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Talking brand innovation with Lisa Sohanpal, founder of Nom Noms World Food

On the 25th of February, the Food and Drink Federation held the ‘Staying on Shelf’ event, a day of talks addressing the new healthy eating agenda. Speaking at the event was Lisa Sohanpal, founder of Nom Noms World Food, the healthy eating ready meal brand aiming to revolutionise the market. We caught up with Lisa a few days after the event to hear her story and how design led thinking has helped the brand expand.

Lisa SohanpalRare Design: It’s been a busy 12 months for Nom Noms World Food, following your launch of Mini Nom Noms and Mega Nom Noms in August 2015 and the awards-sweep at the World Food Innovation Awards. Can you explain in your own words the thinking behind the brand and product?

Lisa Sohanpal: Being from a medical background, my husband and I wanted to develop healthy and authentic ready-to-eat world cuisines suitable for the whole family. We weren’t trying to become a diet product but trying to encourage healthy eating by making it more inspiring and appealing to diverse palates.

When it comes to world food, the focus has always been on flavour. A healthy curry, for instance, didn’t really exist. We’ve created international food without adding any salt, sugar, preservatives or additives instead using blends of spices to make it tasty and incorporating hidden fruits and vegetables to boost its nutritional qualities. That means we can claim our Spinach Butter Chicken meal, for example, contains two of your five-a-day because it’s got carrots, lentils and spinach within the sauce, still with an authentic butter chicken flavour. It seems we’re addressing a global gap in the market in this way.

When we launched on August 7th last year, we were listed with Ocado and Selfridges and we pretty much sold out within 10 hours of going live. We have since been approached by buyers and potential consumers from  around the world, but we are trying not to run before we can walk. We have to make sure that we can supply enough. This was a challenge with supplying, Ocado, which just kept ramping up the orders as the forecast didn’t match the actual demand. We’ve now had to look for another partner that can produce enough of our foods to meet growing demand for our meals.

RD: Busy times at Nom Noms World Food, then?

LS: Yes! We are developing all the recipes with our new partner Hain Daniels and we are going to relaunch the whole brand around June/July this summer. The recipes are significantly improved, a whole lot more tastier and we’ve got some new exciting product development going on too. So, yes, its very busy and incredibly exciting.

Mega Lamb TiffinRD: Can you tell us a bit about your presentation at the ‘Staying on Shelf’ event?

LS: The three questions that I tried to address were: Does health provide a competitive advantage? Should FMCG brands think about reformulating? How should reformulating be communicated by a brand?

In terms of the competitive advantage, there is a need to make healthy food widely available but the question to answer is, can healthy food be tasty? When you start claiming your food is made with no added salt or sugar, it gives the perception that it must be bland and boring. So, manufacturers have to overcome these misconceptions and the product must taste good to ensure repeat purchase.

Within the retail space, we’re encouraged to produce innovative healthy products but then also asked to compromise on price too.

Within the retail space, we’re encouraged to produce innovative healthy products but then also asked to compromise on price too. So, to sustain that competitive advantage you need to prove that you can supply at an affordable price to the consumer and ensure they keep coming back for more.

Lamb TiffinThis can be achieved in three ways. You can do it through cost, differentiation or innovation. What we did with our brand is look to redefine the ready meal category through innovation. We provide a two-course meal concept where the package opens up as a thali, like a plate and the meal can be heated and eaten straight from our pack. We also innovate within our recipes, by including hidden fruits and vegetables for flavor and nutritionals. All meals are made with no added salt and sugar. We appointed a culinary spice expert to create the unique spice blends that gives each meal its unique signature,. We wanted to ensure that each meal is bursting with flavour by using spices with the bonus that they carry their own health benefits also.

Our concept took two years to develop and get right. Our biggest challenge was to develop a range of products that are suitable for a child’s palate and are healthy – as well as tasty enough for grown-ups also. We initially developed the Mini Nom Noms concept as a children’s food brand and engaged in taste-testing trials with Virgin Active health clubs around the country. Then we had parents and buyers coming up to us and asking; “why isn’t this available to us?”  Both Ocado and Selfridges asked us to launch the Mega Nom Noms range with Mini Nom Noms, so that’s what we did.

That’s how Mega Nom Noms was born. With Mega we wanted to ensure we were differentiated within the adult ready meal market. Along with the two-course concept, we added the spice mix sachet to give a more personalised approach to seasoning. We are proud to claim that it is an industry first concept for spicing up international ready meal according to your own taste and spice tolerance.

We are proud to claim that it is an industry first concept for spicing up international ready meal according to your own taste and spice tolerance.

For the kids, it was more about making healthy food fun and inspiring for them and educating their palates and knowledge on culture, cuisine & charity at the same time. So we created a suitcase-style theme to open their young minds and take them on a taste adventure around the world. By opening up their little suitcase, it creates an element of surprise and allows children to engage with their food by being able to mix, dip, pour and sprinkle. They also learn about where foods come from and learn about the charitable values of our brand, because every meal purchased feeds a hungry child in India.

Chicken Laksa with spice stampRD: Innovative marketing and creative design is really central to your brand. How important is the branding and design for products in the health food and drinks market?

LS: It’s so important. If you are trying to create a retail brand then you need to create standout shelf presence through packaging design. The packaging is going to be the first and last point of contact with the customer, so it’s extremely important that your product stands out against all the other competitors on the shelf and in a way that is practical and inspiring.

I had to change design companies four times to get what I wanted for the brand, because it was just so easy for designers to produce another concept using bold colours for kids products, with cartoons and fonts that make it look highly processed. I just didn’t want my brand to look like anything on the market. We wanted to give that feeling of authenticity, wholesomeness and healthy, so we used photography of the food, encased in an illustrative cutlery with claims subtly tucked in the corner. We are creating a brand that hopes to engender trust in families and provide a guilt-free convenient option for eating healthy world food. We tried to appeal to kids but not make it so kiddie, and also appeal to the grown-ups, who think wow; this is different and I wouldn’t mind being seen eating from this box.

We are creating a brand that hopes to engender trust in families and provide a guilt-free convenient option for eating healthy world food.

The biggest challenge was that we have is how we communicate and appeal to both grown-ups and at the same time excite and engage the kids. We want to communicate the values of our brand and food concept through storytelling on-pack and create an experience for our consumers – where we can transport their imaginations to Morocco or to India, so they can learn something about that culture and cuisine.

RD: From a branding perspective, which companies have you been influenced or inspired by?

LS: Every brand that has got its own story behind it and that story is reflected in their communication. I also get really inspired when I see different, new, really innovative concepts and actively seek out trends and ingredients for new product innovation. But my concept and my vision was always instilled in me. I’ve got three children who were all under the age of three at the time Nom Noms concept was born, so I was conscious of the fact that I needed to develop a product that was going to be more engaging and attractive to them somehow, allowing them to explore the different flavours and stimulate different senses.

I found that with other ready meal brands, you whack them in the oven or microwave then dish them out onto a plate. I wanted to create something unique that I could then build a story around for the future and as the brand grows and evolves. It’s always something that we are innovating in – and we’ll keep on innovating and continue making stories.

And with stories that taste so good, we’re sure that people will keep on wanting to hear them. Huge thanks to Lisa for taking some time out to talk to us. Stay tuned for more insight from innovative brands and market leaders.

You can find Nom Noms World Food here, or follow them on Facebook. And to see how Rare use design-led innovation, check out some of our projects here.

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