The journey’s been pretty incredible! I launched Ape Snacks in July 2014 when I was 19, having dropped out of Cornell University in the USA where I was studying fine art and philosophy. I was raised eating a super healthy diet - good, whole foods, found in nature (the paleo diet!). The summer before university, my mum took coconut flakes, threw them in a pan with cinnamon and salt and toasted them to utter perfection! When I went abroad to University in America it was really hard to find food that wasn’t laden with additives, sugar or chemicals with unpronounceable words; I was eating a grilled burger patties and salad every single day! As a result, I found myself scouring every aisle in every supermarket to find healthy snacks! Turns out they just didn’t exist! It struck me as unsurprising, therefore, that one in five people is classified as obese - a proportion which has tripled over 20 years. Between the rubbish that gets pumped into food both in the USA and the UK and the mixed messages we’re fed both on food packaging and in the media, it is no surprise that the world health now feels convoluted and heavy! I knew right then I wanted to change that. As such, I decided to drop out of Uni and bring health to the masses!
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
The global medical cost of obesity will be $1.2 trillion by 2025, with over 124 million children suffering from the disease worldwide. From any standpoint these statistics are completely staggering but, from both a health perspective and a financial one, they also highlight how completely inefficient the healthcare system is. In the UK and the USA in particular, we invest an unfathomable amount of money into fixing a preventable situation. We never turn and look back at the route cause and, if we do, it’s usually far too late. It is no news to anyone that poor diet is the leading factor in this epidemic - fried food is not only the cheapest but also the most accessible form of fast-food around. In addition, the most popular snack in the world is the potato chip. I started looking into the science behind what makes fried potato so addictive, moreish and so successful as a snack! It turns out that the chemical compounds that make up a crisp release dopamine. The combination of sugar, salt and fat is the holy trinity needed to stimulate a dopamine reaction. This is what causes snacks to be so addictive! Enter nature’s wonderful coconut! The natural fat and sugar found in the fruit combined with a light sprinkling of salt when baked, not only makes a delicious and incredibly moreish snack, but one that also had incredible mouth-feel and texture. Plus, it has the same chemical combination as potato crisps!
When I proposed the idea of dropping out of Uni to my parents they gave me six months to pull together a “viable” business. If nothing came to fruition, back to Uni it was! Determined to make my idea a reality, I started off by trying to meet everyone in the industry to learn as much as I could. I was super lucky to stumble across my now business partner (who has 30 years of FMCG experience) at a conference. Not long after, I went to Thailand, found a factory, worked with a food scientist and ended up with a tangible product! We started retailing in July 2014 and we’re now stocked in over 8000 stores ranging from Selfridges to Wholefoods to Boots, Sainsbury’s and COOP!
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students (young and old) locally or internationally who want to become entrepreneurs?
Persist and work harder than everyone around you.
Find the right people - advisors, people with complementary skill sets etc.
Don’t run out of money!
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I don’t have any regrets. I might have given myself a little more time to sleep though!
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?