July 5, 2022
As part of our Entrepreneur Series, this month we had the pleasure of getting to know Dafna Bonas, Founder & Chief Indie of Indie Bay Snacks, a snack business which creates products that are packed with health benefits. We chat to Dafna about her background before Indie Bay Snacks, where her inspiration came from for starting her snack business, current trends she sees in the Food Product market and much more.
1. What’s your background prior to setting up Indie Bay Snacks?
I am a passionate about and fully indoctrinated into the world of consumer goods, having started my career at P&G Brand Management after graduating from Stanford University. Though I left to earn an MBA at Harvard, I had worked across sales, research marketing and product development as part of the new line I launched while in Cincinnati – that really is the best place to learn about running and growing a business.
While I started my career in big blue-chip companies, my passion for nimble challenger brands has meant I’ve moved to progressively small firms with each step.
Though I joined McKinsey UK during my MBA and was about to return, I craved an operational, entrepreneurial role again and was delighted to join Turner Broadcasting as an “intrapreneur” instead, launching young businesses for them. I then turned to consumer tech in the early wild cowboy days of the internet, having launched Excite Europe and then eos ventures.
The growth of that sector had yielded tremendous success, but giving back was not yet an entrenched practice amongst tech founders. I cofounded Founders For Good (now called Founders Pledge) with Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox to make it easy for founders to give back and remain a trustee of the now +£7b of pledge value that we manage and help direct.
Working Founders Pledge led me to Jamie Oliver’s board, where I learned more about the crisis we face in the junk food category. To me, a large impending crisis spells opportunity, and I launched Indie Bay to offer snacks with benefits at affordable, mass scale.
2. Where did your inspiration come from to create Indie Bay Snacks?
Indie Bay brings together so many things I am passionate about. I lived in California during university and after business school, as well, and really loved it the optimistic mindset and healthy lifestyle. I have always loved cooking and have always been focused on healthier options, especially since I have become a mum.
On a macro level, there is no doubt that the inexpensive, highly processed food causing the health and obesity crisis has to change – 62% of UK adults are overweight or obese, following trends in the US. A staunch believer that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem, I wanted to create a natural, healthy, delicious alternative to crisps beneath a unique and relevant brand identity. Diet, low cal snacks had to deliver more to attract mainstream snackers, and we had the products to do it.
On a more micro level, I had enough of arguing with my husband and kids over the snacks we bought for the house and school. I could not bring myself to buy the junk they wanted yet the healthier options I bought did not tempt them and sat in the back of the drawer, collecting dust – there had to be a better way.
3. You started the company back in 2016, what has been the hardest barrier to overcome since setting up the snack business?
The first challenge was finding a manufacturer to back us when we were nothing more than an idea. Once we found a partner able to produce our unique recipe to the quality we needed and willing to take the risk, it was a challenge to find distribution and break through the noise. For challenger brands, this is an ongoing opportunity that requires indie thinking and creative irreverence.
I always remind my team that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and we try to find unexpected ways to delight both retailers and snackers with our message. With the buyers, we work hard to lead with data and explain how our product will work well for them, providing market insights and quantifying the size of the prize.
4. What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the Food Products market currently?
The drive for low-calorie options remains strong. However, consumers no-longer see this as sufficient driver of choice – the expect more.
Three of the most significant over-arching trends driving growth we see in the food sector today are convenience, planet-friendly options and health benefits without compromise.
For convenience, we see the rise of prepared meals, premixed ice coffees
For planet-friendly options, we see vegan or vegetarian alternatives, water in cans rather than bottles, alternative packaging solutions and obviously plenty of meat-alternative foods (often plant based but not very healthy, so read the fine print!).
Those looking for health benefits without compromise are driving the lo to no alcohol drinks sector as well as the healthier snacks explosion.
Luckily, Indie Bay is a snack business that straddles all three trends.
5. What is unique about your snack business in the market?
Brand ultimately drives longevity, and the Indie Bay brand has a strong, loyal and fast-growing community that believes in our commitment to more of the good stuff.
Indie Bay brings active healthy markers – more of the good stuff – to diet bagged snacks whilst maintaining existing category expectations. Whilst there are many diet snacks on shelf that focus on taking away and denial, Indie Bay is “The California Snack”. Supported by strong California wellness iconography, we are unique in the space by delivering low cal, low fat, with added protein and natural ingredients to delight and exceed diet snacker expectations.
6. What are your 3, 5 and 10 year goals for your snack business?
In 3 years, we should be listed in every one of the main supermarkets in the UK and fast – growth European markets. We have already seen interest in France, Germany, UAE and Singapore and have started selling in these markets. We should also be partnered with a strategic powerhouse by then, entering the US markets and perfecting the offering.
Within 5 years, I expect us to be part of a large multi-national food specialist, leveraging their infrastructure, manufacturing and marketing muscle to grow our brand worldwide. We will be in multiple markets in the US as well as Asia with an expanded “snacks with benefits” product line.
In 10 years, expect global healthy snacking predominance of Indie Bay and “More of the Good Stuff.”
7. What 2 personality traits do you think makes a good business leader?
Optimism and Tenacity. There are such tough times along the way – you have to stay to see the glass half full and believe you’ll find a way through the challenge…and then have the grit to stick with it and persevere creatively until you do.
8. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting up their own business?
It’s never the perfect time – if you have a vision, don’t talk about it too much and don’t wait. Go do it.
9. As the owner of a business, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
As a female founder, I spend time thinking about what I model to my son and daughters. I want them to see that it is possible to have a flourishing business with purpose while maintaining a healthy balance. That certainly doesn’t mean I get it right all the time, but that is one of the lessons – keep doing your best, adjusting, and striving for a balance that works at any given time. I run, do yoga, meditate and am a Peloton Addict – since covid, we all are!
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