Founded in her parents’ kitchen, Olivia Wollenberg’s plant-based snack brand, Livia's has taken off in the UK, with free-from treats flying off shelves in 3,200 stores across the country.
We had the opportunity to ask Olivia a few questions about how it all started, what inspired her and what's in store for Livia's.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Where did your interest in food and health stem from?
The kitchen in my family home was where we spent most of our time together as a family. My mum says she recognised my love affair for cooking from a really young age, and because of that she spent many hours teaching me basic skills which she said would last me a lifetime. One of the things I was most enthusiastic to learn was how to make a traditional Shabbat dinner. For those of you that don’t know, it’s a traditional Jewish tradition for families to come together over a big meal on a Friday evening. Although my family aren’t at all religious, what was and always will be important to me is keeping up traditions that encourage family time (and of course eating)!
My interest in food has always been there and it was when I was diagnosed with a long list of severe food intolerances that I had to adapt and change my diet and seek nutritional advice. It meant having to cut out some of my desserts and puddings and that’s when I realised there were no sweet treats on the market that were accessible, delicious and made with natural wheat and dairy free products.
How did your diagnosis with food intolerances impact your diet and relationship with food?
The hardest part was having to cut out all my favourite sweet snacks and desserts. I loved baking too and it was hard thinking that I may never be able to enjoy home baked treats again. However instead of succumbing to a diet of bland alternatives, the diagnosis helped me decide that I wanted to set up my own company that made delicious free-from treats accessible to everyone. It was a chance to get really creative and experimental in the kitchen!
Do you have a mentor or someone who has inspired you?
I have a number of people who I am able to turn to for advice. I recognised from day one that I was not an expert and that I could learn so much from people around me. I always make sure to network and act like a sponge, absorbing information from all sorts of people around me.
Some of these people have direct experience in the food industry; however, some of them, like my Dad, simply have general business experience, but this was incredibly valuable too. I was able to succeed the way I did because of the help of people around me, and I will always recognise that.
BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR
What's your favourite part of the job and owning a small business?
No day is ever the same. I love the variety and being close to everyone in the team.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Seeing that what I am doing is having a positive impact on other people is hugely rewarding. I love seeing customer feedback and how happy people are to find naturally indulgent sweet snacks in their local supermarket. I also love watching my team grow and develop with the company.
How did you find navigating running a small business during this pandemic?
It has been a challenge in many ways, however we are incredibly agile and have learnt to adapt quickly. We were able to launch online exclusive products quickly and put more focus into online as instore sales dropped during lockdown.
How did you go about the process of moving your treats from the kitchen to shelves in some of the biggest super markets?
We have to do a lot of shelf life testing and factory trials. Because everything we develop is all natural, shelf life can often be a challenge. Sometimes we make something so amazing in the kitchen but we just can’t get it to have the right shelf life to be a viable retail product. However as we become more experienced, we know more about what can work and have found ways to have a strong shelf life without having to add any artificial preservatives.
Tell me about some of the challenges you faced along the way?
That I haven’t switched off since I started the company 5 years ago!
Looking back now, do you have any regrets about leaving behind a potential career in academia?
Never! Livia’s is my whole life and I love it.
What advice would you give to anyone looking for a career change, based on your personal experience
Don’t be afraid to change careers – go with your gut and have absolutely no regrets. Ask to meet or speak to anyone and everyone in business and in the industry you want to get into and soak up as much information as possible. And delegate! Don’t be afraid to bring in people who are more experienced than you are. Embrace those people and accept where your strengths and weaknesses are.
Could you share any sneak peeks of what Livia’s has in store for the future?
We have an incredibly mouth-watering NPD pipeline! Make sure you keep checking Livia's brand page on Caara so you can be one of the first to try our new products!
RECIPES, INGREDIENTS, FLAVOURS INSPIRATION
What kind of food did you grow up eating? Does this have an influence on the treats you make?
I ate anything and everything. I loved cupcakes with butter icing, apple crumbles, gooey chocolate cakes and biscuits.
How do you go about creating a new product? Who chooses the ingredients and flavours?
I work closely with our Head of Product to develop innovative new products and flavours. A lot of ideas are also influenced by supermarket buyers and the demand they are seeing from consumers.
Tell us about an experiment in the kitchen that has gone wrong
There are so many products I have dreamt up and developed that we haven’t been able to launch yet but I still hope we can launch them in the future because they are unreal - I don’t want to give too much away but keep your eyes peeled for our new products that will be launching!
Where does your inspiration for recipes come from?
A lot of the recipes we create for our Instagram audience and for products are completely unique and are the result of playing around with lots of ingredients and getting creative with them. I love visiting the States as they often lead the way in confectionery innovation. I also reach out to our customers and listen to what they want and what they feel is missing on the shelves - so do let us know if you have any tasty ideas of what you want us to create for you
How do you choose alternative ingredients for recreating traditional treats?
We use very simple wholesome natural ingredients in all our products and recipes. For example, we will research the best natural unprocessed sugars and do lots of testing with ingredients from different suppliers to ensure the very results We never compromise on the end result even if our ingredients differ from traditional confectionery products!
You can shop Livia's at Caara here