Why did you start Branch of Life?
The main reason we started the company in 2019 was to address our own health issues. We looked at whether a plant-based diet could deliver benefits in terms of nutrition and overall health. By adopting the diet, we immediately saw improvements in our health, in our energy levels, and in the quality of our sleep. I was working at a hospital and it’s obvious that we have a population where diabetes, hypertension, heart problems and stroke are prevalent. We started Branch of Life to help everyone understand how a few simple lifestyle changes – such as changing their diet – can deliver incredible health benefits and protect against these diseases.
Many people do not have time to cook dinner if they’re working two or three jobs. They don’t know where to start when it comes to healthy eating or how to make eating healthily enjoyable. A lot of people see healthy food as bland or boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Branch of Life creates delicious plant-based meals that you wouldn’t believe could be part of a healthy diet. So many people want to be healthy but they don’t know what to eat.
Who or what gave you the courage to turn this idea into a business?
It was my friends. I’ve always been the one to say, “Let’s get healthy, let’s exercise and let’s get a group together and be each other’s cheerleaders.” The common problem was food because none of us could stick to a diet. No one had time to prep food, so I would make meals for my friends, and that helped them stick to a healthy diet. Then my family started doing it, and my friends were soon telling their friends. It eventually got to the point where we knew we should try to do it properly. We needed a commercial kitchen, however, so we decided to take that leap and do it for everybody.
The Ignite Programme came along at just at the right time. We were thinking of taking on the challenge but we didn’t know where to start. We pitched our idea and, having been accepted, they took us to the next level and provided us with the resources we needed.
What challenges did you overcome when launching the business?
It was difficult to find the start-up costs and underlying fees covering the legal side and licencing. We also needed to source supplies and find a kitchen to rent. We wanted to work from a café at first but the pandemic forced us to move the business completely online. This seemed like a backward step but now I think it was the right decision because everything is more accessible online. People want food delivered to their door right away. Shifting our business online decreased our overheads and allowed us to be more creative with what we supply. You can order as many breakfasts, lunches or dinners for the week ahead of time. We weren’t sure if this was the right thing to do but it’s ended up being a blessing.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
My advice to entrepreneurs would be to choose your path and follow your dreams. When the going gets rough – and it will – keep going. There’s always a way around or over any obstacle. You will need a positive attitude and to be prepared to reach out to others who have been in your shoes. It might not be easy to resolve problems yourself, but other people may be able to suggest a workaround that you hadn’t considered.
How can people go online and order your healthy plant-based meals?
We will have a range of breakfasts, lunches and dinners as part of different menus each week. Customers can visit the website and choose their meals for the week. All the nutritional information, from calories to ingredients, are listed so everyone knows what they’re putting in their body. We have a range of meals available, including plant-based raw diets, plant-based comfort food, and plant-based heart healthy, but they’re all healthy to be honest. We will soon be releasing plant-based desserts and snacks, and we will also be offering a catering service. Lots of older people can’t make their own meals and often want healthier options, so this is an area we’ll focus on. We’d also like to help those who aren’t technology savvy, so we’ll be able to take phone orders and deliver to their door.
What kind of feedback are you getting?
People love it, even those who were sceptical about plant-based foods. We hosted a very popular sip-and-cook via Zoom over lockdown. My mother was the chef and we sent all the ingredients to the customer so they could cook the meal at the same time. We will be continuing these events in the future. We’ve also tested our meal-prep system in the kitchen and sent it out to various experts for feedback. We’re really excited about offering plant-based versions of Bermudian cuisine like codfish and potatoes and fish sandwiches. We know that people will be wary of swapping their favourite foods for something they’re not familiar with, but we believe we’re creating a new way to enjoy traditional food. Having seen how much they’ve enjoyed the meals, and having heard the amazing feedback they’ve given us, we know we’re on the right track. They still can’t believe all the meals are plant-based though!
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned through Ignite?
Don’t give up. See the glass as half full rather than half empty. You will always have highs and lows on the journey, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the lows and give up. Ignite has always taught us to keep going and change each negative into a positive. You just need to take a moment to figure out how you’re going to get through the difficult patches. When things look rough, it’s not the end. It may look like the end at the time, but Ignite promotes positivity and that stuck with us. We can’t wait to contribute to healthcare in Bermuda.