Blog: Eating Naturally
Catherine Sleep | 3 May 2006
As a time-pressed journalist with ever-looming deadlines, it’s all too easy to spend my life holed up in my office, hacking away at a keyboard and gabbing away on the phone. But there’s no substitute for getting out into the industry. Having picked up the buzz around the Eat Natural factory, or ‘makery’, as owners Preet Grewal and Praveen Vijh call it, I dropped in yesterday to take a look for myself.
Eat Natural produces upmarket fruit and nut cereal bars with an emphasis on natural ingredients and no fillers, binders or preservatives. That all sounds very nice but how ‘handmade’ can any production line be that churns out thousands of bars a day? Donning the hairnet and overalls demanded by health and safety requirements, I strolled around the makery to see exactly how human the process is, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was pretty darned close to the way you’d make these bars at home.
Okay, some rather large mixing bowls are involved, but batches of the mixed ingredients are pressed manually into small trays, whereupon real live people roll them out with traditional rolling pins, to make sure the bars are firm enough not to fall to pieces but not compressed to the point that the large pieces of nuts or fruit are mulched. Watchful eyes ensure that each bar contains a fair mix of the prime ingredients, a task that cannot be automated without compromising standards.
Doubtless aware that it’s impossible to strip out all the monotony from the tasks involved, Preet and Praveen strive to provide a hospitable environment, with an airy staff canteen manned by a chef known as 'Aunt Mary' who prepares fresh daily treats such as brownies and smoothies for all the staff as well as helping out when NPD ideas need testing. Summer barbecues are held on the deck and a book-lined reading/slouching shed has been erected in a cosy corner. Such attention to detail accounts for the low staff turnover at Eat Natural in an industry fraught with retention problems.
If Eat Natural bars are marketed on a platform of having nothing to hide, this is a theme that runs through the entire business. Praveen has no truck with third-party fairtrade certification for its own sake, believing instead that working in direct cooperation with individual growers is the best way to secure a reliable supply of the best-tasting ingredients. The makery and offices feel like an operation that has no secrets and this openness and willingness to explore new ideas probably accounts for its position as the UK’s fastest growing snack bar. The brand is currently valued at £20m and is doubling its growth year on year.
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