We make good-for-you snacks that combine the ‘crisp’ element that kids want, with the fruit element that parents want their children to have. The idea of fruit crisps came from there, because kids love crisps – and so do adults!
Before setting up Nim’s, I used to own and run a coffee shop called the Square Sandwich, in Battersea, south London. It was directly opposite a school, and lots of parents with children came in.
I realised that parents struggled to find healthy snacks. Kids always wanted crisps, and parents would say ‘no, have some fruit’. It was really difficult to find something that children wanted to eat, without having a battle.
I remember seeing in a supermarket some crispy apple chunks that were freeze-dried, but they were flavoured with artificial blueberry, and I just couldn’t understand why.
The great thing about them was the crunch, but they were also made of fruit. Then I thought ‘hang on, that’s quite a good idea’.
I spent about five months researching how to make fruit crispy, and how healthy snacks are made. I discovered air-drying, the oldest method around for drying food, and took it from there.
One of the key differences with our products is that we keep the skin on, and don’t remove the pips. At first, I took them off, but the fruit would fall apart.
So I wondered if you could eat skin on all fruit, and it turns out you can. I didn’t like the anaemic look you get with the skin off, anyway. The crisps looked a bit sad.
- NAME: Nimisha Raja
- AGE: 53
- DOMESTICS: Mother of one daughter.
- OUTSIDE WORK: I spend a great deal of my spare time with my daughter, going to places like art galleries and museums. I also enjoy eating out, reading and playing Guitar Hero.
- GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: I have to say it is this business. We are making a product that nobody else has ever really created before.
- ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF: Building a business by yourself is really hard, so make sure you get help along the way. Put enough hard work into it and it will pay off, though.
For about two years, I worked in the coffee shop on weekdays, and made the crisps in my garage on weekends and evenings. Then, about four years ago, I sold the coffee shop and dedicated myself to this venture full-time.
It was never going to be a niche business, because the fruit and vegetables are too expensive and the cost of production is too high.
Making it on a small scale was never going to work. So, it was all or nothing – which is why I sold my house to help invest in this facility in Sittingbourne, which opened at the end of 2015.
Setting up the factory meant we could move production to the UK, because we were contracting out to Hungary at the time. The cost of doing so was really high and, ultimately, it was the quality of the product and lack of new product development that suffered.
Making the crisps crispy
In fact, I had to do a product recall because I wasn’t happy with the quality. It wasn’t a safety problem, they just weren’t staying crispy. They’re called crisps – so they need to be crispy.
It was a big decision, but I wouldn’t want to sell them unless I was 100% happy with the product. So, before setting up the UK factory, I stopped trading for about a year and a half.
The factory was an empty property, and we had to set up everything from scratch. Today, it has a production area with a 15m-long drying machine, a slicing machine, weighing machines, two washers and a packing line. There is also a warehouse and offices.
The drying machine was the hardest thing to find, because nobody had it exactly as I wanted it, in terms of the size, and the things I wanted it to do. So, I had to find a manufacturer that could adapt an existing piece of equipment, which I eventually did – ironically, a business in Hungary.
Flavour-wise, I just went crazy when I started – I’d give anything I could slice a go. I remember going to a market at 4am in London and buying about 20kg of strawberries –forgetting that I was going to have to slice them all by hand. I was trying everything to see what worked.
Now, we have five fruit ranges, with pineapple and apple the two most popular. I didn’t do vegetable varieties until we moved here, but today we produce three different flavours –beetroot & parsnip, cucumber & tomato, and peppers & courgette.
We also do branded infusions, which are dried fruit that can be added to hot drinks. We’ve had an order from a chain of bars that wants to use our cucumber infusions in gin.
When you put the cucumber crisp back in liquid, it just reverts to its normal state. They look beautiful when they go in and soften up.
The factory doesn’t need to produce every day, because the output is so high. We will operate 10 days in a row, then nothing for two or three days, then produce for another few days. In a 12-hour day, we can process up to 900kg of fruit and vegetables – about 200kg of crisps.
We’re hoping for more investment soon, to take us to the next level in sales and marketing. We had a terrific 2016 – culminating in a number of awards, including the Food Manufacture Excellence Award for Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Innovation. I couldn’t believe we’d won, and to win it for innovation was amazing.
In five to 10 years, I think we’ll need bigger warehousing. I want to expand into other snacks too – to keep innovating. We’re targeting all major high street retailers, and Europe.
I think both the best and the most challenging aspect of our product is how innovative it is. Three years ago, people didn’t understand what a fruit crisp was. But since then, we’ve come a considerable way.
Watch Raja go into further detail about how the fruit crisps are made and the opportunities that Brexit could bring in our exclusive video interview.
- LOCATION: 3/1 Trinity Trading Estate, Tribune Drive, Sittingbourne, ME10 2PG
- SIZE: 929m2. Of which 373m2 is production, 464m2 is warehousing, and the rest is office.
- STAFF: Nine. Four in production and five in the office – two of which are part-time.
- MAIN PRODUCTS: Five fruit ranges: apple; pear; pineapple; melon & orange; and pineapple & kiwi. Three vegetable ranges: beetroot & parsnip; cucumber & tomato; and peppers & courgette. Two own-label supermarket brands.
- CUSTOMERS: Up to 100 independent stores, two high-street retailers, two distributors and one online distributor. Nim’s also exports to Belgium and Italy.
- PRODUCTION LINES: Drying machine, slicing machine, weighing machines, two washers and a packing line.
- FACTORY OUTPUT: 6M–12M packs a year.