Nim’s Fruit Crisps started life in the converted shed of single mother and café owner Nimisha Raja in 2012. The brand concept grew out of a gap Raja saw in the market for healthy natural snacks that were also contemporary and fun.
“Healthy eating has always been important to me, especially after my daughter was born. The idea of fruit crisps came from finding some blueberry flavoured freeze-dried apple chunks and although they were really crispy, freeze drying sounded very artificial and I simply couldn’t understand why one perfectly great tasting fruit had to be artificially flavoured with another,” she explained.
“Most healthy snacks were packed in brown wholesome looking packaging and tasted more ‘brown’ than wholesome. I wanted my products to be fun and the packaging to reflect that. I spent eight months researching drying methods and as a single mother with a successful business to run, this meant late night research, usually into the early hours. I settled upon the age-old method of drying to make thinly sliced fruit crispy.”
Scaling the business
Within just a week of producing the first fruit crisps in her shed, Raja said she realised it was a “volume business”.
Initially, a contract manufacturer in Eastern Europe handled production. But Raja was not satisfied with the quality of the product or her lack of control over the production process.
“[Using a contract manufacturer] worked well for a year and a half but the quality and consistency of the products suffered. I felt I lacked control and I decided that before I could approach a major retailer, I had to have complete control over production to meet not only my exacting standards but what would be expected from the supermarkets. This meant setting up my own production in the UK.”
This was not a decision to take “lightly”, Raja recalled. It required a “huge” investment and also meant that the company would have to stop trading in the meantime in order avoid “damaging the brand” with “a sub-standard product”.
Raising finance was an all-or-nothing gambit. “I sold the coffee shop and my home to finance the setup.”
The company re-launched from its UK production from a facility Sittingbourne, Kent, in June 2016. In just over a year, Nim’s Fruit Crisps has been able to extend its distribution reach to hundreds of high street independents, four distributors, foodservice customers including the NHS and education sectors and QVC/ The company also makes own label crisps for three brands and is exporting to Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia and Israel. “We’re doing ok,” Raja modestly observed.
Striving for supermarket success
Raja’s ambition stretches beyond this level of distribution, however. “Supplying supermarkets has always been the plan and we’ve been working on it since day one of opening the factory.”
The factory – and Nim’s ability to grow its production footprint – was established with this goal front-of-mind, Raja explained. “Our production is set up to double output with minimal disruption and from the outset I decided to follow BRC [British Retail Consortium] standards. After just over a year of commencing sales again, we have an A Graded BRC certification. That’s not to say it’s been easy to gain a supermarket listing, but we are prepared for it and relishing the challenges.”
It emerged last week that Nim’s has secured its first listing with a national food retailer. The group’s products will be stocked in more than 60 Co-op stores across the South East. Initially, the convenience retailer will stock Nim’s pineapple, beetroot & parsnip and tomato & cucumber flavours.
“Co-op are great supporters of local and British producers and we are extremely proud to be Kent producers, proud to be British producers,” Raja commented.
And Nim’s Fruit Snacks “absolutely” intends to expand its supermarket listings. “Watch this space,” Raja teased.
The Co-op's food strategy hinges on supporting British production.
Simon Dryell, Head of Local Sourcing for the Co-op, said the decision to list Nim's Fruit snacks reflects this priority.
“As a community retailer, the Co-op is committed to championing great local food and drink, and we are delighted to give Nim’s Fruit Crisps pride of place in our stores.
"Food provenance, quality and trust really matter to our customers, and it is the innovation, traditions, quality and passion which makes these prized and locally loved products. The Co-op is committed to investing in its local communities. Backing British is a cornerstone of our food strategy and supporting local economies and providing opportunities to showcase, support and celebrate great local food and drink is at the heart of what we do.”
What makes Nim’s stand out?
Raja believes that Nim’s success is based on its product proposition: “great tasting, fun snacks that are healthy”.
She does not think there is anything like Nim’s products on the market and views the company as a true category innovator. “Nim’s was the first on the market with fruit crisps and we have actually created a new category. Other brands have entered the category making it more interesting but where these are fried in oil or freeze-dried and imported from the Far East, Nim’s remains at the forefront of the category being the only UK based manufacturer offering the range of air-dried fruit and vegetable crisps.”
The company’s offering taps into a number of consumer trends that are coming to shape the UK food sector, including simple ingredients, health, quality and provenance.
“Nim’s is a British brand and manufacturer that ticks all the boxes. The most common response from consumers and buyers is the incredulity that our products look like and taste of the fruit and vegetable they are made of. In an age where everything is artificially flavoured and coloured, Nim's makes an impact on everyone who tries them. Consumers are ever more savvy and vigilant about ingredients list and provenance.
“All our products are made using just one ingredient and officially licensed by the Department of Health as one of your five a day. We are the UK’s only manufacturer of air-dried fruit and vegetable crisps. More than 70% of our fruit and veg is grown in the UK and that is only because we can’t convince British farmers to grow pineapples and kiwis.”
Nim’s Fruit Snacks are also well suited to meet growing demand for impulse and convenience. “With the ever-increasing consumer need for healthy snacking, Nim’s are perfectly positioned for an impulse buy. Whilst we do not position Nim’s as fresh fruit or veg replacement, Nim’s are the next best thing offering authentic tasting snacks in a convenient and familiar format. Along with the health benefits, consumers also like the extended shelf life of processed fruit products, as they can be stored more easily than fresh fruit. With a single serving portion pack and an average shelf life of 10 months, Nim’s Fruit & Veg Crisps offer a healthy, tasty snack in a convenient format for both adult and children.”
Snacking and beyond
Nim’s Fruit Snacks may have started in fruit crisps but, Raja revealed, the company has plans to grow its product line-up beyond the snacks aisle.
“We are working on introducing several new products over the next 12 months. I can’t go into it too much just yet but it’s all very exciting as innovation is my passion and the cornerstone of everything me and my small but perfectly formed team do,” Raja said.
While she is quiet on the company’s future NPD plans, some hint at the future may be found in the company’s newest addition – fruit infusions a range of air-dried orange, lemon and lime slices designed to re-hydrate when added to hot or cold drinks.
“We have only released this in a small way to test the market and perfect the product. As such, to date, we have only sold these in bulk format whilst we work on some new packaging concepts for this particular product. But as with all our products, we are set up to produce high volumes so the full launch of the new concepts will come into play once our supermarket listings grow.”