Narelle Plapp

 

I am a country girl. I grew up in Ballarat. I’ve always been outdoorsy – playing tennis and basketball, and my parents always played sport so our family was always fit and healthy. There wasn’t a day after school that I wasn’t playing sport, and fitness and health is very important to me. I loved school, it was beautiful. I wanted to be a Naturopath or a Dietician, or an Interior Designer – they were my passions.  As I got older I was really interested in health and fitness so I did a Bachelor of Arts degree specialising in Psychology and then a Bachelor of Science majoring in Naturopathy. The second degree I did is where my business evolved from and what took me on my journey.

When I studied I only had one day off a fortnight. I was always driven. I worked in a health food store on the days I wasn’t at Uni, and I really enjoyed interacting with people, and also using my knowledge of foods, supplements and vitamins. I did that for four years, and then when I finished my second degree I decided I wanted to run my own health food store. So with luck and timing, that’s what I did.

Vim and Vigour was my first business, in Glenferrie Road, Malvern. I was 24 years old. I took over a lease from a lady who wanted to move on, so it was great for me. I have always been a believer in ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ so I’ve always been a risk taker. I come from an entrepreneurial family, so I was lucky enough to have good people around me to give me advice and guide me. It’s always been instilled in me that if you don’t give something a go in life, you’ll never know what you can achieve. I had that health food store for nine years, and I loved it. I got the bug, and I bought a second health food store in Elsternwick, so I had two stores for a while and built up the second store and sold it on after a few years.

During this time I had also been consulting at a Naturopath clinic – and I had created two recipes for cereals for people to incorporate into their dietary plans and their treatment program. They were gut cleansing cereals, and at that time there were no ‘functional foods’. As a Naturopath, I believe that we are what we eat, and that prevention is better than cure. Most diseases develop from the gut, so the two cereals I developed were for my patients. One of the ladies who worked in my store used to mix up the cereals in large steel tubs and then package them up for me, and gradually she was spending more and more time making them to keep up with demand.

I built my business in a very simple way. I jumped in my car, and drove around to health food stores, got on planes to different states and hired cars and drove around to health food stores in each state.  I had a very defined market and a niche product. I met some amazing people through that journey, but it was a long 18 months. It was all me, really hands on.

My business reached a turning point when I was lucky enough to meet a really lovely lady who later became very influential in my life. One day she called me and said she had a new job – she was a buyer for Woolworths, and she wanted to trial our product in some Woolworths stores. And of course I said ‘no problem’! I hung up the phone thought  ‘holy crap!’ – I am still hand-mixing my products in my shop! But it was the best problem to have, and I decided to do something with it. I realised that my products could be something big. She was amazing, and she gave me an opportunity that changed my business. I outsourced to a commercial kitchen, and branded the cereals Food For Health. The trial went really well and she offered me a larger distribution of stores nationally – which gave me the opportunity to go to a large manufacturer with a contract for Woolworths in my hand, and everything snowballed from there. That was 2009, and supplying Coles followed soon after that. I worked six days a week as well as playing sport four nights a week, so there was no room for a relationship in my life. I had set up all the EDI systems myself and I worked crazy, crazy hours – sometimes working until 3 or 4 in the morning. But I was never afraid of hard work. I lived and breathed my business.

When I met my husband, we moved to Tasmania for his career, so I sold the shop and concentrated on my wholesale business. I kept my model the same, with a small office in Melbourne and my distributors nationally. I was always at the airport, on flights going to meetings, and it was a crazy time – but I wanted to support Justin with his work like he had always supported me. And we made it work. It was only a two year contract – the day it ended I had the container waiting on the front lawn ready to move back to Melbourne!

I’ve done the hard yards, walking the pavement, doing the cold calls – it was only when Jack was nearly born that I took on my first staff member. That’s when I could breathe a bit. Having Jack was the turning point in my life and my business – he is now five years old. It was very hard for me to fall pregnant. It was so difficult because falling pregnant was totally out of my control and I did everything I possibly could do – from homeopathy to herbal medicine, not drinking wine – I tried everything and then all of a sudden I fell pregnant naturally. We then tried doing IVF for our second child, but I fell pregnant again naturally with Millie, who has just turned one. I am so lucky to have a healthy boy and girl.

Food For Health was growing during this time, we were selling to lots of stores and getting more products in Coles and Woolworths. The business had evolved significantly and as a business grows, your responsibilities grow. We now have five full time staff. But what is so important to me is that we have always received emails and messages from customers thanking us for our products, and telling us how much our products have helped them. While we are a successful commercial enterprise, my business philosophy comes from the heart. It is the result of me wanting to help people live a healthier lifestyle. Functional foods were so new and unknown when I started, but being a Naturopath I understand that food is medicine. And now functional foods are everywhere.

Our product range is now stocked in around 3,000 stores. We have a distributor in every state of Australia, and we have distributors in around 14 other countries as well so our export market has really grown. We have two manufacturers in Melbourne, and that takes a lot of pressure off me – it allows me to develop the product, the brand and the business while knowing that my manufacturers have the process under control with great quality assurance so we are comfortable with what they produce for us.  I spend a lot of my time on research and development – there are now 14 products in the range, and we plan to keep on expanding.  For the last two years we have been available on Virgin Airlines, and I am so thankful for it. It’s not necessarily a profitable exercise but it’s a fabulous marketing opportunity.  It’s exciting being able to develop products specifically for them – once your customers know that you are reliable, and that you deliver in full and on time, that’s when you get the opportunity to develop new products.  We have developed two new products for Virgin International which was a great get. We now also supply Costco.

Having Jack and running a business was of course a juggle, but Justin was working part time when we first got back to Melbourne so he was Jack’s primary carer for the first twelve months. We were making it work. My husband now works full time with the AFL and recently got a promotion so he has been working really long hours – he’s really successful with his own career and it’s wonderful that we both have our own paths. But it was really difficult being pregnant and looking after Jack and running my business. Justin and I did share parenthood a lot in the early years but now that his career is so busy things have changed. When Millie was born I didn’t know what to do, suddenly having two kids!

Life has definitely changed with two children. Until you have more than one you don’t realise how much things will change. We are so blessed to have them, and Millie has come into my life when I have people in the business to help me. I had six months at home when Millie was born. I was still working but my team would come to my home to work or I’d take Millie with me to the office. I never really saw it as a challenge – I thrived. If I have nothing to do, I get nothing done. But if I have everything to do, I get everything done. Most women are like that, we can multi-task. Give a busy woman something to do and she gets it done.

I think if you want to do something, you just have to give it a go. I never aspired to have a muesli breakfast company when I studied my degrees, but life takes you on these journeys. So if you see an opportunity and you think it’s something you could do or something you would love, don’t be scared.  I have made many mistakes, don’t get me wrong, it has not been an easy road – but from those mistakes I have built a successful business. You have to take that first step. Get good people around you who you can call and have a chat with and bounce ideas off, people who have been in business and can give you advice.

It’s so wonderful to be an independent woman and be able to provide for your family and have it all. I don’t hide from the fact that I’m a working mum – I took Millie to her first Woolworths review when she was eight weeks old. People are starting to embrace mothers in business now.  My kids will always come first.

Having your own business and raising a family is not easy, it’s hard work, it’s not smooth sailing, it’s late nights – but you have the opportunity to create your business around your lifestyle. I come from a family that has their own business, and whereas the rest of my family wanted to work for the family business I wanted to do my own thing. I stepped away from the family business and now Food For Health is our future, so who knows, hopefully Jack and Millie will be working in our own family business one day.

Food For Health is proudly Australian owned and made. Their delicious product range of cereals, health bars and snacks is available in the health food aisle of leading supermarkets. You can also enjoy Food For Health on your next Virgin Australia flight!

www.foodforhealth.com.au

www.facebook.com/foodforhealth

www.instagram.com/lovefoodforhealth

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Copy: Melanie Quirk      Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios

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