Meet The Maker: Niall Kiddle, Forager Health
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat to some of the people behind our favourite independent British brands.
Niall creates unique tea blends that are both natural and sustainably packaged. Sustainability is a huge part of Forager Health do, using only compostable packaging, plastic free tea bags and ethically sourced ingredients.
I chatted to Niall to learn more about the man behind the brand. We managed to drag him away from doing what he loves for half an hour to discuss product sourcing, sustainability, future plans, the effects of a pandemic and much more....
Firstly, for anyone that doesn’t already know, can you tell us a little bit about your brand and what makes it unique?
We are a sustainable tea brand, we create tea blends that are unique, they’ve got specific ingredients – every ingredient has been chosen for a specific reason because it has a functionality behind it. Each blend tailors towards a specific health benefit, for example, energy and immune system, sleep, anxiety. My passion stemmed from my auntie, she is a big herbalist, she’s really into growing her own herbs and fruit.
One thing that makes us unique, we make sure that we’re 100% sustainable, you can literally take the product off the shelf and put it in your home compost. We carried out research, 90% of teabags in the UK have plastic in. For us if we’ve got the option to not have plastic, we wanted to completely avoid the millions of microplastics, that’s always been a big part of our brand. As well as the health benefits it’s the fact that we use plastic free teabags.
It’s quite lucky that when we launched the brand, NASA had just created a material called neo-soilon. It’s the first material that’s made from completely plant-based materials and it doesn’t use plastics. Perfect timing, we went with that one and avoided plastic, making sure it was completely home compositable.
You formed the company during the first lockdown- what were you doing before it?
I was a software developer for the previous three years working in IOS apps. I started off doing IOS apps, I didn’t have any university degrees, I was just really interested in computers and making websites and apps. I was fortunate to then move onto a job making apps to help people with disabilities learn, speak, and communicate. This was really rewarding. The year after that I worked at a company called Yo-Yo. They’ve got a loyalty app that connects to cafes and restaurants, and they offer loyalty plans to their customers.From there, Lockdown was in place, and I had the idea of Forager. I always wanted my own business, I told my employer about this, and they were supportive, so I started creating forager on the side. When lockdown hit, I was on furlough for 8 months or so, they paid 100% of my wages, this was the perfect time to really focus on forager. When they invited me back to work, I had worked hard and I was ready to work on Forager full time, I felt bad but it was my passion and what I wanted to do, in a way lockdown was a positive for me in order to grow forager.
Your mission is to provide health focused products in a sustainable way, how do you decide on what products you’re going to release and what’s the production process from decision through to finish goods?
I wanted a product that I could pick up and know exactly what’s inside of it, being transparent, only natural and nothing artificial, a product could tell me when and how I could take it and its benefits. To get those exact benefits, I wanted to work out what people’s pain points were. We created a google survey, this was before forager, and just put every benefit I could think of, energy and focus, immune system and sleep were by far the most popular. Those were our first three things to target initially. In total, 150 people filled out the survey, so we’ve always had that data to go back on.We’re also fortunate to have a supplier that offers consultancy, since day one, we’ve worked closely with them. They’ve got the knowledge on making the tea bags in process, but also the benefits and functionalities.
In terms of people’s behaviour and buying behaviour as life gets back to normal post pandemic, have you noticed a change in purchasing behaviour, as you were set up during lockdown?
We are still growing so it’s hard to tell what effect lockdown has had, but one thing we did notice in the second lockdown was a big spike in our social reach. I think a lot of people were at home, on their phones with time to interact with us. There has also been a mass wakeup call in terms of taking care of your personal health. So, on one hand we benefitted in online sales, but one the other hand we took a hit with our retail links.
You’re partnered with the mental health foundation can you tell us about this and how your products tie into that campaign?
I’ve always thought the mental health foundation have done amazing things, especially through lockdown. I know a lot of people in my circle suffered with mental health issues and it spiked when people were at home and were not able to socialise. A lot of people, at this time, turned to tea.
It's not just you, your partnered with Sam how did that come about and who does what?
Sam started following the brand through a mutual friend and then got in touch, he was drawn to the idea of the products and immediately wanted to get involved. We had a few meetings and realised we got on well, we worked quite closely for a few months and monitored how it went. While Sam is taking care of the brand image and is working closely with Jordan who’s in sales, I am working on product development, logistics and the website.
In terms of the future for you, what do the next 12 months further look like for forager?
We have expanded the team slightly. We’re currently reaching out to cafes, we’ve got Jordan targeting different areas in Brighton, for example, café owners and health stores.
We’ve got loads of ideas for new teas over the next few months. One tea we’ve not tackled yet which we’re in the process off is around women’s health we’ve got a balance tea currently but I think we can get a little more detailed on finding specific ingredients and we can target period pains or menstrual cramps also pregnancy and really work around women’s health there’s a lot we can do with teas and there’s a lot of benefits people see around drinking teas so it would be great to have a women’s bundle in our range and it’s something we’re working on.
Do your products have to get certified? Do you have to get ingredients approved by anyone before they go live?
We work closely with our supplier on this as they’ve got a legal team who can work out what we can say and what we can’t say. We also work with two accreditors. We have got the vegan society who will go through products and certify the ingredients we have are allowed to list as vegan certified. We have also just got certified with a company called 'ethy' who do sustainability certifications. From the material of the tea bag and the packaging to policies in our office and warehouse, we keep sustainability at the heart.
What attracted you to work with Hope and Story?
The main thing is that everything is made in the UK, I think that during lockdown, buying products made in the UK was good for the economy. We are picky when it comes to working with marketplaces, we’ve turned down a few because essentially, they’re selling our products and it’s attached to our brand, so we must be careful and selective with where our products are stocked. As soon as I got in contact with Hope and Story it was no brainer, it was somewhere we wanted to be.
Shop the full Forager Health collection here.
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