NutShed are a Nenagh based food business specialising in creating delicious, nourishing, plant based treats, rawbs and peanut butters. We have been working with NutShed founders, Evie and Eliza Ward, since 2016, and we recently launched their new website and online shop.
We are so impressed with the commitment and energy of NutShed that we wanted to highlight the work they have done on building their business, so we spoke to Eliza about the challenges of developing a food brand, and what they have learned along the way.
There are so many challenges that can crop up when developing any brand, but what are the challenges when it comes to building a food brand in particular? For NutShed, it was managing to compete with bigger brands while maintaining their small business identity, and also breaking free from the usual trappings of a ‘plant based’ brand.
“I mean where do I start, it’s all a challenge! I guess for us what we’re trying to do is create a sophisticated brand that reflects who we are but still ties into the size that we are, and also competes with the bigger brands who can inject a lot of money into their image and marketing. When we first went to Piquant, we wanted to represent that we are a small company with big ideas. We didn’t want someone to see our product on a shelf and think this was a mass produced product by a huge brand, we wanted to give the impression that we are small but we have an eye on the prize. We were lucky that we managed to do that early.
We were also looking at different brands in our industry – we are plant based, but we didn’t want a brand that was associated with brown colours or green tones, we saw an opportunity to pop a little bit, because that was our personality too. So we worked closely with Piquant to try and give it something that could bounce out from the crowd a little bit.”
Brands can often develop and evolve over time, but when NutShed came to us 4 years ago, they had a very clear vision, one that they’ve stuck to as their business has grown.
“When we started we didn’t have much, we were producing in very limited circumstances and it was just an idea that had potential to grow. We’ve always liked beautiful things, and when we had a chance to build a company we knew that we wanted it to have an energy about it. So when we spent the funds we had on getting a brand, we did not want to have to go back to it in 2 or 3 years’ time. We knew that the brand, the colours, the design could tell the story far quicker than we ever could in any other way. So, we put that first.
We didn’t want something that was going to date, that was really important to us. We were investing in this ourselves and we wanted something that was clean and slick, and that was definitely something we got early on when we were talking to Piquant. We had researched a good bit ourselves, I had a folder on my computer for years where I dropped in anything I liked. We were able to establish what we liked personally, then we worked with Piquant and we loved what they produced. As we have grown, and the business has developed I don’t feel the need to go back and change that in any way. It has stood the test of time.”
If there’s one thing NutShed are sure of, it’s the importance of brand story…
“Story is everything. If you don’t have a massive marketing budget, story is the thing that will travel.”
And everybody has a story, it’s just how you break it down into a digestible format – something that someone can hear once, and then tell their friend at a christening, or come across you in a cafe and go ‘oh that’s those two girls in Nenagh and they started off on the festival circuit…’ And I think a story has to be authentic. If you’re sitting in a fancy office and you have an idea of how you’re going to break into an emerging market, and you concoct this story to go with it, people are going to sniff that out – give the customer credit. Our story is constantly changing as we grow as well. Obviously, where we come from is the same, but what we’re doing and what we hope to do and the new elements that we’re introducing into our business, they are all relevant parts of our story.”
But learning how to continually communicate that story, and not losing sight of who you are or leaving out important details, can be hard.
“We’re still learning how to constantly communicate that story, and it is hard! You build a new website and as far as you’re concerned it’s telling your story, but you’re so used to hearing it and then you’re trying to strip it all back and present it on your website. Do people get it? When you to tell your story to more people, it gets harder to appreciate it. We come from a food family, and we grew up in the speciality food world in Ireland, but there was a time when we were so determined to stand on our own two feet that we actually wouldn’t really tell that part of the story. Until somebody said, are you mad? Your story is everything, and you need to tell the story of your upbringing and food and the different people you’ve met and the experiences you’ve had, because it’s so relevant. Sometimes it’s right in front of you and it can be a beautiful story, but you don’t even see it for what it is.”
There’s a lot to think about alright, but how do you keep sight of your initial motivations when the challenges of running a business get in the way?
“Running a business can be like trying to remember a dream; sometimes you’re right on it and you have the idea and you have the memory so clear in your mind, and then within a second it’s just a whisper.”
“We spend weeks and weeks being super focused, and then you could have two weeks when you’re just a little bit delirious after that last week, and it can be very hard to stay on track. I think the benefit is that there’s two of us and thankfully we’re not on the same routine; if I’m super motivated one week, the next week Evie will take the reins. But running a business is really hard and it actually gets harder. I can see the potential of our business, and it’s been so rewarding – like I’m standing outside our HQ now and 4 years ago it was such a dump and so much work needed to be put into it, and we worked from the ground up getting grants to help us and engaging with contractors when we didn’t really know how to do that stuff. So standing outside HQ now is the most rewarding part of my day. It’s something we built, and as things improve you feel even more motivated because it shows you that even though the road can be really really hard, if you can do little bits every week that just move your business a little bit in the right direction, you can slowly build something. In the weeks where it gets very challenging I think, in a weird way, that it’s the price you have to pay because if you can overcome an obstacle, the return from that and the confidence you get is so much greater. ”
So building a business from scratch throws up many challenges and rewarding moments, but there’s a lot to learn when you want to make a business out of a product that you know better than anyone else. What NutShed have found is that you need to be open to learning as much as possible about your industry along the way.
“I feel like I’ve done a Master of Business in the last two years! I couldn’t even begin to try and break that down, you are learning something new weekly. Maybe the lesson is to be open to that. If you’re going into an industry where you think you know everything about it, your ego is really going to get ahead of you and you might not get very far. I think you have to be open to change, and be humbled every now and then – you don’t always know the answers and sometimes you do have to listen to other people. You can get arrogant at times, and you think ‘well, I’ve built this and nobody knows this business like I do’. But be open because when you’re in it, it can be really hard to step away from it and see the bigger picture and see if what you are doing is on track. Just because what you make tastes good doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to do well, and just because we make something that’s really beautiful doesn’t mean that people are going to buy it. So I think the advice is to be responsive and open and conscious of what’s happening around you, and remember you’re not always right.”
Thank you Eliza for taking the time to chat to us! Check out our brand development work for NutShed.