Let your passion drive you: Nimisha Raja

The founder of healthy snack brand Nim’s Fruit Crisps talks to Brummell about trial and error, cultivating creativity and never wasting anything

Food and Drink 9 Mar 2021

Nimisha Raja of Nim's Fruit Crisps

Nimisha Raja of Nim's Fruit Crisps

Why did you set up Nim’s Fruit Crisps?

I was running a coffee shop for a few years. I was a single mum to a young daughter and needed a business that fitted around school. The coffee shop happened to be opposite her school and the parents and children used to come in and there was always a battle with what to have as a snack. We used to sell sweets, chocolates and crisps; they contained a lot of sugar and it wasn’t healthy. Parents wanted to give their kids a piece of fruit or something good, and children always wanted a pack of crisps and I thought, if you could marry the two I wouldn’t have to witness all these arguments every single day. Having a young daughter, I was aware that some of the things that are supposed to be healthy like fruit smoothies were processed so much that they didn’t have any goodness in them. There was nothing nasty, but actually no goodness either – no fibre and vitamins. I wanted to develop something that parents were happy to give their children, but children wanted to eat. Children love crisps, and if you just tell them it’s a packet of crisps and not “healthy crisps” they’ll eat them and it keeps everyone happy.

How long did it take to go from the idea to the product?

It took a long, long, long time. First, I tried just slicing fruit and putting it in the oven but it didn’t really work. I kept thinking about healthy ways of eating fruit and drying is an ancient method. So I bought a couple of dehydrators, and put it in my shed, and started practising by slicing by hand and drying them. I did all of it, every step. All of this work happened in the evenings and weekends because I was still working full time in the coffee shop, it took a good couple of years.

The first thing I did was apple, and it took me a long time to get them crispy. Common sense would say that if you want them crispy you make them thinner, and I just kept going thinner and thinner and thinner. But actually, it was the opposite: you have to go thicker to make them crispy. It took forever to figure out. There was a lot of trials and tribulations. And then I started experimenting with everything – anything I could slice, I would make into a crisp. From there I created more adult crisps like the orange, which children won’t necessarily like because we leave the skin on. Our products aren’t for everyone because they are so natural. People are so used to having highly processed, artificially flavoured products and don’t understand why our crisps don’t taste like that. Part of our challenge is educating people.

Edible Teas are one of the newest innovative project from Nim's Fruit Crisps
Edible Teas are one of the newest innovative project from Nim’s Fruit Crisps

Do you have a favourite?

Orange is my favourite. I just absolutely love it, it looks beautiful and it tastes great as well. The favourite from most consumers though is apple followed by pineapple.

You were awarded the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2020, how did that feel?

It was amazing. Setting up a factory is not something I’d ever done. I entered a competition with the Food Manufacturer Excellence Awards, which is like the Oscars of food manufacturing, and we won our first Innovation Award from them in 2017. It was the first time we entered and only about a year into having the factory fully up and running. I thought that was it, I’ve made it. I never dreamed of the Queen’s Innovation Award. But someone I met networking suggested I enter it. I thought we’re too small but they said no, it’s about innovation not the size of your company. The Queen’s my hero, I look up to her and think what she does is amazing. So to be awarded the Queen’s Innovation Award was incredible, especially as it’s for innovation. My passion is in creating things that people haven’t done before or making what’s out there a lot better and healthier so an award for innovation is the ultimate recognition.

For anyone thinking of setting up their own business, what’s a good piece of advice you would like to pass on?

I don’t think there’s anyone who has set up a business that has an underestimated the amount of work and money it needs. You have to be fully committed in terms of time and money and that means sacrifices. However much money, time and sacrifice you think it’s going to take, double or triple it. But in a way, it’s good to let your passion drive you and not overthink it. It’s the ignorance that got me here. Not knowing how difficult it was going to be got me here. If I’d known, I never would have started.

The past year has been really challenging for businesses. What have you learned from operating through lockdown?

I think if I didn’t have my own manufacturing we would have probably folded. When we were starting up people told me to contract it out because no one does it themselves. I tried contracting it out and it didn’t work for me. Having my own factory and complete control over our products meant I was able to diversify into other things and stay agile. Our crisps are food on the move so you pick it up when you go and buy a sandwich to go to work. And obviously, there were no people on the move last year. Our sales of single-serve crisps plummeted immediately. We had been working on some new products: the edible citrus slices that we put into drinks, in gin and in water. They flavour the water naturally and are environmentally friendly because you’re not wasting fresh fruit by using a couple of slices and throwing the rest away. We launched those very quickly into retail packs and approached bars and pubs that were open at the time. It’s been really, really tough. But not just for us and we’re grateful to be still around.

Innovation is really important to you but how do you keep creative?

For me, it is the authenticity that’s important. I think to be honest and authentic you have to be innovative, because most products aren’t. Having the manufacturing helps us, because we sit down and talk about ideas all the time. I remember one of the girls said to me, “What would happen if we dried grapes?” and I said: “I think there’s this thing called a raisin”. We all laughed, but from that we actually made crisps out of grapes! They worked and they’re like little nuggets of sweets. We haven’t launched them yet, but we’ve done trials. It is about having a culture in the business of coming up with ideas and being open about them.

It is clear that every step of making your product has been interrogated to cause the least waste possible. Has that been hard?

I have used the whole fruit and vegetable right from the beginning. Long before I started making fruit crisps, I remember my daughter taking a kiwi and biting into it whole without peeling it. I almost went to stop her, but she ate it and was fine. And I looked up whether you can eat the skin of the kiwi, and actually the skin of many fruits is where most of the goodness is. For me, first of all it’s been about the nutrition and then the by-product of that was producing no waste. The only thing we peel is a pineapple, and that’s not for the want of trying but the skin just isn’t palatable, it hurts the throat.

We process at least 240-260 tons of fruit and vegetables a year, and we throw away about 100kg of pineapple skin every couple of weeks and that’s it. And then from the processing, that’s where our Edible Teas came from.

When we’re packing the crisps, we filter out all the small pieces as you don’t want all the broken bits in there. We started collecting them and didn’t want to throw them away. One day we were having a meeting to talk about our products, and we were drinking tea. I dropped a little bit of a beetroot crisp I was eating in my tea and it coloured it and that’s where the idea of the edible teas came from. It started with a beetroot tea, of all things. The beetroot is my favourite but it’s not for everybody, it’s very earthy. After that we did lots of tests and mixing fruit and vegetable flavours and adding the pineapple to the beetroot made it beautifully sweet. We were going to put them in tea bags but when we started we didn’t have tea bags so we just put it in a mug. And then we started picking the fruit and vegetables out from the bottom when we drank the tea. I had the image of me in my coffee shop drinking the tea and giving my young daughter the fruit that’s been rehydrated to eat. So, zero waste from the crisp, to the tea, to eating the rehydrated fruit and vegetables at the end.

What are you what are your ambitions for 2021 and beyond for the future of Nim’s?

First of all it’s getting investment because I have so many ideas of so many different products to develop outside of the snack world. It has always been my mission to grow the brand in different other categories in the supermarket. I also want to make up for losses from last year. And to continue innovating, staying creative.