FOUNDER FOCUS: Stephanie Johnson of Pollen + Grace
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Pollen + Grace have collaborated with The Doctor’s Kitchen to create 100% plant-based vegan-friendly meal boxes, designed to fuel NHS heroes and nourish the nation. The limited-edition boxes are available via Pollen + Grace’s free-delivery service across central London with 100% of proceeds donated to support NHS charities.
Dr Rupy of The Doctor’s Kitchen says: “I know first-hand what it’s like to work long shifts and not have the option available for a healthy and satisfying meal…We need better food for NHS staff and better food for the nation. Now more than ever, we need to focus on making it easier for everybody to lead a healthier lifestyle and encourage a cultural shift toward making good nutritional choices the norm.”
We caught up with Stephanie Johnson, Co-Founder of Pollen + Grace, a modern-day food service offering delicious, plant-based meals and snacks made with 100% natural ingredients to find out how the business came to being and how she finds balance.
What was your eureka moment?
Back in 2014 I found out I was intolerant to wheat, gluten and dairy and as an avid foodie, I was crushed. I very quickly realised that it was now impossible for me to eat out at restaurants or on-the-go, as there were few options that catered for me, and those that did, offered food that was dull and full of stabilisers and preservatives.
I trained as a chef back in Australia, but my background was more fine dining than healthy. I knew that if I ever wanted to eat delicious food again, I’d have to retrain myself to cook healthy, yet exciting meals using new ingredients like quinoa and chia seeds that back then you could only find in dusty health food shops.
I was cooking my own healthy meals and bringing them into work, which quickly sparked the interest of my colleagues who asked if I could make them lunch too. This was where I met Kris, my co-founder, and it was from those very humble beginnings that the idea for Pollen + Grace was born.
What is your elevator pitch?
Pollen + Grace is a modern-day food service run by nutrition experts who pride themselves in preparing home-cooked and nutritious meals and snacks made with 100% natural ingredients.
Our delicious range of 16 plant-based products is available at key retailers, including Ocado and Co-Op, and via a new delivery service across central London. We offer a variety of wholesome breakfast and dessert pots, salad boxes, hot pots and sweet treats that are free from gluten, wheat, dairy and refined sugars and designed to be enjoyed on-the-go by everyone.
How did you test your idea?
In our early days before we created our current retail range, we started as a lunch delivery service, cooking lunches in my home kitchen and delivering them to local offices on a bike. As it was a daily service, we couldn’t run Pollen + Grace alongside our stable careers and once we’d built a business plan and a website, we left our jobs and started testing out the concept full time. The early days cooking from home were so valuable and really allowed us to develop the product and our audience before we moved into a commercial kitchen and started growing the team.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business on their own?
My advice would always be to just start. We started Pollen + Grace super small, at the time delivering a few lunches on my bike was not fulfilling my ultimate goal for the product or brand, but if we’d waited until the concept was perfect then we’d have never started. My Co-Founder Kristina would always say, make sure you have your finances in check. One of the best decisions we ever made was to hire an FD very early on.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I’ve been very lucky to have help from a lot of amazing entrepreneurs who have given us their time and advice. I don’t have a formal mentor, but we do have a very strong support network we can lean on which has been invaluable and helped us navigate some tricky moments. I’m always keen to pay back the support we’ve had, so our kitchen door is always open to those just starting out.
What’s your plan B?
To be honest, there isn’t one. Pollen + Grace encompasses all of my passions in life, creating amazing healthy food, building a brand, growing and supporting a team – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Plan B would be to do it all over again, just skipping the lessons learnt the first time around!
What is the most worthwhile investment that you have made?
People. We’ve invested a lot into building a strong team of amazing women, and a few men too! We couldn’t do it without them. It takes a lot of time, money and energy but when you see people succeed and grow, it’s worth it.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
At this point I think it’s probably worth mentioning that neither Kristina or I had any previous FMCG or manufacturing experience before starting Pollen + Grace, so naturally we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. But we’ve also managed to create a really unique brand and product which perhaps would not have been possible if we knew how things were supposed to be done.
What is coming up for Pollen + Grace?
What book would you recommend that everyone reads and why?
Traction – managing a fast-growing team and company can be very challenging but this book will give you all the tools you need to make sure you do so in a scalable way on strong foundations. An actual lifesaver.
How do you find balance in your daily life?
Still working on that one…. But I do find that prioritising sleep and daily exercise are the two most important things I can do to maintain a level head, if either one slips then I struggle to maintain my equilibrium. And getting out into nature, you really can’t beat it.