What Really Matters

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.

Vis­it our no added sug­ar online shop: squirrelsisters.com
Fol­low us on Insta­gram: @squirrelsisters