Interview with Anna Sward, founder of Protein Pow Edible Cookie Dough

Find out how Anna Sward’s hobby of using her dad’s protein powder to bake with, has grown into international cooking workshops, two book deals, an app and a business – Protein Pow.

What’s your career background?

I studied Psychology at St Andrews before moving to England to study Transnational Studies. I did an MA and PhD and, while on the last year of my PhD, started Protein Pow – as a hobby really.

I then enrolled on a three-year MBA, but I had to leave before the second year started as I found myself ‘with child’ and couldn’t properly tackle work, the MBA, and the notion of caring for a darling little precious and cuddly newborn.

Where did the idea of Protein Pow come from? 

I grew up with protein powder tubs in our house thanks to my dad who’s always been really into weightlifting and nutrition.

I always used the protein powder we had at home as an ingredient instead of the basis for a shake. I made puddings with it, pancakes, muffins, cakes, anything/everything! My friends thought it was eccentric, I thought they were missing out.

Who’s your target audience? 

I’d say millennials like me and younger people who are into the idea of having their cake and eating it too! Intense foodies who value nutrition at the same time as they love great-tasting food.

How did you transition from idea to actual business?

It started gradually. I created Protein Pow as a hobby – I used it as a way to catalogue my journey through the land of protein cooking and as a way to inspire those reading to treat protein powder not as a supplement but as an ingredient.

I didn’t think anyone besides my dad and a few friends would read the website but it quickly gained momentum and I started being contacted by major sports nutrition brands for workshops, content, sponsorships.

I ran cooking workshops with pro athletes and members of the public in the US, UK, and Sweden, published my own cookbook (which then gave rise to two book deals from a major publishing house), and released an app (the Protein Pow App, available on iOS and Android).

I also wrote for various fitness publications  to promote the idea of protein powders being a healthy and tasty ingredient for healthy and delicious protein-enriched meals and snacks.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media was huge for Protein Pow getting to where it is – with over 120K followers across the three main social media platforms and a website with over 17 million views to date.

The early days of Facebook were especially exciting as engagement was through the roof. Things were more fun before the advent of algorithms hiding half the things you post. Everything was more democractic, far more accessible, more fun.

Nowadays, we still spread the word organically via social media of course, but alongside that now we depend on word of mouth. People telling their friends/family about, “OMG have you heard of this brand/tried their products!?”

What’s been the biggest high and the biggest low of your journey so far?

The biggest high would have to be the first day I saw our cookie dough bars on shelf, at Whole Foods in early 2019. They were our first retailer and I always dreamed of our bars being in Whole Foods – it was and always has been our products’ true home.

We spent over 18 months working on our cookie dough bars so seeing them there, on shelf, that was really exciting.

The biggest low to date would have to be, gosh, not really a low-low but a shock: when a massive kilo tub of peanut butter burnt inside my backpack, right on top of my laptop. I picked the laptop out of my bag and it was oozing nut butter, there was oil coming out of every orifice. I took the poor thing to the Mac store the next day and the employees there were all laughing with horror in their eyes, “we’ve never thing anything like it!” they were shocked.

The machine, miraculously, still works but it can’t be used because the screen has a layer of oil behind it, so you can’t really see anything. It still has a vague peanut butter smell to it and I refuse to throw it out.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Being a small brand without millions behind us is definitely a challenge as we’re on shelf next to companies that have a lot of money to invest on marketing, advertising, and PR. We don’t.

We’re small and our growth has relied exclusively on offering people something genuinely different, exciting, tasty, and fun! Something that can make their lives easier and in the process, happier too.

Why is work so important to you? 

Because of money! No, I’m kidding. Money has never been a driver for me. I think it’s important to have a job you find fulfilling, a job you’re good at and can contribute something to the world through.

I released our cookie dough bars because I could not find a snack I liked on shelf: something without an endless list of artificial yadiyadiyas; something tasty and with nutritious ingredients instead of a candy bar in disguise which by the way contains protein.

I wanted a genuinely healthy snack that ticked all my boxes: gluten-free, plant-based, with no artificial ingredients and no sugar that happens to be delicious, high in protein, and high in fibre too. Couldn’t find anything like it so I created it.

How do you balance your work with your family?

It’s not always easy but with planning and flexibility, I think it’s doable. It’s important to outsource things you’re perhaps not best at and ensure you’re not out there trying to do everything yourself because you can end up burnt out and unhappy. Delegating responsibly to third parties is key to achieving balance.

I spend a lot of time with my family outdoors too, planting vegetables in our garden and/or going on hikes/walks in the countryside! I

also make sure to take care of myself and do things I love: like weightlifting! I have a bunch of weights at home and love-love-love putting on a good show or turning on some fab music to POW! Lift those weights up the floor.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Be ready for the highs and lows because entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster and you need to be ready for flowers and birdsongs one day, sharks and rough waters the next.
  2. Love what you do, at the core, really love it because when things are tough that love is the only thing that’s going to keep you buckled to your seat.
  3. Believe in yourself too, believe that you can do what you set your mind to. Don’t be scared to dream big and don’t ever put obstacles in front of yourself that you don’t have to. Dance to your own rhythm too, not anyone else’s. 

Find out more about Protein Pow.