Four years on since nom was founded, the Organic food brand continues to go from strength to strength, with the recent launch of nom bars into Waitrose – the brands first supermarket listing. Born out of her own food allergies which she developed whilst studying at University, Founder Steph Croft-Simon is on an ethical mission to change the nations snacking habits, naturally.

Nom Foods Founder, Steph Croft-Simon by Jimmy Swindells

Nom Foods Founder, Steph Croft-Simon by Jimmy Swindells

What inspired you to start nom?

Nom was born out of my own health issues. Whilst I was studying at University I suddenly and unexpectedly developed severe allergies. I had to quickly get my head around a whole new way of cooking and eating and became fascinated with how diet and nutrition affected my whole way of life.

With a lack of options in everyday supermarket aisles I started spending lots of time in places like Whole Foods researching free-from and health foods products. I knew that there must be other people in my position, and I was already really into cooking and baking, so I started experimenting at home. It was here that the original nom recipe was born and after so much good feedback from friends and family, regardless of whether they had an allergy or intolerance, I decided to see what the reaction was like outside of my kitchen. After only a few months, my homemade creations were launched into Planet Organic, Whole Foods and more – it was a great moment seeing them line the shelves I was so used to browsing!

Before nom was founded, what had been your career plan?

Having studied Sociology at Bristol University, I went into an A-Level Sociology teaching job after university. I thoroughly enjoyed this time, but my allergies were taking more and more of a toll on my life and I was becoming increasingly fascinated by how a change of diet could help with my overall feeling of wellbeing. It was at this time that I cut refined sugars from my diet and immediately started to see a difference in my energy levels, immune system, hair, skin, sleep, everything! I was, and still am, convinced that there’s a massive proportion of society walking around with allergies, intolerances and other health niggles that could be vastly improved by a diet which is free from processed foods, refined sugar and nasty chemicals – and rich in nutrients. 

Apart from University have you always lived/ been based in Oxford?

Yes! But I spend a lot of time in London too – where I have family.

What has been your biggest/proudest achievement since the nom journey began?

It has been the most interesting / challenging / wonderful / rollercoaster ride! Every day is different here at nom HQ and it’s difficult to pinpoint my biggest achievement. Seeing the products on shelf is incredibly satisfying and that feeling doesn’t wear off, no matter how many times it happens, or which shop it is. I feel the same about every time someone tells me they’ve heard of nom, or they like what we do.  

What obstacles have you faced growing the business?

Starting and growing a business is really hard. From a personal point of view, for the first couple of years I was doing it solo, and that presents many challenges. It can be very isolating, and there are lots of sacrifices to be made when growing a business – including not taking a salary and seeing friends and family less, so you can put in the hours at work.

The two biggest obstacles from a business perspective would have to be finding funding to grow the business – and finding a manufacturer who can create organic, free from products exactly as I’d make them in my own kitchen. 

Do you still experiment with new recipes at home/ enjoy cooking?

Absolutely. It’s my favourite part of the job. I am from a Greek Cypriot family, so food and cooking has always been a really focal part of my life! I am always cooking or baking in my spare time.

The Nom Foods website has a blog which gives me a great excuse to get in the kitchen and come up with new healthy recipes at least once a week! I always have new product development in the back of my mind. 

What would be your key piece of advice for women who are looking to start their own business?

I think it’s really important to have a good support network around you – and have as much resilience as possible. Whatever business you start, the chances are that you’ll need to overcome lots of challenges, so it’s important to have a positive mind-set. I would also urge people to reach out to others in the industry they’re in.

I’ve met lots of incredible people through nom, who are on the same mission as me – and facing the same hurdles. It’s an incredible source of strength to receive/ give support to others

What does your typical day look like?

Every day and week is different as we are expanding more and more. We may be at a trade show, tasting session in stores, or networking with other foodies. Like any small business owner, I wear many hats! My day-to-day role can vary from doing accounts, to helping in the warehouse – and pitching to retailers.

When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?

I have a little pug called Tiggy, who I take everywhere with me. I love spending time with friends and family – and if I can incorporate cooking and baking into that, even better! My happy place is by the sea in Devon. 

What are your hopes/ goals/ aspirations for the future of nom?

It’s always been my biggest goal to make nom products available to as many people as possible – we’d love to do this through the larger retailers and supermarkets, as well as supporting the independents who stock our ranges. It’s also my hope that we can contribute to making free-from food mainstream.

With so many people, including myself, suffering from allergy and intolerance – I strongly believe that we should be able to access convenient, tasty products. 

Protein, gluten-free and sugar-free have all been huge health trends in the last couple of years, what do you think is going to be next?

In my experience, people are being more genuinely engaged and interested in what they’re buying, eating and cooking - now more than ever. This means that they’re often looking for products which tick all the boxes. By ticking all the boxes, I mean genuinely healthy (not just posing as healthy, or free-from gluten but loaded with sugar to compensate for a lack of taste!)

Organic and vegan are other hugely growing markets. I believe that healthy, convenient and ethical products are fast becoming the go-to criteria for the convenience shopper. Far from being ‘trends’, I genuinely think that these ways of shopping and indeed eating, are here to stay. Bloggers like Madeleine Shaw and Deliciously Ella are leading the way for health and wellness - and the media attention to the sugar tax on drinks has meant that refined sugar is finally getting the negative press it deserves - and that is having an effect on what we’re buying. People are more conscious of fuelling their bodies with slow-release energy.

I also predict that free-from will become far more mainstream. We’re seeing it already in the retailers who are stocking our nom products. Free-from snacks are, and should be, ‘grab and go’ items. With so many people diagnosed with allergy and intolerance - it makes sense that these people should be able to access the same choice of snacks in the same area of the convenience store. Free-from is becoming just an extra bonus of so many tasty products on shelf - rather than the main focus.

Steph’s Natural Beauty Box Top 5:

1. NEOM – their candles and diffusers are the best. 

2. Neal’s Yard - eye makeup remover. 

3. Bare Minerals -  mineral compact foundations. 

4. Aurelia – probiotic goodness for your skin. 

5. Aesop – nasty-free skin, hair and body products.

Steph’s Organic/ Free-From/ Natural Foodie Favourites:

1. Dove’s Farm brown rice pasta – it’s gluten free and tastes just like ‘normal’ pasta! 2. LifeBox – healthy snacks, lovingly picked and delivered in a subscription box each month! 3. White Rabbit Pizza – the most authentic artisan pizza. It’s organic, gluten free and totally delicious. Founded by my brother and his friends, Josh and Matteo (we’re from a a foodie family!) 

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