I thought of the idea for Onist when I was working at Jamie Oliver Ltd. We’d often go to ‘healthy’ places for lunch. I was the senior nutritionist for Jamie Oliver’s food team and so naturally I am suspicious when anything is labelled as healthy. It is a term banded around in the industry and often not backed up. I longed for something to hit the sweet spot after lunch that actually was nutritious. At home, like a lot of gym bunnies, I would make avocado chocolate mousse made with maple syrup, cocoa and avocado. My partner who hates avocado was shocked to find that he loved it and couldn’t taste the avocado. I was intrigued.
I always knew that I wanted to start my own company but leaving Jamie’s was one of the toughest things I have ever done. I loved the people, what the company stood for, the work, and as nutrition jobs go, it was pretty amazing. By the time I decided to leave I was doing a part time masters in Food Policy with Tim Lang at City University in London. The course, and my experience at Jamie’s had taught me about the injustice in the world when it comes to the food industry. We have all these amazing exotic foods available to us every day in the UK but there is a disconnect between the food we eat and how farmers are treated and paid. Farmers are some of the poorest people in the world! I fundamentally believe that isn’t ok.
I knew that I wanted to create a business that could make a difference. I want to show other businesses that being responsible as well as commercial can work, and in fact it can offer your brand and business greater longevity. I also believe that businesses for good offer a much better model for a charity as they don’t rely solely on fundraising. And from a commercial standpoint, the business benefits as well. It’s a win win.
The next step was deciding how to make the business charitable. I realised that a lot of people have now lost trust in charities, they don’t know where the money is going and so they are reluctant to donate. But people do want to give back, they do care and they are interested in learning about where there food comes from. So after months of researching and brainstorming I came up with the Onist Food name (I’m dyslexic and so a phonetic spelling made sense) and Buy One Give One as the tag line. So for every pot a person buys they are buying a healthy breakfast for a child in need in Gambia. I have partnered with a really small charity in Gambia called Pandys so I have complete control of where the money is spent. Transparency is key.
Prior to this however I needed to get the recipe right. Although the old combo of maple syrup, cocoa and avocados worked well I am a massive believer in nutritious calories (calories that give your body something other than energy) and so, although maple syrup offers more minerals than sugar I wanted to make them as nutritious as possible. And so the endless testing began. I am super happy about the end result, even my friends who are die hard milk chocolate fans love it, when I won them over I knew my work was done. I love the ingredients that we use- avocados, dates, cashew nuts, cocoa and natural extracts, nothing else. All organic and all Fairtrade of course. It is also great because it is suitable for vegans and those following a gluten free or paleo diet.
In the future I hope to be able to scale up, reduce the price per pot and go into supermarkets to offer everyone a totally delicious healthy option for dessert! But most importantly I want to help as many people in need as possible, and show food businesses that CSR isn’t a box that should just be ticked off a list, it should be integral to your business. Food is so fundamental to our lives, it builds family’s, creates businesses, controls politics and saves lives so let’s treat it and the people who make it with a little more respect.
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