easier than I’d imagined, actually. The internet and social media makes it so easy. You can launch an idea with no budget, just to see if people are interested in what you’ve got to offer. Once you’ve gained a bit of traction online, you have much more confidence in putting some money behind it.
What I’ve learned is that anyone can create and start a business; it’s maintaining and growing it that’s the hard part!
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 started by selling from my website and continue to do so now. In order to make that work, I had to build an online audience and community; a process I began a good few months before I launched. It’s a different ballgame to a more traditional retail environment, but in both instances, there is no end to the power of social media, blogging and a newsletter database. Love and believe in what you do, create a great product and be authentic. With that, people will be willing to invest in you and what you sell.
Q. Who is your main business crush - which company do you respect and look up to?
A.Oh my! I’m going to sound like a complete fan girl but… it’s YOU GUYS!! I’ve followed Pollen + Grace from the very early days and have loved watching you grow and kick some serious business butt!
"LOVE AND BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU DO, CREATE A GREAT PRODUCT AND BE AUTHENTIC"
Q. What's the first thing you do when you wake up and how do you find balance in a hectic schedule?
A.After a shower, I start my day with a hot drink; either a plain hot water or some sort of herbal tea. I know it sounds super simple, but the warmth of the drink really helps me to calm down when my head is racing with all the things I have to get done that day. Running your own business often means you start the day already feeling behind, and the 5 minutes it takes me to drink that hot water or herbal tea (which is also a screen free 5 minutes) allows me to gather my thoughts and approach the day in a more organised way.
Q. What inspires you to keep going?
A. Anyone who runs a business will tell you that it’s bloody hard graft. There are many times when you’re so up against it that you contemplate chucking the towel in (especially when it’s a solo venture) … I’d be lying if I said any different! During these times, there are two things that keep me going, depending on how seriously I’m contemplating giving it all up!
1) I remind myself that I’m working at building a future for myself, doing something I love.
2) I refer back to all the lovely emails and messages I’ve received from customers. These vary from people who have written to tell me how much they love the products, to people telling me how their health has been transformed since they started eating/drinking LAB ferments.
I’m very passionate about keeping the production in house and by setting up a LAB Fermentary, I’ll be able to expand Fermented by LAB’s reach and help more people on their quest to better health.
Q. What makes Fermented By LAB different?
A. Firstly, we provide the answer to what most medical professionals say is the key to a healthy, well balanced gut; diversity. Fermented by LAB ferments are packaged in boxes which provide a range of ferments - and therefore a diverse range of beneficial bacteria and yeasts - from Kraut and Kimchi to Kefir and Kombucha.
Secondly, our ferments are seasonally driven. Mother Nature has it all figured out and provides us with the foods we need to support our body and mind in any given season. We aim to produce the most nourishing, nurturing and holistic ferments possible, and working with the seasons is one way of doing that.
Q. What does the future hold for you?
A. There are currently a few ideas I’m fleshing out, but the big goal for this year is to set up a purpose built ‘Fermentary’ (I think that’s a made up word but production facility sounds so bland!) I’m very passionate about keeping the production in house and by setting up a LAB Fermentary, I’ll be able to expand Fermented by LAB’s reach and help more people on their quest to better health.