Building empires from the brekkie bowl
For most people, taking the leap of faith required to quit your day job and start your own business would be more than enough achievement for one lifetime. But for former naturopath Narelle Plapp, this was just the beginning of an incredible Aussie success story.
Plapp is the founder of breakfast brand Food for Health, which she was inspired to start after creating muesli blends for patients while practising naturopathy at a health food store.
“I designed my liver cleansing muesli to be part of one of my patient’s treatment plans,” she says. “To this day, that liver cleansing muesli is still my best-selling product.”
After developing a few cereals, Plapp decided to start building the Food for Health brand. While she began by hand-mixing her muesli blends, when Woolworths gave her the opportunity to sell two Food for Health products, she decided to contract a manufacturer.
“I couldn’t do the volume required by hand; it was a one-woman show at that stage,” Plapp says. “It all snowballed from there. Over the last 10 years I’ve launched continuous products and have built really good relationships with my buyers at Coles and Woolworths.
“With a bit of persistence and patience and push, we’ve managed to really grow the brand.”
Food with a function
With her background as a naturopath, Plapp was focused on functional foods before the term even became trendy. As well as her liver cleansing muesli, she was also developing products for those with coeliac disease and FODMAP intolerances – creating the very first gluten-free, FODMAP-friendly breakfast cereal that was available in supermarkets.
“These are things naturopaths have been treating for years, but it’s only really been over the last five or six years that people have begun to understand what they are,” she says.
“With my gluten-free breakfast cereal, that came out of a demand from consumers and patients. For people who had coeliac disease, there was no gluten-free breakfast products available. My core range is still a FODMAP and gluten-free range – we’re still in that allergy space, as opposed to just being a generic breakfast gourmet brand.”
Food for Health products are also lower in sugar than most other breakfast products – the brand’s liver cleansing muesli contains only one gram of sugar per serve. Food for Health’s gluten-free clusters also clock in at under 10 grams of sugar per serve, which isn’t bad at all, considering most mueslis contain upwards of 20 to 25 percent sugar.
“It’s one of our KPIs [key performance indicators] when we’re working on new products,” Plapp says. “We look at our sugar content, and make sure it’s at an acceptable level.”
Taking another leap
For this particular go-getter, being a breakfast pioneer wasn’t enough. After seeing a gap in the market, Plapp recognised an opportunity to join the manufacturing industry, creating muesli contract manufacturing brand Grain & Bake Co Australia.
“Once your business grows at volume, the hand-packing side of it really just can’t exist anymore because of the volumes and the expectations of the likes of Coles and Woolworths,” she says. “Sure, I had contract manufacturers making my products for me, but as my business grew, I saw an opportunity to become a manufacturer myself.”
Not only did this allow Plapp to have full control over the quality of her own products, she was then able to start making products for other businesses.
“For people in the Australian breakfast cereal category, there’s really only a couple of big players that can make cereal at volume,” she says. “So I took another leap of faith and decided to jump into that industry and build my own facility. Now I don’t just make my own brand; we manufacture for some really key brands in the breakfast aisle.”
Grain & Bake now manufactures around 14 other brands and has a turnover of more than $20 million, and the company also offers product development services to its customers.
But that’s not all it offers – prior to Plapp’s ascension, Australia only had two, male-led manufacturing options for toasted muesli. She knew a female CEO would be welcomed.
“Given that muesli brands in Australia are dominated by women, I believed that a female-led manufacturing business would have values that were better aligned with the industry,” she says. “I think a female coming in to lead the way has been a breath of fresh air; we’ve incorporated new values and a more flexible working environment.
“We see the bigger picture – you’ve got to respect people and their families. I’m also really transparent with my customers, and I really respect their custom. I couldn’t build this business that I’ve built without customers having faith in me and sharing my values.”
Food for health, health for everyone
Running a business in this way has helped to ensure that Food for Health maintains a very loyal following. Quality is key, and consumer feedback is always taken on board.
“You’ve really got to keep honing in on the quality of your product,” Plapp says. “Never let that be neglected. Sure, every now and then you might get some customer complaints, but we’ve got a really consistent and loyal base of customers.”
The business also recently branched out into a new line of products, launching probiotic brekkie balls into Coles in November last year. But once again, this is just the beginning.
“We’ve got a lot of things on the horizon at Food for Health,” Plapp says. “Now that I have my own infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities, we can be more tangible and quicker to move if new opportunities arise for the brand.”
One of the key naturopathic principles is that “prevention is better than cure”, and this is a philosophy that Food for Health has focused on since its inception.
“We are what we eat,” Plapp says. “Often people only tend to look into the health food category if they’ve been diagnosed with something or want to lose weight. We really try to make our brand part of a lifestyle that’s accessible to the whole family.”