This week we speak to Gracie, co-founder of Squirrel Sisters, a no added sugar snacking brand she launched with her sister Sophie who, following heart surgery could no longer tolerate processed and sugary foods; and how their major supermarket deal will benefit everyone’s health.
As told to Miranda Wilkinson
The last year has been challenging in more ways than one. It’s hit us hard, at different times, and for different reasons. It’s made us grateful for the small things and for the one thing that has kept us focussed and given purpose; our small business.
I launched Squirrel Sisters with my sister Sophie back in 2015. It’s a no added sugar healthy snacking brand that we launched after Sophie was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition that needed surgery. After the surgery, Sophie started reacting really badly to processed and sugary foods, so I made it my mission to create delicious snacks for her while she was recovering; that ticked all the health credentials that she needed: gluten-free, no added sugar and plant-based.
Over the next few years, we managed to grow our business from a kitchen table idea to a relatively well-known food brand that’s stocked in over 2000 retailers across the UK.
Then Lockdown hit and everything changed overnight….
Initially, we enjoyed the slower pace of life, after all this was just a short-term thing… it was only going to last a few weeks, a month at the most!? But no, it was ongoing and the effect it was having on our business wasn’t sustainable… we needed to do something, something big!
Just before the first Lockdown in January 2020 we had welcomed Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones AKA The Black Farmer on board as a director. It was the first time we had given equity away, which was a huge deal to us. We were nervous about the decision because we were so used to being just the two of us. Welcoming someone else would mean new eyes, new ears and new opinions, which was as exciting as it was nerve-racking. We’d had investment opportunities in the past but turned them down because something hadn’t felt right; with Wilfred it felt different, we were drawn to him in a way we couldn’t explain so for the first time in ages we trusted our gut feeling and went for it.
“With change comes opportunity”, he said to us on a Zoom call one morning in the early days of Lockdown. This changed our mindset from fearful to hopeful… we needed to embrace this new way of living because it was here to stay. That day was a gamechanger for us, we sat for hours talking about what we could do, how we could pivot as a business to adapt to this new world.
Our mission as a business has always been to revolutionise the snacking category. Together as sisters we have been campaigning for healthier diets with our no added sugar products for years and five years on from launching, we are proud to be the only brand in the UK with a whole range of snacks that has no added sugar. This has been our mission from the very start and now with the help of Wilfred we were ready to go big…
In January 2021 we launched the UK’s first NO ADDED SUGAR online shop, a hub where everyone can buy great tasting, no added sugar snacks and kitchen essentials and have them delivered straight to their door. Consumer habits have changed due to Lockdown and health is now at the forefront of everyone’s mind so we wanted to make healthy eating accessible to everyone.
Then this month, we launched into one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets… Sainsbury’s. We have been pushing to get our snacks on the shelves of a major supermarket for years. Supermarkets have the power when it comes to influencing consumer choice. Walk into most supermarkets and you will be bombarded with processed, sugary, unhealthy products piled high, on offer and bulk deals – making them hard to resist for even the most strong-willed shopper! Small brands like Squirrel Sisters no added sugar snacks can make all the difference but space on shelves often comes down to which brands have the biggest marketing budget.
It’s pivotal to have a retail giant like Sainsbury’s supporting small brands and prioritising the needs and health of their customers. We pitched our heart out to their team and they gave us a chance, we have 3 months to make it work and prove that everyone loves our no added sugar snacks, and we need customer support to achieve that. If we do it we will be given the opportunity to get a permanent listing at Sainsbury’s.
The other big thing that’s happened this year… we are about to go global with a major launch in the USA. It’s a dream come true. I moved to New York on my own after university when I was 21 to study at Lee Strasberg for a year. The day I was leaving to come back to the UK I remember sitting by my little window in my East Village studio flat thinking that one day I would be back, and it would be for a big reason. I didn’t know what that big ‘reason’ was going to be but fast forward 13 years and now I know.
I guess the moral of our story is that life is short, it’s fragile and it can change overnight so just go for it! No matter what life throws at you, remember that the harder times are here to challenge us but sometimes we need those challenges to drive us, to help us grow and to show us what really matters.