It’s been a busy couple of years for innovative UK-based snacking brand Nim’s Fruit Crisps. The company claims to be the only in the UK to use an air drying process that delivers a crispy texture and preserves colour without resorting to “artificial sounding” freeze-drying techniques – a unique proposition which has secured it listings on the shelves of Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and hundreds of shops across the UK.
The products, which are one of your five-a-day, nut/gluten free and certified vegan and Kosher, are also now sold across more than 20 different countries, including Belgium, France and Ukraine.
Earlier this year it announced the launch of Nim’s ‘Edible Teas’ made from dried fruit and vegetables which can be served as a hot cup of loose tea or eaten as a snack.
Royal seal of approval
Now the firm, which started life in the converted shed of single mother and café owner Nimisha Raja in 2012, is celebrating its first ever Queen’s Award for Innovation: a big achievement for a firm which employs just 18 people in its office in Sittingborne in Kent.
“We are absolutely gobsmacked that a small firm has been recognised with the biggest business award in the UK, maybe even the world,” said Raja, who sold her coffee shop and house and ploughed all of the money into launching the UK’s only air-dried fruit crisp brand, quickly building a state-of-the-art factory that can produce 12 million packs every year.
“This Royal seal of approval is a massive boost to our growing brand and will give industry buyers and independent retailers even more confidence to select our products. We innovate, we create and importantly we have a track record of delivering.”
The company continues to tap into the demand for more health-conscious ‘food on the go’, investing another £100,000 into R&D in 2020 that will see it launch its first infusion slices for drinks within the next few weeks.
How has coronavirus hit healthy snacking?
How, though, has COVID-19 hit demand and innovation in the healthy snacking sector? Does lockdown mean more people want healthy snacking options more than ever. Or is the desire for home cooking and pantry items trumping the snack sector?
“Sales suffered in the first couple of weeks, as supermarket warehouses struggled to deal with the demand for everyday items, meaning they cut back on ordering the ‘non-essentials’,” revealed Raja.
“Thankfully, things are now slowly getting back on track. People have had too much of the comfort food and, with the realisation of a further lockdown hitting home, there is a feeling that more families will look at healthier foods, especially snacks.
“Our online sales have soared, with new businesses setting up online platforms and approaching us to supply. Other firms are diversifying and ‘healthy snacking’ seems to be up there on the list of demands.”
What else is in the innovation pipeline with the 100k investment? Nim’s, explained Raja, has started to carry out trials on drying British-grown Seabuckthorn: an emerging potential ‘superfood’ berry with 15 times more Vitamin C than an orange. It is introducing a new line for the drinks market shortly and four new snack products.
The plans, hopes the company, will provide a tailwind during an obviously stormy period.
“Our plans for 2020 were to really ramp up sales, push into the foodservice sector where we had started to make inroads,” elaborated Raja. “However, hospitality has been the worst hit, with offices closed and all foodservice providers have either shut doors and waiting it out or actively looking to diversify. This all takes months.
“So, we have lost the foodservice business we had for the moment and growth is going to slow until it does start up again.”
The orders, she explained, were ‘extremely small’ from retailers in the first weeks of the pandemic, which led to some ‘serious conversations’.
“I have to say the retailers have responded and following discussions, they have allowed us to ‘make up’ the lost orders over a period of time so we get back on an even keel.
"I understand that they have also been very flexible and helpful to those who have needed the payment sooner than the contracted terms. Fortunately, we have not required this financial support, despite the loss of our travel business hitting our cashflow.”
Unfortunately, however, the banks were 'not helpful at all', she added, contrary to what the Government announced.
“Suppliers are getting anxious about businesses perhaps collapsing, so are asking for invoices to be paid earlier or at the very least dead on time, which is understandable.”
So, for now it’s a case of the firm rolling with the punches.
“We had targeted doubling our turnover this year after a number of major wins at the tail end of 2019, but, like many in our sector, we are having to adjust to the challenges presented by COVID-19,” added Raja.
She continued: “Despite all of the pressures we are facing, we will continue to innovate and bring new products to market. It’s what we do best.”