Discouraged from innovating, Freaks of Nature boss Peter Ahye feared food firms were instead fixated on a “race to the bottom” over price, at the detriment of product quality.
While acknowledging that some legislation might be necessary, Ahye said he “wasn’t a big stick guy”. Instead, he believed manufacturers should operate in an environment that allowed them to “transition” to healthier products gradually.
‘Solution to reformulation’
“The solution to reformulation lies in food firms being given greater opportunities and incentives to innovate more,” Ahye said. “We should be really encouraging companies to change. But you can’t do it overnight, because companies risk going under.”
Ahye founded Freaks of Nature in 2016 after identifying a gap in the market for vegan desserts. The company started making dairy-free desserts and puddings from its site in Ossett, West Yorkshire, last spring. Its products have secured listings in four major supermarkets.
By only using natural sweeteners, Ahye claimed some of his products had up to 50% less sugar compared with non-vegan competitors. He added that Waitrose praised the company for “driving innovation in an area Public Health England is so heavily focused on”.
Ahye received a £100,000 grant from Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership to help set up his business. While welcoming the funding, he believed the grant process could be speeded up and suggested more funds should be made available to help small businesses to innovate.
Meanwhile, Ahye was in the process of claiming back tax on research and development (R&D) costs as “everything I’ve done is food innovation”.
Food and drink manufacturers were found to be missing out on millions of pounds worth of R&D tax relief, according to a study published last September by business consultancy Catax.