An increasing number of people worldwide are becoming extremely grateful to Erin Moroney for enabling the enjoyment of a guilt-free, delicious Nibble. 

Erin has created something very original, and I was delighted to find out more.

Erin’s story:

Erin grew up in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her great-aunt nicknamed her “The Me-Do Girl” because Erin was quite determined even as a toddler, insisting on walking herself to nursery school.  Erin graduated with honors from the University of New Hampshire, with degrees in English Literature and Fine Arts and a minor in Marine Biology.  This combination was to prove more useful to Nibble.  Erin says the Me-Do stubbornness has also helped.

Erin spent a semester in the Turks & Caicos, Caribbean, and had planned another term abroad in Florence to study painting.  The trip was canceled two weeks before Erin was due to leave. The alternative was London, a city she had no plans to visit.   However, arriving in Kensington on a gorgeous spring day, she felt immediately at home.

When she finished her studies, Erin returned to London and co-founded a photographic agency.  Erin sold the agency just at the point where digital was taking hold. Section cover photographs for broadsheet newspapers dropped from being worth several hundred pounds an image to around £35.00.

During this time, Erin had also founded the Young Photographers Alliance, securing impressive sponsorship deals for the charity.

Erin then freelanced as both Art Director and Creative Producer for Red Bee Media, a creative broadcasting agency whose primary clients were the BBC and UKTV. While there, she was working exceptionally hard and became exhausted.  Erin found that she was protein deficient.  Being so busy, she had little time to eat at work. Erin started looking for protein bars to nibble between meetings to supplement her diet. She could not find any she liked the taste of, and they were full of sugar, high G.I. sugar in particular.

Erin was also pushing herself hard for a personal reason.  It was a few years on from the Boston Marathon Bombings.  Erin was a keen runner, and she was determined to run the famous marathon in her hometown, to support the resilient city’s Boston Strong movement.   Being an elite marathon, this meant rigorous training, and on one run, Erin slipped a disc in her back and had to drop out of the marathon.  

The only benefit of this injury was that she could turn her focus to the idea for Nibble.  Erin had always been interested in nutrition, combatting hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and other health issues.  Now, she had time to develop her own genuinely low-sugar protein bar to nibble..

The story of Nibble

Erin and Nibbles

Erin started with research, refining in her mind both what was already on the market and the snack she wanted to produce.

She raised her first funding before having a fully developed product.  A friend of a friend was already interested in investing, and Erin went to work on her business plan.  She also used her Art Director experience to the full to make her presentation as strong as she could.  She raised 110k on that first round.

Erin spent the next eight months trying to create a shelf-stable recipe.  She had no formal cooking or food science training, but she had always been a good baker.  When she was around 12 years old, a friend’s mother would pay her to make her cheesecakes for her dinner parties.  

Erin wanted the snacks to be dairy-free, low on sugar, and made with slow-releasing, low-G.I ingredients.  She had learned about the benefits of eating low G.I. from her friend, Gudrun Jonsson, best-selling author of The Gut Reaction.

Erin made over 300 different batches, experimenting until she got it right.  Protein is notoriously challenging to work with.  Low sugar products are notoriously hard to produce from a food-science point of view, as sugar helps keep products shelf-stable.  Her problem-solving science background came in handy.

Erin experimented widely with the nibbles, learning about food science and enlisting the help of a food scientist from California.  It took nearly a year.  The sugar-laden dates used in many other snack bars were replaced with dried plums, which contain over 40% less sugar than dates.

There were further problems when Erin took her idea for the nibbles to manufacturers.  Many were not interested in manufacturing her product. Erin’s experience was that many manufacturers are usually resistant to innovation and prefer to work with ingredients and methods they are used to.

She has fought down the barriers and won many awards and influential fans.  One of her most recent investors is Jon Eggleton, ex-Managing Director of United Biscuits. 

Erin is now exporting her products.  The Middle Eastern healthy snack market is expanding rapidly, perfect for Erin’s Nibble, one of the very few protein products that are vegan and suitable for halal markets. She also won a pitch contest with Accor Hotels,  enabling her to supply their 5-star hotels worldwide.

In the U.K., Nibble is stocked with the leading retailers, including  Ocado, Whole Foods, As Nature Intended, and Amazon.

Nibble was one of only ten companies from Europe and Israel to win a place with a prestigious six month Pepsico incubator.  One of the incubators’ benefits was making a network of friends within the food industry, which has been invaluable.

Erin has found that many quality brands approach her to collaborate, and she always looks for matching values and demographics.  She was particularly pleased to supply the TED conference group.  Her Nibble brand is recommended by well-regarded nutritionists in the U.K., including Yvonne Bishop-Weston, Zara Syed, and Patrick Holford.

Erin is vocal about the need for greater clarity in food packaging and advertising.  There is no point, she says, in eating low sugar but eating junk.    Too many products in the market are not what they claim to be or are misleading by calling themselves healthy.  Nibble isn’t one of them.

Advice for anyone with a food idea:

Erin has very kindly shared the following advice based on her experience.  She tells me it is an extremely tough industry, and the manufacturing world can be very sexist.   Erin doubts if she would have survived with Nibble, had she not had the broad business experience with the photographic agency beforehand.

  1. Erin advises, as with any business, to start by ensuring there is a gap in the market and that you have a strong USP.  In the food industry, shelf space in stores is finite, so for your product to go in, it has to replace another.  The strong USP is essential to get listed.
  2. Research your customer demographics, so you have a clear target audience and know exactly what they are looking for.
  3. Trying to find a manufacturer was hard for Erin, even with funding behind her.  She suggests seeking a manufacturer willing to produce shorter runs while you perfect your product. Shorter runs also result in less stock to have to market.    
  4. Specialist advice, from other founders and experts,  is invaluable. Erin finds many would-be founders approach her asking vague questions such as “how do I get a business off the ground.”  Everyone has limited time, so when you approach someone for advice, Erin advises to be concise.  Be clear on what precisely you want to find out and ask a couple of clear, specific questions.
  5. Go beyond your friends and family for unbiased feedback.  Food is subjective and varies on people’s palettes, so you want to obtain a broad cross-section of sample feedback.
  6. Reputable manufacturers will all carry food standards accreditation, so check that sites have a SALSA or BRC certificate.  While manufacturers should be meticulous from a food safety point of view, Erin advises that it is still necessary to keep a tight watch over all runs for quality consistency.  Get samples from every batch produced to ensure your product is again meeting your exact standards.
  7. Expect exacting demands from the distribution chain.  One of Nibble’s distributors stipulates that at least 85% of shelf life remains on the products they receive.   Almost all ambient food orders have a two-day turnaround time, which means companies have to estimate their production runs with high accuracy.  It’s vital to ensure you have enough stock to cover orders, without too much excess due to the shelf life demands of wholesalers and retailers.

It may be a tough business, but Erin has achieved an incredible amount in Nibble’s three years.

You might also enjoy this interview with Simon Paine of the PopUp Business School

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