Rising Stars: Nessa Keddo
We speak with Nessa Keddo, founder of Munch Free, to find out the inspiration behind her free-from baby products, how to navigate challenges early on, advice for new parent business owners as well as the next generation of entrepreneurs
Give us your elevator pitch.
Munch Free is a free-from, functional and organic infant food brand. With the plant-based and free-from food industry estimated to be worth over £1billion in the UK, where a large proportion of its allergy sufferers are infants, there are no baby food brands that specifically cater for this market. This is where Munch Free comes into play. Our launch range includes an essential range of porridge and oat bars, with a larger range coming soon for weaning age. We’re here to disrupt the industry and become the leading free-from infant brand across the globe.
What drew you to the food and drink industry?
I saw a clear gap in the market for free-from baby food, as my son was born with food allergies and shopping for safe foods was impossible in this category. I knew I had to do something about it and that there was a clear opportunity. Never in a million years did I think I’d be starting a food business!
What were your first steps once you realised there was a problem to solve?
Lots of research! I scanned supermarket aisles, did lots of online research to figure out if there really was a clear gap in the market. One of the most difficult parts was sourcing products from allergy-friendly suppliers, for example, where we could be sure their fruit powders were not stored out in the open with nut products. You’d be surprised how common this was! Then lots of product development to make sure everything was delicious.
Who have you turned to for advice and support?
Mostly networks that I’ve built. As a food founder, you find there are lots of people or organisations willing to help, but you have to splash out the cash. I’ve joined different Facebook and founder community groups where we share knowledge and best practices amongst each other. Of course, sometimes you do need to pay for advice for specific things; otherwise, you can find yourself with huge bills or product withdrawals later down the line.
Do you have any advice for new parents who are also juggling building a start-up while raising young children?
Just go for it! Particularly if you’re on maternity leave like I was when I started Munch Free. Of course, I was exhausted with a newborn, but at the same time, I could be much more flexible with my time. I’ve always been a night owl, and so was my son in the early days, so 2am was a great way to network and do research with other mums also doing night feeds on Instagram! Depending on your industry, there are also lots of free webinars on how to bootstrap and market yourself as a new business – you can do it if there’s a clear market need for your product/service.
What challenges have you faced since starting Munch Free?
Definitely finding my way in a new industry. There’s just so much to absorb, and sometimes you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing. For instance, it’s taken us over two years to find an appropriate manufacturer, and that’s only for one line of our products. Also, not having physical events due to pandemic has been extremely challenging.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Definitely having the support of early listings such as Whole Foods and our upcoming retailer. Before the products were even developed, they completely got the brand purpose and saw the clear gap in the market that others hadn’t directly addressed. There’s still a long way to go, and being a food founder is a journey, but those early wins really helped to shape where we are now and lots of the development we’re doing to improve.
Have you always wanted to start your own business?
I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but I’ve always said to myself I’d only do it if I really saw a clear gap in the market and thought it was feasible. When thinking about starting Munch Free, it took me a few months to actually put it into action as I was hesitant at first. But I increasingly kept getting frustrated with how poorly allergies and particularly childhood allergies were being dealt with/catered to in the industry. So I knew I had to go for it.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
As well as being happy, seeing Munch Free being the number one selling free from baby/toddler food brand across the globe, and sitting on various advisory boards. I’d like to be in a position where I can support and mentor other ethnic minority founders entering the industry. Unless you’re in this position, you really don’t see the barriers you face. Just a few hours aside a month to help others can have a huge impact.
Do you have any other advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Always go for it, even if it initially doesn’t seem achievable. Anything is possible. If you don’t, you may live to regret it!
So many great points raised by Nessa, especially surrounding research and spotting gaps in the market. Hope you've found Munch Free's journey as inspiring as we have.
free-from, with love x