" "
  • Sustainability
    • Sustainable Supply Chain
    • General Sustainability

Snack-sized sustainability: HSBC help Snack Fresh take a fresh approach to the food industry

  • 5 mins
  • Article

For street food and spice business Snack Fresh, a commitment to sustainability is proving to be a business no-brainer.

Deterred by the food industry’s relentless use of disposable, non-recyclable packaging, Snack Fresh founder Kamal Rao is determined to swim against the plastic tide.

Snack Fresh produces a range of own brand street food snacks, and sustainably sourced nuts and spices; selling its specialist South Asian ingredients both wholesale, and direct to consumer. So far, its sustainable approach has helped turn this small family start up into a high growth business, and industry success story.

“Over my 20 years in the industry, I always thought that one day, when I set up on my own, I’d try and do something different. That difference has been our focus on eco, biodegradable packaging,” says Kamal.

“Throughout my career, I saw so much plastic used; all disposable. At the start you don’t think too much of it. But over time, when you see all this plastic thrown away, and imagine the millions of companies doing the same, you realise something needs to change. Stories about the impact we’re having on the oceans, on wildlife, on the climate…they aren’t going away.”

We meet with suppliers directly to build confidence. Rather than remotely look at certifications, we go and look at their practices and their facilities, and make sure they really are sustainable. Meeting someone face to face makes a massive difference.

Kamal Rao | Snack Fresh Founder

Business beginnings

Launching a business in the middle of a global pandemic was never going to be straightforward. But Kamal and the Snack Fresh team were driven by their passion for sustainable, quality food produce. Having worked as an Operations Manager in various food companies for over two decades, Kamal decided it was time to invest his family’s savings in going it alone.

After a strong start, the business then decided to take advantage of HSBC’s Recovery Loan Scheme, providing financial support to UK businesses recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Snack Fresh borrowed £50k, and was able to expand the team, bulk purchase specialist packaging materials, and increase stock.

Snack Fresh currently runs a two-storey commercial kitchen, where the team produces its all-vegetarian and vegan range. From the beginning, Snack Fresh has tried to operate as sustainably as possible, across not only its own processes, but also those of its suppliers.

“We meet with suppliers directly to build confidence. Rather than remotely look at certifications, we go and look at their practices and their facilities, and make sure they really are sustainable. Meeting someone face to face makes a massive difference.”

The business also takes advantage of ‘EcoCart’, an e-commerce plugin which takes a share of each customer transaction and donates it to global eco projects, ensuring each purchase becomes carbon neutral.

A big problem we’ve had is the fact that food is better preserved in plastic than in paper. We’re still working on solutions.

Kamal Rao | Snack Fresh Founder

A sustainable journey has obstacles…

Throughout lockdown and beyond, the business has gone from strength to strength; Snack Fresh has been inundated with orders, allowing the company to expand rapidly. But sometimes, making the environmentally friendly choice can create challenges. Whether it is the increased cost of materials, or achieving less efficient results, pursuing sustainability takes perseverance and commitment. For Snack Fresh, fine tuning its biodegradable packaging remains a work in progress.

“A big problem we’ve had is the fact that food is better preserved in plastic than in paper. We’re still working on solutions,” says Kamal.

“The packaging we use right now has a thin layer of plastic inside it, but it's about 80% less than a full bag. We are working with a couple of international companies that are innovating in this area, and technological advancements in the industry are headed towards fully biodegradable plastic. But we aren’t at 100% just yet.

“If you look at the situation from an ethical point of view, then there is appeal to the consumer, who can feel they are doing something great for the planet. But, at the same time, they’ll think with their wallet. Everyone will. So, the only way to go forward for a business like ours is if more people use recyclable materials and therefore drive the cost down. At the moment, we’re relying on people’s responsible thinking.”

Is it worth it?

Considering the challenges, are there enough business benefits for Snack Fresh? The answer is a resounding yes.

Kamal is keen to emphasise that, in the long run, Snack Fresh is getting a return on its eco-investment. One crucial example is the business’ switch to induction heaters.

“When we first started, we were using gas burners. But just like when you use a gas hob at home, lots of the heat disappears into thin air. Something like 60% is lost. When you apply this to a much larger scale, cooking, say, 200 litre vessels all day, every day, then this becomes hugely significant. So, we did a lot of research, and found suppliers that offered induction heating, which concentrates 100% of the energy into the product you’re cooking. It is far more efficient. It saves energy and reduces cost,” says Kamal.

“It wasn’t as expensive as you’d think, and in the grand scheme of things, you’re going to make the money back through your energy bills within a couple of years.”

More than just clear cost-saving measures, Kamal argues the company’s sustainable USP is also hugely significant in building its brand identity. While this is harder to quantify, the potential impact on profits is invaluable.

“Yes, some of the costs are higher, but in the end, it works out better for everyone and you get a lot of positive brand exposure. Kids are learning about the health of the planet at school now! You can’t ignore these things anymore.

“When it comes to developing our brand, and tools like social media – it's been amazing. We get lots of good ratings and reviews. Word spreads very fast. So indirectly, you’re adding value to your business.”

Despite his success, Kamal remains ambitious. “We want to broaden our range, and move into different areas, like fresh fruit and veg. But the main goal is to work out how to become 100% eco-friendly. All businesses must make money, but our target is to do so responsibly.”

Need help?

Get in touch to learn more about our banking solutions