When Cookham-based nutritionist and founder of The Primal Pantry Suzie Walker was looking for some healthy snacks, little did she know it was the start of a global business. Jessica Jonzen discovers how a healthy homemade treat became a sensation.
It’s the ultimate kitchen table start-up. In the summer of 2013, nutritionist Suzie Walker was looking for some healthy snacks for her two-year-old daughter, Grace. Based on her research, she had decided to raise her on a diet free from grains, refined sugar and oils, but was struggling to find on-the-go snacks that weren’t full of carbohydrate or sugar. Walker’s clients were having a similar problem and so she tried out some recipes at home, blending dates with nuts and coconut. Walker’s daughter – and her clients – loved them.
‘The feedback was good enough for me to think there might be a product there,’ Walker says. And so Primal Pantry was born. And just three years later, Walker’s kitchen experiment has become a global business, which has turned over £3m. The bars – of which there are now five grain-free flavours, and two protein bars with more in the pipeline – are sold in 26 countries around the world, as well as all major UK supermarkets and on Ocado. Diets are often described as being ‘life-changing’, but for Walker, the discovery of the Paleo Diet truly has been a transformative event.
‘I still can’t believe it,’ she laughs from the company’s headquarters in Berkshire. ‘It doesn’t feel real. We’ve never slowed down to look back. Brands ask us to advise them on how to replicate our success, but I don’t know how we did it – it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind.’
EAT LIKE A CAVEMAN
The Paleo Diet, also known as the ‘caveman diet’, first became popular in the US following the publication of The Paleo Diet by American scientist Loren Cordain in 2002. By 2013, the diet was Google’s most searched-for weight-loss method. ‘The Paleo approach is that we eat only what we omnivores are designed to eat,’ says Walker. ‘Meat, vegetables – ideally in season – no refined sugars or oils, no harvested grains, not too many legumes and minimal dairy. We’ve ingrained in ourselves that pasta and bread are healthy things to eat, but when it goes into the body, it’s pure sugar. I came across so many people with unhealthy relationships with food and who were affected by gluten. I just really believe in real, whole foods.’
FROM KITCHEN TABLE TO GLOBAL SUCCESS
By chance, Walker was approached by Dominic Maxwell, who ran an agency helping brands to launch into the UK and was looking for a nutritionist for a project. ‘I showed him the product and he thought it was good,’ she says. ‘I did some research into the potential market and found that as the Paleo Diet was just coming over from the US and Crossfit (which recommends a Paleo lifestyle) was suddenly getting big over here, there was a growing market. Dom said I’d better have my ducks in a row as it could really take off.’
It was prescient advice. Once the team had found a manufacturer who would take the recipe of just four raw, vegan, unprocessed ingredients, Walker set up a website and put some graphic mock-ups of the bars on social media. ‘Someone got into the website when the shop was still hidden and somehow managed to make an order, so we decided to open for pre-orders,’ Walker says. ‘We sold 20,000 bars in the first two weeks before we’d even made them!’
From using her living room as the stockroom and distribution centre in the early days to becoming an international brand, The Primal Pantry is a real start-up success story.
Walker says: ‘Our team has grown to 19 and we’ve just secured more investment. It’s insane!’
NUTRITION, NUTRITION, NUTRITION
Walker graduated in marketing and worked in the food industry for Nestle, Innocent Drinks and Little Dish before retraining as a nutritionist.
‘I saw clients with a range of ailments – weight management, stress and fatigue, fertility health, polycystic ovarian syndrome, hormone imbalance and digestive disorders, and I always found that stripping the diet back to basics and removing anything that could cause a reaction – essentially the Paleo diet – was the most effective way of working with anyone,’ she explains.
This included gluten and grains, refined sugars and vegetable oils, and dairy. ‘Essentially foods that we’re not fully evolved to eat,’ she says.
So does Walker ever fall off the Paleo wagon?
‘I always say I’m 100 per cent Paleo, 80 per cent of the time,’ she says. ‘Bits of everything in moderation, unless your body doesn’t agree with it. It’s all just about taking things back to basics.’
SUZIE WALKER’S GUIDE TO PALEO
If you’re interested in trying the Paleo Diet, follow Suzie’s advice to get off to the best start.
- ‘Prepare, prepare, prepare. Clear out your cupboards of any pasta and grains and refined sugar.’
- ‘Create a shopping list and stock up the house with the right foods. Get hold of a good recipe book. Practical Paleo by Bill Staley and Diane Sanfilippo and Make it Paleo by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason are both good recipe books to have a play with.’
- ‘A typical daily diet would be smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast; chicken and salad for lunch, and grilled salmon and vegetables with sweet potato for dinner.’
- ‘Aim for one third protein and two thirds vegetables on your plate.’
- ‘If you go to a restaurant and order a steak, pass up the chips and have sweet potato or extra vegetables.’