Interview with Susan Gafsen, co-founder of Pep & Lekker

Find out how Susan Gafsen was inspired to launch Pep & Lekker, an all natural food company when she noticed that her time-poor vegan son’s health was beginning to decline.

What’s your career background?

I worked for over 25 years in two of the most prestigious global law firms in the City but gave this all up to establish a wholesome, all-natural food business from scratch.

I think the vague notion about one day becoming a ‘foodpreneur’ was sown early on in my corporate legal career. The very nature of my job meant I spent significant chunks of my life listening to and advising successful entrepreneurs who were tackling their various pioneering adventures.

I didn’t know it then, but I suspect looking back that I was a little envious!

What was your Eureka moment?

I think my 50th birthday was the step-change moment when I thought, ‘it’s now or never’. There were no more school fees to pay, my kids were at university, my husband was fully behind me and it felt like the right moment to take on the next chapter in my life. That said, I didn’t jump in with both feet, deciding that business school and another degree was a sensible next step.

I then approached my sister-in-law Juliette, a fantastic cook and ex-psychotherapist and convinced her to join me in my mission to create simple, wholesome vegan food with far-reaching, everyday appeal.

Where did the idea for Pep & Lekker come from?

My lazy, time-poor son vegan son was the original inspiration for Pep & Lekker because I noticed his health was beginning to lapse. Hunting around the shops for suitable vegan solutions I quickly became disillusioned by the poor quality and nominal appetite appeal of so many of the products on offer.

I discovered that many of the free-from products trumpeted health claims that were at best spurious and too often untrue; in addition to an inventory of too often unrecognisable ingredients that were anything but all-natural.

The bigger picture was to do our bit to breakdown the psychological barriers that existed between mainstream and free-from foods by creating a selection of approachable, family-friendly, plant-based products with authentic everyday appeal.

What’s your USP?

A natural food brand providing simple yet delicious products with broad-brush appetite appeal. Our Seed Snacks are a sumptuous, three-strong collection of organic, gluten-free snacks brimming with full-bodied flavours and healthy convictions.

Each Seed Snack contains a minimum of five nutritious seeds and no unnecessary extras, be that half-hearted fillers, unwelcome oils or uninvited sugars (beyond those residing in the all-important apple that deftly binds the eclectic selections together).

Our soups, meanwhile, put healthy, best-in-class fresh soup back on a pedestal as the ultimate good-for-you fast food, because today’s so-called fresh soups are not as pure as they once were.

Our commitment was to no powders or starches whilst showcasing full-bodied flavours and vibrant colours. In short, soups made creamy with cashews that provide lentils and nuts with the perfect stage to showcase their often under-appreciated tastiness.

Who’s your target audience?

We appeal to an eclectic cauldron of healthier living types, from frustrated vegans and pregnant women, to open-minded flexitarians and coeliacs, to time-poor people looking to lose or manage their weight, and even the elderly and infirm who appreciate the manifold merits of top drawer soup.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media and our website are undoubted tools of the cash-strapped start-up, although we also fully embrace like-minded festivals and food shows (Vegan Life Live, Vegan Show, Plantbased Live and various free-from festivals), not forgetting the undoubted best friend of any sincere disruptor food brand, The Speciality & Fine Food Show.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Being part of the Seed Fund Academy has been simply breath-taking, and absorbing whatever we can from wise owl industry experts and kindred spirit start-ups has quite simply been game-changing.

Whether we are the eventual winners or not, we’ve gleaned so much from mingling with other like-minded fledgling brand pioneers.

And your proudest moment so far?

Ocado recognition for our soups, being embraced by the Seed Fund Academy and our new compostable/recyclable snack pouches, because our brand USP includes being respectful to the wider environment.

Also, receiving the feedback that we do and knowing that we are supporting some people in difficult or challenging times in their lives.

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

Generating awareness and trumpeting our many proud product successes on a shoe-string budget.

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

  1. Dig deep – we contest a highly competitive marketplace but we wouldn’t have it any other way because every small victory provides an unimaginable sense of personal pride.
  2. Don’t pigeonhole yourself – I changed career paths at 50; truly anything is possible!
  3. Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong – great ideas rarely enjoy a smooth trajectory, and obstacles will undoubtedly attempt to trip you up. But its all about how you react to those setbacks, and if you believe in what you’re seeking, overcoming those setbacks will ultimately make you stronger!

You can find out more about Pep & Lekker on their website