There has been a lot of coverage in the media in the past few years about people’s changing eating and drinking habits and the move towards a healthier diet as well as the growth in demand for non-alcoholic drinks. One woman who is definitely part of this movement is Roisin Meredith, who produces water kefir, with its range of health benefits.
“I never set out to run my own business,” Roisin makes clear at the start of our interview, “the business came out of necessity after my baby daughter Florence became ill and we struggled to find out how to help her get better.”
Initially Roisin’s daughter was a healthy, bouncing baby but he suddenly began to lose weight, could not sleep and was continually crying and despite a barrage of medical tests by doctors, neither a diagnosis nor a treatment could be found.
Roisin was a chemistry teacher at the time and her background in science became a major factor in the eventual good health of her baby. Roisin had initially worked in the corporate world for FMCG companies such as L’Oreal but she realised that she was not ideally suited to a desk job and she retrained as a teacher. “I suppose that I have always been a little bit entrepreneurial,” states Roisin, “alongside my traditional career I ran events, set up a hat company and had a whole range of ideas but fear of failure prevented me from taking those all-important steps to self-employment.”
Roisin describes how her upbringing, with both parents being doctors, led her to follow the traditional career path and she soon became frustrated, feeling that “she was not living in the now.” She remembers how running your own business was not an option for most young people, with the exception of perhaps being a plumber or hairdresser, but that she felt deep down that one day she would run her own business.
When her young daughter became ill, Roisin’s scientific background led her to believe that the issue was related to food and she initially put her on a FODMAP diet to restrict what she was eating and drinking. Roisin engaged the services of a nutritionist and a more holistic approach to her daughter’s diet helped her dramatically, “Realising that the antibiotics that I had taken whilst pregnant with my daughter, had destroyed her microbiome which meant that she couldn’t digest any food, was a key moment for me,” comments Roisin.
Within two weeks of taking a powdered probiotic, her daughter was back to good health and this dramatic change “fired off the science part of my brain and my lightbulb moment happened as I could see that this was a way that I could help others also struggling with similar digestion issues,” Roisin says. She started to research the subject of microbiomes and discovered that many medical conditions appear to be linked to the bacteria in our bodies.
Roisin started to ferment food and drink, starting with milk kefir and kombucha and her business idea was born. She moved to making water kefir and selling it at local markets in September 2018 as well as making it for family and friends and describes the production process as “very therapeutic.” She admits that at this point she was worried that what she was doing would not pass the requirements of Environmental Health and Trading Standards. However, having engaged with them, she soon realised that by having a dialogue with these official bodies, they were actually very helpful to her. Roisin describes it, “I had a mental block about this but when I recognised it as such, I was then able to deal with it and move forward.”
Roisin found that she really enjoyed talking to people at markets about the products she was making, and connections made with other small businesses really helped her to build confidence including a pitch she made to a local gin distillery. Whilst she didn’t win her pitch, they did put her in contact with organisations who could help her business. Having successfully been awarded a Start Up Loan, she left her teaching job to dedicate more time to her business but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all of her potential sales outlets such as festivals, events and markets all closed.
Roisin approached GetSet for Growth Coast to Capital who provided her with coaching and 1:1 support and she describes this as the point where she finally felt she had stepped into a business owner mode. GetSet for Growth Coast to Capital encouraged her to apply for an Invest4 grant to help make the most out of the money from the Start Up Loan as well as pay for a sales and marketing consultant to take her business to the next level.
Support from Jonathan and Nicola at GetSet helped her to develop a full business plan, together with three-year cash forecast to plan for the future. “I had never done these plans before, but they helped me to really think about the details. They had lots of suggestions and I felt that they really wanted to understand my business and go through everything, particularly with my Invest4 grant application which I was successful in getting.”
Roisin describes the support she received from the GetSet team as an “elevating experience” which made a tremendous difference to how she approached her business. She is now working with a family who are bringing land back into their stewardship where they have a vineyard and micro-brewery and plan to set up a community of like-minded businesses. “We have a dream of offering people the best of food and drink in Sussex and to become a destination for people looking for healthy, local products with a strong provenance,” says Roisin.
Post COVID-19, Roisin envisages that more people will give more consideration to the products that they buy and that the experience of lockdown has opened their eyes to the benefits of buying from local suppliers.
Roisin advises anyone thinking of starting their own business to set aside their fears, to take advantage of the support available through the GetSet for Growth Coast to Capital programme. “The GetSet team helped me to really develop my business and to create a strong foundation on which I can build – it was brilliant!” states Roisin.