Green Element weekly podcast Interview with Stephanie Johnson and Kristina Komlosiova from Pollen + Grace.
Today we’re joined by Stephanie Johnson and Kristina Komlosiova from Pollen + Grace. Today we’ve got Pollen and Grace, they are a sustainable packaging food company that produce healthy food for you to eat, I guess that’s the best way to put it. It’s a brilliant conversation about the packaging that they use, the kind of things that they’ve come up against whilst doing the packaging or making the packaging.
They’re currently crowdfunding! https://www.seedrs.com/pollenandgrace
Pollen + Grace’s breakfast
Will: Welcome to the Green Element Podcast, thank you guys, Pollen and Grace. Please do introduce yourselves and let us know who you are.
Steph: Okay, I’m Steph.
Kris: And I’m Kris.
Steph: We are from Pollen and Grace. At Pollen and Grace, we are a hundred
Kris: Yeah, we’re working on quite a few national retailers, so we’re expanding outside of London boundaries very soon, which is exciting. As Steph said, we basically have a range of fresh healthy food to go, so we cover pretty much every single meal in days. We have breakfast, lunches, dinners and then also snacks to keep it going.
Steph: I guess the reason why we’ve done that is as a business our overall mission is to change the way that people have healthy foods and I guess chose where the people eat as well, so our core aim is to be accessible.
Kris: Exactly, our mission is to make healthy food accessible, enjoyable, affordable and just get people to understand it a little bit better. So, it’s to break the myth of healthy is boring and not necessarily tasty, yeah, it’s like that’s.
Kris: We are 100% natural and we are predominantly plant-based and we’re always free from wheat, gluten and dairy.
Steph: That’s quite an important part.
Will: Okay, so who are your main customers? What shops are you in and tell us more about who tends to buy your stuff or is it
Steph: We are based in London, so we are three and a half years old now and we started cooking from my kitchen in Hammersmith three and a half years ago. So, our roots are really in London, you can find us in most corners of the city, in the likes of Whole Wood, As Nature Intended, Source Markets, a lot of boutique fitness studios. We also work with a lot of offices, so a lot of lucky companies will find us in their office canteens.
Kris: More recently we’ve expanded, we are now available nationwide by Ocado so you can order our food for your home delivery and our Ambien range is also available at WHSmith. So, we’re going a little bit further out of London and just expanding our reach, which is exciting.
Will: Brilliant, that’s really cool. So, how do you guys know each other? Have you known each other for years or did you work…?
Steph: Yes, many, many years, we try not to add them up.
Kris: We’ve known each other at our previous job, we were both managers before Pollen. We would always work on
Steph: It worked so well that we decided to run a business together.
Will: So, why Pollen and Grace.
Steph: Well, I guess the name actually stands for our business values, so it probably fits in very nicely with your messaging as well. Pollen stands for our food values, so Pollen is a building block of all food, so it comes back to a hundred
Kris: Pretty much everyone, each other, friends, staff.
Will: So, what would you say your purpose was, so tell us a bit about your mission and purpose? You’ve talked about
Steph; So, as we said before, our mission has always been to change the way that people perceive healthy foods and to make genuinely healthy food, not just healthy food that’s marketed as healthy, accessible, but also exciting. I guess that’s the reason why we’ve gone down the route that we have and the reason why we have such a broad product range so that we can be part of people’s daily lives, but also the reason why we’ve gone down the retail path that we have with grab-and-go.
Kris: We basically felt that there is still quite a big gap in the market where they’re just no healthy, free from and delicious options that you can just run out of your office, buy and…
Steph: And also trust, trust is a big thing for us as well.
Kris: More recently, there
Steph: What we put in our products are very important to us.
Kris: So, it’s always like Steph said before, a hundred
Will: What would you say your business superpower was?
Steph: That’s a tough one, how do we choose?
Will: Maybe you could talk about one each.
Kris: I think it’s about delivering what we actually say we would deliver, so just being truthful about the products and have the credentials.
Steph: I think also, making a hundred
Kris: When we first started, we didn’t really know how to run a fresh food business and how to [06:14 inaudible] everything, so we learned as we went along.
Steph: A lot of people would have said that the way that we do things it wouldn’t be possible to do it, but it is, so yeah.
Kris: I think it’s just you have to combine what we believe is right.
Will: They do say that the best people to start businesses, for example, like yours or people that have never done it before or have never worked in it because you’ll just do what you think is the right thing to do and everyone is like, “Oh, how does that work?”
Oh, wow, because you’re not looking to come out with any kind of preconceived ideas.
Steph: Absolutely, it’s actually a blessing sometimes. Sometimes it can be quite tough but…
Kris: We’ve been told many times that what we do is impossible and the way that we do it shouldn’t be like that and we’re just like, well, it works for us so we’re just going to continue.
Will: Brilliant. How do you engage your staff, suppliers, and customers with your mission and purpose?
Steph: Well, I think since the very beginning we’ve always been quite clear about what our vision, mission and purpose is as you can tell by the company name, makes it simple to keep everyone reminders. So, I think we are quite transparent about it with our suppliers and our team.
Kris: It’s very dominant in our business lives, in the way the business
Steph: I guess we probably put ourselves at the forefront of trends or innovation, we’re always ahead of the curve and that brings its own challenges with trying to get the market to understand what you’re doing. For example, we were out with probiotic products and a good year before they started to creep into the restaurant good and that is a challenge. So, yeah, education has always been key for us and if you can have a look at our social media, our website, our blog, it has always been about educating.
Will: When you’re running an ethical and sustainable business like yourselves, you’ve just talked about some of the struggles, can you tell us a bit about how you’ve overcome them and some things that you’ve come up against.
Steph: Well, first and foremost, it is just about to keep going even when it seems like it’s an impossible situation there is always a way to get through if you want it enough.
Kris: Surround yourselves with people that can help and support and just be super resourceful. I think that’s what has been one of our main advantages, we tend to find a solution to problems that we’re faced with. Probably one of the key challenges that we’re facing at the moment would be packaging. I’m sure you know that plastic [09:53 unintelligible], unfortunately, there isn’t really a solution that we can use or is commercially available for us to use as a food-to-go business. So, that’s something we’re still working on and looking for the best possible solution.
Steph: We understand in that situation that we know what our dream solution is, it’s not available yet but if we keep pushing on it then we can help shape the industry.
Will: What’s your dream solution?
Kris: Our dream solution, well, our dream solution would be to have 100% biodegradable packaging that is also sturdy, tamper-proof, heatproof, airtight, can show the product so it’s transparent. I’m not sure if that will be possible anytime soon but there will be certain compromises we’ll have to make.
Will: Forgive me for my ignorance because I am not in your industry, but you know how you have plastic bottles, for example, it’s a different type of plastic for the lid, a different type of plastic wrapper, a different type of plastic for the bottle, is that something you would address when you’re doing it so at least it’s all the same plastics that are recycled.
Steph: I’m actually really glad you brought that up, I think it comes down to the education of the wider industry, but also of customers and the general population on plastic.
Kris: There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding in regard to plastics while people are not entirely sure what’s actually recyclable and what isn’t and how to recycle. Exactly as you said, not everyone knows that some lids are not recyclable in the same way that the bottles would be. Our packaging, every single pot, and
Will: Do you look at the inks as well that you use on the cardboard?
Kris: That is the next level we’re currently working on. So, we’re working on our sleeves and our printing and also our wrappers on our Ambien range.
Steph: Exactly. So, the Ambien ranger is actually slightly easier, we should be launching in Q1 next year with completely recyclable packaging for the bars which is quite new to the market as well. The other thing is I think a lot of people will think if something is plastic it means it’s recyclable, but it doesn’t mean that it necessarily is. We’ve spent the last six months trying to find the right recyclable film that we can use for our dessert bars that will fit into mainstream recycling. So, it makes it easier for the customer because at the end of the day, if things are not recyclable via mainstream methods, they’re not going to end up where they need to, and it just contributes to the problem.
Will: Yes, it’s fascinating just the way that it’s all working out and it’s been brilliant. We have to mention David Attenborough and what he has done for plastics and it’s looking at companies and looking at the questions that we are now asked it has become such a main question for everyone in all companies. Plastics, what can we do, how can we do it? The fact that we’re now getting plastic free supermarkets…
Steph: There is a lot of unnecessary plastics in supermarkets.
Will: We interviewed Martin Baxter from IEMA, it’s coming out in a couple of weeks and he was talking about the new environment act because he’s one of the chief policymakers on that. They’re very much looking at the duty of care and putting the onus on the top ends as opposed to the consumer which should have happened a long time ago, but at least it’s starting to happen now, so it’s brilliant.
Steph: The way it’s got to go is it’s got to be pushed from the top because the options need to be available, the manufacturers need to be able to offer the solutions so that you can build it through the chains and down to the end consumer which the demand is there now, so it’s only a matter of time.
Kris: A couple of years ago people were looking at us weird and now when we ask questions people are like, oh, yeah, okay, like you are the millionth customer that’s asking for exactly the same thing, so hopefully soon there will be an answer.
Will: This is hugely beneficial to you, I would imagine, to be ahead of the curve and something like that, particularly the population is changing because you don’t need to change your company structure. I don’t know the ins and outs of what’s going to happen but your best place
Steph: Well, I guess on that point, there is so much we can do internally as well. I guess the end product in its grab and go portion is just the last piece of the puzzle and the kind of [15:11 inaudible] consumer but a lot of it as well, is how we work here and, in our kitchen, and how we work with our suppliers at delivering to us and basically how we run our whole operation. From the beginning, we’ve always naturally looked to be as sustainable as is possible on the production side of things. So, as a company, we’re actually zero to landfill and so we work with a waste company that can offer us that support so that nothing that we use ever goes into landfill and we’re actually a zero food-waste company as well.
Kris: So, basically, the way we produce is that we use all the ingredients that we order so we have a very short and strict production cycle, so we have essentially no food waste and if there is something, we eat it for our staff lunch.
Will: Is that hard to do?
Kris: No, so how we work is we produce to order so we know exactly what we’re producing for deliveries on each day. We are very good at focusing and basically producing exactly what we need to produce and if there is any food waste, we eat it, that’s not hard it’s actually very enjoyable.
Will: If you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners, which could help them with their purpose, what would that be?
Steph: Well, I guess it depends on what your purpose is.
Kris: It depends on what the purpose is but I think it’s just always remembering the purpose and always if there is an important question or a decision you have to make, just go back to the core value of your business for you and make sure that it’s always aligned.
Will: Okay. When it comes to reducing your environmental impact and carbon footprint of your business, what would you say your biggest challenge or frustration is?
Steph: It would be the
Kris: The fact that there isn’t a solution that’s sustainable enough, but we’re hoping now that all the big guys are looking for the same solution that we are it will get better from here.
Steph: 2019 looks like an exciting year on that part.
Will: Do you carbon footprint your packaging and your whole supply chain or do you go into that much detail?
Steph: As much as we can as a small business.
Kris: As a small business, we try to streamline our whole supply chain, so in terms of deliveries coming
Steph: Also, as we are predominantly a vegan company, so everything we make is vegan. We only work with plant-based ingredients, so that has a natural impact on our carbon footprint in a positive way.
Will: Can you tell us a bit about how you approach your Environmental Management in Pollen and Grace as a whole? What sort of things do you do or think about with your actual company running?
Steph: We’ve grown quite quickly over the last three and a half years. We evolved so quickly but it’s almost a step-by-step process. We’re not a big company where everyone sits down around a boardroom and thinks about our environmental policy. It’s more about us taking a step by step approach every time we’re growing or developing to make sure that we use the best possible solution. That comes back to the fact that we know what our values are.
Kris: The fact that being sustainable and environmentally friendly is such a big part of our core values. It’s just been embedded in business since day one, so I think it’s just learning how to take the right decision when we have to expand and grow.
Will: Okay. Is there any advice for learning that you’d like to share with anyone listening to this podcast?
Steph: On environment or business?
Will: Why don’t you do one of each.
Kris: On business, I guess, wow, there’s so many.
Steph: I know, it’s very broad, there’re so many things we can talk about.
Kris: I think it’s just to stick to your values and don’t let anyone tell you that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible because there’s always a way to do it. If you actually find a way to do it, you will be one of the first people to do it, you’ll be very successful as well.
Steph: In terms of the environments, it’s just being very clear about what you’re trying to do.
Kris: Be very transparent with what you do and also educate people what it is that you’re doing and how they can follow.
Steph: Education is probably the most important thing.
Kris: So, when it comes to our packaging, we educate our customers that it’s not only recyclable but it’s also reusable. I know it’s just a minor little thing, but actually, it can make a difference.
Will: Yeah. Education is so hard, isn’t it? We just launched a piece of software and one of the things is its carbon
Steph: They’re only showing one aspect of the story. As you mentioned before about David Attenborough and the warm plastics that have come up since then and absolutely been amazing because it’s gotten people thinking but there hasn’t been the education within the system and the media to then support how we can actually work with this in an environmentally positive way.
Kris: Education, it’s all about education. We use all the possible channels that we have and as a small business our resources are quite limited, but all of our communication will be pretty much dedicated to educating people on just that, we help to kind of trigger change.
Will: It’s hard, it’s really hard. I think you’re doing a really good job, so
Steph: Thanks for having us.
Will: Is there any way that we can connect with you and learn more and understand who you are?
Steph: We are always on Instagram our handle is just @pollenandgrace or via our website, which is pollenandgrace.com.
Kris: You can sign up for a newsletter, we have a weekly newsletter where we talk about everything that we’re battling and what’s happening in the business, but also outside of the business. Yes, that’s probably
Will: Brilliant. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time today and it has been brilliant.
Kris: Thank you, Will.
Steph: Thanks for having us.
Will: Listening to you when we were talking about the education, I wonder if you thought about doing webinars on how you do the packaging because we’re going down a webinar route at the moment and moving them in the master classes. I wonder if you’d be interested in doing a joint webinar on the supply chain and the packaging and what it is that you put into it. Do you think people would want to watch something like that or listen to it?
Steph: It depends on who it is. I think that packaging in any business really is key. For food to go, it’s much harder than the other Industries, if we had our own Cafe, then there’s so much that could be done. But definitely, it’s a question that’s hot at the moment so I’d say they’re definitely people out there that are interested.
Will: It’s quite neat I would imagine.
Kris: It is quite neat, but the problem is that there’s also actually not a huge amount we can talk about because there are not that many solutions that are available widely right now, especially for [24:30 inaudible] it’s much more available for like beauty products.
Steph: I think the interesting point is educating on what is actually the best environmentally friendly option that’s available now. So, you’ll see all over Instagram people will say, “Oh, wow, the packaging is just made of vegetables”. It’s all-natural where it’s got to go into a commercial composter for it actually become compostable. There is no real composting facility that is in the UK, it’s not part of our daily lives, so actually, it’s just as bad as plastic and so by making that choice, it’s miseducation to consumers.
Kris: It would be interesting to just call out some of the marketing myths that are not making anything eco-friendlier, it’s just basically a sales tool.
Will: Do you still think that’s actually going on?
Steph: Oh, it’s 100% going on, hugely.
Will: I wonder how you could because naming and shaming and bad-mouthing people is a really bad way to do business.
Steph: No, we don’t want to do that.
Will: I wonder if there’s a way that you can do it without actually doing
Steph: Well, I think that just highlighting what the different options are out there and what it means if you’re looking at PET plastic, PLA plastic, combustible, biodegradable, recyclable, what do they mean.
Kris: What do you need to do to actually make them recyclable, make them combustible? What does it mean for you as a consumer, what you need to do?
Steph: That’s probably the most important message as well because that’s what we found was that people don’t know what to do. So, if someone says…
Kris: Don’t buy something that’s in compostable packaging but it’s where is it going, where [26:30 inaudible], it’s not going to end up in a commercial combustor.
Will: Have you thought about doing an infographic on something like that, on why you’ve gone down the packaging route that you’ve gone to as a part of your education piece? We’re educating people but also it would be a way of having other people understand you have gone through that process and you do understand.
Kris: We are actually very interested to explain it in an infographic way [27:02 overlapping talk]
Steph: We definitely talked about it in emails, on our blog, but probably not in the infographic format actually. It would be interesting, it’s definitely something to carry about.
Will: I do think people would download it, but I would imagine your customers will, absolutely but your future customers probably would as well, they’ll learn more about how it works because people are interested in it more.
Kris: Completely, I think that’s a message that will never get old.
Will: Thanks guys, thank you so much for today.
Steph: No worries at all, thank you for having us.
Will: I will email you a link and it’s a way that you could put your Twitter handles, Instagram, and your logo, etc. on it I’ll do that.
Steph: Send that off to Kerry, she will sort that and all the social bits and pieces and outside as well.
Will: Awesome, thank you.
Steph: Thanks, Will.
Kris: Thank you.