Back yourself in business with Narelle Plapp from Food for Health

22 Aug 2017 |

Naturopath and entrepreneur Narelle Plapp founded Food for Health in 2005 and has recently launched her second business, Grain & Bake, a contract muesli manufacturing enterprise. She appeared on the Entrepreneurial Insights Panel at the Mobile-ising Women in Business event in Melbourne on 29 August. Narelle talked with us about how she got started, why it’s important to back yourself, and how technology can save you time, a precious commodity in any business.

Starting up

While I was doing my science degree to be a Naturopath I worked in a health food store. Then once I’d qualified I decided I wanted to open my own health food stores; Food for Health evolved from those stores.

As well as running the stores, I was consulting and two of my cereals were part of treatment plans for people. We were making the cereal to sell through the two stores I had in Melbourne and we couldn’t keep up with demand, so I decided there was obviously something in those products. I sold my stores and launched Food for Health.

Health and fitness are core values for me. I’ve played sport my whole life, and so has my family. Being fit and healthy was instilled in me as a child and in turn I’ve instilled that in my own children. It’s something I’ve been passionate about ever since I can remember. I think the food and health industry is exciting to be involved in, because you can make change for the better.

Challenges and technology

Legislation and compliance have been the steepest learning curves, especially food laws and labelling. When you’re dealing with food and packaging and providing food solutions in the community you have to make sure everything is compliant.

Technology has significantly changed how I do business. I remember when I got my first order from Woolworths, it was by fax and was worth roughly $100.00 as we were doing a direct to store trial. Now we have implemented EDI which is an electronic invoicing system; data is live so my team can log in remotely and action orders etc.

Technology has had a big impact on the B2B aspects, like working with Woolworths and Coles, but it’s also enabled me to grow my business by being mobile. When I’m travelling overseas and interstate I can get the information and data I need instantly to run the business.

When you do business with the multi-nationals and connect to these big software systems, the companies offer training so you can use it properly, and whenever they roll out changes, you have to keep up, but they assist with training for that too.

Now even the transport management system for Coles and Woollies is all online, we have to log in and organise our own transport. The systems evolve all the time, every year there’s a new technology coming out and we have to up-skill; you have to evolve with it otherwise your business won’t grow and succeed.

Investment in time for better efficiency

Keeping up with the technology does require an initial investment of time, but the payoff is increased efficiency. So while it can be difficult in the interim, you know going in that there will be a benefit. It’s mainly getting my team’s heads around change. For my team, having to change the way they do something is actually harder than learning the software itself.

Stopping old habits and creating new ones is the biggest challenge.

Time is the critical resource for all of us, but what I always go back to is that these new software updates and advances in technology free up time that you can spend on other things. It takes care of a lot of the data entry that had to be done manually and took so long, it means ordering and information is live. You’re forecasting in ways you just couldn’t do 10 years ago. It enables us to prioritise where our time is best spent.

Expanding horizons

I’ve just started another business, I’ve gone into manufacturing and we’ve just opened our own custom-built facility. We’ve implemented SAP which is another huge beast of a software system that a lot of the big multi-national and global companies use, but I made the decision to implement it now before we were commercial. It’s probably been a four month implementation phase, and I’ve had a team member dedicated to overseeing that. Now that it’s live and all the data is there, it saves so much time.

Food for Health is now over 10 years old, and like most muesli brands in Australia, we used contract manufacturers to make our products.

A few years ago I decided I wanted to become a contract manufacturer. The barriers to entry were high however I was willing to take the risk as the opportunities were higher. It has been a huge investment to build the infrastructure, but it’s also an investment in jobs and in the industry. I now employ over 25 people directly. I’m proud to say that now I manufacture my own muesli as well as making for other amazing Australian brands.

Food for Health has been something of a pioneer in the health food section in supermarkets; we’ve been the first to market with a lot of products. We’ve supported people with coeliac disease and people with fructose malabsorption for years. Our fruit free bar was the first gluten free fructose free bar to market and today is still my best selling muesli bar. Proving healthy food solutions to people with specific dietary concerns means a lot to me as it means that Food for health is making a difference in peoples everyday lives.

Being a contract manufacturer now gives me so much greater control over product, it allows us to be quicker to market. I have a great R & D team now, we can research in much greater depth into products we want to hit the market with. We are more flexible. But for me the most important thing is that I’ve been able to put the integrity and the quality back into my product.

I employ around 25 people directly. I’ve amalgamated Food for Health and the manufacturing business, Grain & Bake, and we are all working out of the same complex. I’m very serious about my business but I’m also a great believer in the importance of work-life balance and flexibility, because we spend so much time at work. I offer flexibility and remote work options; once you find good team members who are on the same journey and can appreciate where you want to take the business you have to give a little. I’ve had the same Food for Health team for about the last six years.

Passion and self-belief

Passion and commitment to what you are doing is everything. Passion is what gets you out of bed in the morning and it’s what gets you through the hard times. Anyone who’s been involved in running a business knows every day is different and there are constant challenges.

You have to believe in yourself. A lot of people will tell you that you “can’t” but you have to have a backbone and keep going and you have to be able to take the knocks along the way. Don’t think small, think big. Your business can grow quite big before you know it and once you do start, celebrate the wins, big and small. You can get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks of running the business, but every now and then remind yourself that you’ve achieved something just in running your own business, and celebrate that.

There can be challenges with growth. You need to have a good working relationship with your bank manager, they need to be a key stakeholder in your business and understand your vision and your growth projections. You need to bring them on your journey and not be intimidated by them. When you first start nobody wants to give you money, but take the time to show them what you want to do, then go back in six months and show them how far you’ve come. If they can see the opportunity, the vision and the success they will be more willing to back you. It’s been instrumental in my ability to start Grain & Bake.

You can always find the silver lining in any bad day, and it’s important that you just never give up.

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