We caught up with Rimi Thapar, founder of LoveRaw to find out just how much of an impact lockdown had on her vegan business as well as the importance of having alternative non-dairy snacks for all your favourite non-vegan brands.
Did you always know you wanted to produce a vegan product for the market?
Not at all – my original plan was to graduate and to get out into the working world. I graduated from university with an Economics degree and worked within investment banking for six years. I never envisaged myself as an entrepreneur.
So why vegan? Was there a personal story behind this decision in the end?
I moved to Spain for a period of time in 2010, around the same time my father passed away. I didn't have much of a support network or many friends out there, however, one thing that made me feel more at home was the Andalucian farmers’ markets. I found that eating well made me feel better both mentally and physically, so I made the decision to slowly give up certain foods including red meat, white meat and then eventually dairy.
How has the recent surge in veganism helped you to promote your product further?
LoveRaw launched in 2013 and veganism back then was way less prevalent, however, it's taken off massively in recent years and more and more people are experimenting with vegan or vegan based diets. Even if they’re not fully converting to veganism they’re trying out “flexitarian” diets and cutting down on meat and dairy products or eating vegan for a certain number of days a week. One thing we want to make clear is that our products are enjoyed by non-vegans just as much as vegans. Our mission is purely to make great tasting chocolate for everyone.
How did your company fair throughout lockdown?
The last 12 months have been extremely challenging at times – consumer behaviour literally changed overnight and during the first lockdown there were a lot of unknowns. Our retail sales were massively affected, and we had to re-strategise. We brought forward our ecommerce plans in order to sell directly to consumers. It took us 8 months or so, but ecommerce is pivotal for us. We have also branched out into more retail stores including convenience and petrol station forecourts, and we have had some of our best months in terms of performance which is extremely positive! The benefit of being a smaller brand is that we could be dynamic, move quickly and respond to the market changes as they were happening.
Why do you think the Cre&m Wafer Bar has been one of your biggest sellers?
When we launched the Cre&m Wafer Bar, all we had in mind was to create an indulgent and enjoyable vegan chocolate. We don’t want to be virtuous or preachy and health is so subjective – we want to let consumers decide for themselves. Eating chocolate should be an enjoyable experience for everyone, no matter their dietary preferences, and we think we have successfully achieved that with the Cre&m Wafer Bar.
Which other vegan brands do you admire and buy products from?
Some of my personal favourites are Oatly, Hippeas and Nush but there are so many, I can’t choose!
Do you think veganism is here to stay or another passing phase?
I believe veganism is a movement and it's here to stay for sure. For many, it may not be as simple as converting to a fully vegan diet, but as a nation, there is more transparency in the food industry and awareness about climate change and sustainability so consumers can make the right choices for them.
How important do you think it is that vegans and people with intolerances have replacements for all leading milk chocolate products?
Extremely. Perhaps 10 years ago there was a lot less choice within the vegan market and many of the alternative products may have tasted like cardboard or slop. These days we are extremely lucky to have a lot more innovation and competition out there including plant-based burgers that ‘bleed’ like real meat and of course our chocolate.
Is vegan chocolate in any way healthier than milk chocolate for those who are looking to make the switch for their body rather than for ethical or environmental reasons?
I believe health is very personal and subjective, and what may appear healthy to me may not for you. As a brand, we do not want to dictate or preach to others, we just want to make amazing tasting indulgent chocolate that everyone can enjoy, whether you are vegan or not!
What is next for you?
We are already working on our next three product lines – we just want to continue doing what we love and creating a range of indulgent chocolate products for our customers to enjoy. As well as normalising vegan chocolate and proving it can taste just as good as mainstream chocolate, we are keen to make our ranges more accessible to everyone.
When I first launched my health food business LoveRaw. I did it because I wanted a job where every day wasn’t going to be the same. After years working long hours in the banking sector, I wanted a career I really believed in. I wanted to create something people would love and that I could be proud of. And alongside that I wanted to enjoy the experience and to push myself to step outside of my comfort zone. I can safely say that appearing on Dragon’s Den last week has helped me tick a lot of those boxes.
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