Meet Julianne of Creative Nature Superfoods
Julianne Ponan is the CEO of free-from snack brand Creative Nature which creates, manufactures and supplies easy to bake, baking mixes, snacks and superfoods which are free from the top 14 allergens. The products are suitable for those who are nutrition conscious, vegetarians, vegans and for those who live with food allergy or intolerance.
The company exports to 14 countries and is now well known in the UK for its delicious products and baking mixes. They are stocked in major supermarkets including Asda, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco as well as many independent outlets up and down the UK. The company also sells online.
Julianne’s vision was to create a brand which helped people like her. She has multiple food allergies including all tree nuts, peanuts and sesame and can cause anaphylaxis. Julianne is also an international speaker on business matters and a campaigner around allergy and anaphylaxis awareness.
1.Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?
I was asked to look at the books of a company selling candles, incense, statues, teas and some superfoods from overseas called Creative Nature as it seemed to be struggling. I found significant losses and left those findings with those involved with that company. Out of the blue I was then asked if I’d like to buy the company, at the time I was working in financial services in Beijing and I was 22 years old.
I had this lightbulb moment that I could transform this company into a challenger brand in the food and drink sector which would cater for people like me. By that I mean people who suffer from food allergy, intolerance and anaphylaxis. I have multiple serious allergies, including being allergic to all nuts. It’s affected me since I was a toddler and it impacts most areas of my life. This means just having a snack or food on the go was out of the question.
Also, at the time, many products on the market tasted awful and were stuffed full of sugar to make them very sweet. My mission was to create a range of snacks and superfoods free from the top 14 allergens which were nutritious, tasty and with less sugar. That is still my vision today and with the support of my team, I’ve made this into a reality and the company is growing.
2.What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?
Imagine for a moment being 22, female, quite slight in stature and also of mixed race walking into a room of white, often middle-aged men in suits and being taken seriously. If you walk in my shoes you’ll understand instantly that this was the biggest challenge. Mine is a sector dominated by men, by huge brands and complex supply chains and systems not to mention the mountain of legislation and red tape which has to be navigated. I have had to work so hard to be taken seriously and I will keep on going as I passionately believe in my company and my vision – it’s that simple. I believe in it because I live with it.
I’ve been ignored at trade shows as many have assumed that my operations director Matt (who is also my fiancé) is the boss. I have been spoken over, racially abused and made to feel small in various situations. However I got upset, got up, dusted myself off and kept on going.
Getting that first big grocery store deal is also very challenging when you are a small company – that big brand will make demands such as wanting 1000s of. your products, delivered in a short time frame and this price. This is the challenge after you’ve developed a product, market tested it, tested it for hygiene, safety and testing to ensure it’s allergen free. The challenges never stop which means every day is still a school day!
3.Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?
For some, good ideas come suddenly from a place of quiet and for others it comes from working with a team where all can share ideas freely and see what takes root. Both are true in my case. With a small team, I try to create a culture where everyone can share ideas about any aspect of the business – and no idea is too ‘daft’ or ‘small’ to be shared. Not everything will work and we all accept that. If you always plan from a place of positive intent then your team will share with you and you with them.
4.What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?
Trust through excellent customer service – our values are to work hard for our customers in offering trust worthy top 14 allergy free products which are delicious. We also work hard to ensure they are delivered in a safe and timely manner.
Sustainability – we take our carbon footprint seriously so we do as much as we can to reduce impact. Where we import goods we try to do this by sea, we recycle and reuse packaging and pallets and our regular customers know this. We also try to use PET1 packaging which is not always easy to achieve due to costs, however our first product with this were our Gnawbles with packaging which is fully recyclable.
Honesty – we seek to be honest about our company and when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, we own the issue, and we do something about it. If a customer is not happy for whatever reason we will listen and take action. Luckily this doesn’t happen very often at all.
Integrity – we offer allergy free products so we must do everything we can to ensure our products are always safe. This starts at our factory where we clean and test – and also conduct independent testing regularly. We have never had a problem in almost a decade in business yet we keep doing it, at significant cost because we want to instil trust in our customers.
5.What is next for your brand?
Loads! We never stop moving forward. There will be more products and limited edition products over time. We will move into new markets overseas and we will form new partnerships too. We’ve recently gone into the meal kit market with our partner Gousto and we are now being offered by ex-pat online grocery store the British Corner Shop. Along with this our Banana Bread has been a must have best seller on Amazon and just launched into 400 Morrison stores.
6.What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?
If you are starting out in business do some research around the market and your possible competitors and then take action. The ‘take action’ part is critical, don’t get so bogged down in detail that you don’t do anything. Your greatest learnings will come from the actions you take.
If you have had a setback – you have to face it. Don’t blame others, it’s a waste of time and energy. Look at what happened, work out why it happened and implement change to either stop it happening again or to limit the risk of it happening again. If it’s a problem that is customer facing then you have to do even more. Now is the time to embrace proactive PR. Own the problem to your customers, and spell out what action you will take AND TAKE IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Then keep telling positive stories, keep making your customers feel special so that you have the best chance to recover.
7.What resources and tools do you use to remain productive or up-to-date on industry trends etc?
I don’t do this alone, I work with people who are tuned in to the world of business news and the world of food & drink news. The Grocer Magazine is a fantastic go to read along with various podcasts. We all take responsibility for that within the company and we work with two PR companies and one is very news and people focused. At any one time, there are multiple eyes on what’s going on in the world which is relevant to us so that we can plan for stories, plan to be part of national and international conversations or we can jump on opportunities as they arise.
If you would like to include anything else about your journey, plans for the future or general information you would like us to cover, please include here:
One aspect of my vision which I’m now putting into place is my desire to be a voice for others like me, those who face daily risks around allergies and anaphylaxis. I’m an ambassador for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also for the Teal App – both support people like me and their loved ones. Having spent a lot of my childhood sitting at the ‘allergy table’ often alone and isolated, I now, unashamedly, want a seat at the table of those who make decisions which impact my life and the lives of others like me.
Equally you’ll see during 2021 and 2022, I will be offering professional mentoring and support to people who are trying to establish challenger brands themselves. My journey has been bumpy yet exhilarating and I know my experiences and knowledge can help others avoid mistakes I made as they navigate the business world.
More info on
Brand Name: Creative Nature
LinkedIn handle: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julianne-ponan-7464a226/
Twitter handle: @creativenature
Facebook handle: https://www.facebook.com/creativenaturesuperfood
Instagram handle: https://www.instagram.com/creativenature/