Stay-at-home mum Patience Arinaitwe-Mugadu has had quite the journey. After a health scare prompted her to take up a healthier lifestyle, she noticed there wasn't a brand in the supermarkets selling fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
So she started making her own, which in turn got quite the following from mums on the school run and husband Andrew's colleagues.
With three kids - Andrew, 10, Keirungi, 8, and Kwezi, 4, how does she do it?
Your idea for the business was actually sparked by a health concern – is that right?
I went for a routine visit and I heard the words: “You will have to be scanned for a brain tumour”.
For me, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. I’ve lost family members to cancer, and I’ve always had the fear at the back of my mind. The words freaked me out – everything came rushing back. That moment became magnified.
How did you change things at first?
Years before I became a full time mum - while I was working at a law firm – during my lunch break I’d look up healthy food. Things like kale and Chia seeds were in the back of my mind.
My lifestyle wasn’t really bad but it wasn’t as good as it should be – if I wrote a food diary I’d be proud but it was about adding values to what I was eating. I wanted to add the vitamins and minerals of vegetables to pure fruit juice.
I was trying to be realistic – I knew I couldn’t on something that tasted like rat wee – so the half and half concept came to my mind.
I don’t know about going fully veggie – I didn’t know if I could live with that. But when I popped to the supermarket but there wasn’t anything pre-prepared on the shelf, so I got the ingredients and started making it myself.
I spent six to eight weeks waiting for results, and when they came back it was all fine. The scare was unrelated to cancer but it really changed me and made me think about what I put into my body and whether I wanted to go through that again. At the same time, it woke my husband up as well – he also started taking the juices to work, and my kids took them to school – eventually, word spread.
How did things move from making them at home to setting up a business?
Andrew used to take samples to Goldman Sachs where he used to work – I think he was the only banker coming in with beetroot juice!. His friends at work would make requests, so I sent out samples. I then started selling juices on the school run and to his friends, but then it went completely out of control and was too much for the kitchen at home.
That’s when I asked Andrew – with his talent and expertise - to start Vegesentials. We started working day and night, building the idea and figuring out what we’re bringing to the market – fresh, vegetarian essentials.
The name came about because I was trying to get that message – it is yummy, it is half fruit, half veg – as well as keeping that promise to the school mums. So not pasteurizing or adding additives, and finding a manufacturer who could replicate what I was doing in the kitchen.
We had quite a lot of luck considering we had no background in this, and we asked friends and family for advice. When we rang Whole Foods, the buyer said “we’ve been waiting for your call for five years”.
The UK’s first raw fruit and veg juice brand in the supermarkets is a big deal though – how did you get it off the ground?
There was a lot of research we had to carry out because the manufacturing process – HPP, which has been a breakthrough for most raw smoothie brands - hadn’t been tested on fresh fruit and veg.
Vegetables have less acid and high pH – they didn’t think it would keep as well as the fruit. But it worked!
At the moment the juices are made in a factory in Holland – all ingredients are fresh and juiced at core temperature. They are bottled immediately and put into a big machine that releases a cold pressure that deactivates pathogens that causes spoilage.
Where are they stocked at the moment?
Ocado, Whole Foods, Planet Organic, Waitrose nationwide, Partridges and two Danish supermarkets and some other retailers.
Running your own business can be stressful – how do you manage the balance?
Well, at the moment, I’m in my son’s bedroom on his bed. My husband has gone to pick up the kids and they are banned from coming in. It’s manic on a daily basis – there are screaming kids in the background.
We work round the clock and Andrew and I manage different parts of the business. His strengths are completely different to mine – logistics, finance, money – and I deal with other parts of the business.
In terms of home, there is no difference between what daddy does and mummy does – it’s essential that we can replace each other at the drop of a hat – he washes up, bathes the kids.
What time does your day kick off?
There is no average start time at all – I’ve talked to Andrew about going to bed and dreaming of vegetables and fruits – an idea will pop into your head at 4am, and you know you won’t remember – so you take notes, and you might not go back to sleep. But we have realised that we have to force ourselves to stop and re-energise to bring fresh energy to the business.
So on Saturday, we try not to work between 2 – 6pm, and we play tennis with the kids. At the same time, I find myself checking Facebook and Twitter.
What advice do you have for other women starting their own business?
I would say, go with the gut feeling and believe in it – all of this has been a complete gamble. This has been about trusting ourselves enough even if we feel we don’t have the experience.
You and Andrew now work together – does that have an impact on your relationship?
I keep asking Andrew if he’s okay having given up working in finance – he said he has no regrets. This role taps into every bit of Andrew there is, which is fantastic. He can apply himself because he used to trade in carbon emissions and he can use creativity, which he wasn’t able to before. There is no limit to what he can do and no single day that is the same – the bonus is he gets to watch the children grow up.