Meet the vegan chocolate brand that turned down an offer from Deborah Meaden

Food & Drink | Interview

Business Leader recently met up with Rimi Dabhia, founder of LoveRaw, and who, in 2017 turned down a £50,000 investment deal from Deborah Meaden after appearing on the Dragon’s Den. Rimi discusses the vegan revolution and the growth of her business since she appeared on the hit BBC show.

Have you ever had any regrets turning down Deborah Meaden’s offer?

No. Not at all. I felt strongly when I was in the den that I did not want to give away 30% of the company. The flashback that I had in my mind was all of the hours, the weeks, the months, of hard work I had put into LoveRaw and I was just not willing to give away 30%. Sitting here today asking myself, “do I have any regrets” – no not a all; even more so, because we have grown two or three-fold since we have been in the Den and we have done that without their investment. So, I have no regrets.

Have you ever wanted to just walk away from the business?

So many times! It’s hard to explain. I’m very passionate about what I do and why I do it, and that’s what motivates me – the WHY. I’m passionate about vegan, health and transparency.

Scaling a business from producing product at home and then up to a factory; going from a few hundred, to thousands, you encounter a lot of problems, such as cashflow.

When you’ve put all of your hope and your energy into a business and things don’t go right there’s some days you want to bury your head in the sand, not go to work and wish you were just working a regular job, working for somebody, rather than working for yourself, because you have a lot of responsibility; you have employees, you have a product that you have to sell. Especially in this industry, in FMCG it’s a rat race, as the name suggests – a fast moving industry, you have to keep on top of things.

I have this feeling at least once a week.

I’ve accepted the fact now, that the bigger you get, you’re always going to have problems – you’re going to have more problems – it’s just how you troubleshoot them.

If you could start LoveRaw again, would you do things differently?

Yes and no. Since we did start LoveRaw, we have changed a lot of things, but the things we have changed are the things we have learnt. I wouldn’t know what I know today had I not made those mistakes. Then, when I do change something in the business, I think “I should have done this earlier” but how are you supposed to know? it’s the experience. So generally no, I wouldn’t change.

Have you found a work-life balance or is this impossible?

It’s a funny one because as LoveRaw has evolved, my family has evolved.

I’ve gone from working lots of hours a week and weekends, where I didn’t have to think about getting home to the children, or feeding, or the responsibility of a family. Since then I have had two children and that has been hard, I have to admit. Rather than fighting with it and trying to be present with both, which is impossible, I just let go and accept the fact that work and home have to merge.

Marni, she’s 4 now and we talk about work quite openly and she asks “when can I come to work and make buttecups?” so it’s quite a common topic and theme we talk about at home. I bring the kids into work as well. They understand how important it is to us as a family. Work-life balance, it just merges into one.

Do you have LoveRaw career highlight?

There’s quite a few, but if I had to pick one, I would say it would have to be launching the new category of buttercups. Everybody loves chocolates; it’s my favourite, my personal favourite category that we’ve launched to date and the rate of sale that we had in our launch week was phenomenal, so the feeling that I’ve created something at home and scaled it up to the factory and it’s had a phenomenal rate of sale in launch week that feels good. We’ve produced a product that people want and like, and enjoy the feedback we’ve had.

So the launch week of buttercups, and doing that whilst having Marni AND being pregnant. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it.

Has it been easy to find the right staff for the business and manage a team?

Honestly, it’s been hard.

The type of staff we’ve had has evolved since the start. At the start I had someone helping me at home making the bars, then when we scaled up into the factory we had the team in there that I wasn’t working with day to day and I needed to set up an office to do the sales and marketing.

I think we’ve learnt a lot in terms of looking for the right person, and I feel that we’ve nailed it now. When we do recruit we know the type of person we’re looking for. We’re also very transparent as who we are as a company and how we work. I think that’s very important to disclose fully how you work and who you are so an employee gets a good indication of what they’re coming into it. I feel we are much more successful in finding the right employees than we were at the start.

What’s your vision for the future of LoveRaw?

We’ve had a few different types of categories. The chocolate buttercups have been my favourite category, OUR – the team’s – favourite category, so we are going to be focusing on chocolate as a category. VEGAN chocolate as a category.

So introducing and recreating a classic favourite of a heritage brand but a little bit better for you, and it being vegan with taste not compromised at all. We do want to be that vegan chocolate brand, not just specifically for vegans, but for people to pick it up because it just tastes good. So we’re going to focus on making vegan chocolate that tastes amazing.

How big of an impact has the vegan revolution had on the food industry?

The vegan revolution has made a huge impact. There’s many challenger brands (including ourselves) who are leading this trend, I recently read they contribute 59% to market growth. It’s something which cannot be ignored and is addressed constantly in the media.

Even our courier guy is trying meatless Mondays. I don’t think the movement is pushing people to convert to be fully-fledged vegan but to be more mindful what they eat, what’s in their food and the impact it has on the environment. Change in the food industry is slow but imminent.

What have been the drivers behind this?

I think transparency, we have information so readily available these days. Information can go viral through social media. Irreversible damage to the planet, carbon emissions and more research showing what eating meat does to our health. There’s recently been a documentary on Netflix which has gone viral called Game Changers, it’s made three of my carnivore friends think about eating more plant-based, which really is a game-changer.

Will it continue?

Veganism is a movement, not a trend. It’s here to stay whether we like it or not.

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