It’s time for my second Behind the Biz interview of 2018. I LOVE sharing these interviews with you and hope that they introduce you to some exciting brands and the hard-work that goes into creating them.
Throughout 2017 I shared over 40 Behind the Biz interviews with inspiring founders. If you’d like to find out more about why I started the series and my future plans for it check out episode 2 of my new podcast.
In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Kostas Papakostas the co-founder of Mr Organic – they offer authentic Italian organic food like tomato basics, pasta, rice olive oil and more. I personally think that they offer THE BEST dairy free Nutella alternative.
Where did the inspiration for Mr Organic come from?
Mr Organic was launched in February 2009 by myself and two close friends, Valerio Simonetti and Carlo Buckley. Valerio hails from a family of tomato producers that goes back three generations and Mr Organic was created to pair his family’s traditional food production expertise and meaningful relationships with farmers and producers to deliver great value organic food for people to enjoy every day.
Valerio had been working as a tomato producer in Italy and came to study in the UK after working with tomatoes for a long time. We decided we wanted to change the way people eat and have a positive influence in the food industry – we wanted to create a more sustainable future of food that impacted positively on people’s lives and the environment. Mr Organic is committed to improve the environmental footprint of food production, with a positive food ethic for a healthier world, which means that everything it does is traceable and sustainable.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
It’s actually a funny story! When we were setting up the business, we were so passionate about the potential for the brand and a more positive future of organic food and organic living that our friends started playfully calling us Mr Organic and it stuck! What was initially a tongue-in-cheek name ended up becoming a mascot and signifier of our brand ethos and the values were aiming to instil.
What did you do before starting Mr Organic?
Before starting Mr Organic, I worked in advertising for a variety of luxury lifestyle brands which was really exciting but didn’t have any ethical value or deeper substance. I began to really think about the purpose of my time in promoting things that people largely couldn’t afford to buy. I wanted to be part of a business committed to improving the environmental footprint of food production, with a positive food ethic for a healthier world, with everything being traceable and sustainable.
Did you always plan to set up your own business?
I continue to run a design agency so running my own business has always been part of my lifestyle. It is very a different mentality than working 9-5 for someone else – your job has to become your life and you can’t just leave and switch off at the end of the day – but I’m a workaholic so it suits me!
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Running a business is full of challenges. I think the biggest challenge we face is being able to stay completely true to our ethics. That is why we make sure everything is either grown on the brand’s own land in Pontinia, south of Rome, or by carefully selected partner producers, where the produce is traceable back to the fields where it was grown and is processed within five hours of harvesting. We make sure we only work with carefully sourced ingredients to create products that have all the benefits of being organic, vegan and free-from. We thoroughly test every product’s ethical value at every stage of the supply chain – it’s an integral part of what we are doing so it’s a challenge we embrace.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
I would call them more milestones than highlights as they’ve all been really key achievements in our business journey and have been integral to us taking the next step. The listing with Waitrose was a huge milestone for us as it meant we could be taken more seriously in the business and by other buyers. Even getting an office and our first employees was an exciting first milestone. Then of course the awards we have won for our various products have also all been really fantastic milestones.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
It was only fairly recently that we began to get serious about social media. It’s a really important channel to communicate with your consumers and build a real conversation. Coming from an advertising background it is refreshing to see the rise of social media as it invokes an honest dialogue and for the first time consumers can dictate what they want rather than brands just telling them what they should want. I think this is partly responsible for the rise of veganism as people are finally able to tell brands what their ethical and dietary choices are. I think each platform has its merits and is used for a different purpose but Instagram is a great platform to creatively showcase the brand.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It might sound obvious but you won’t get anywhere without a lot of hard work. You have to be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked if you want to meet the right people and get your product into their hands. You also need to believe in what you are doing as you are going to have to sell your idea and make people want to buy into you.
Where do you hope to take your business in 2018?
We just want to keep going and influence people positively by being more available and having more of an impact with as much presence as possible.
Thank you so much to Kostas Papakostas for taking time out of his schedule to get involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed hearing about his business journey and hope that you all feel just as inspired as I do.
I’ve been using the Mr Organic brand for over a year now and love everything I’ve tried. Their dairy free chocolate spread and basil pesto are my favourites. They’ve also launched a dark chocolate spread which I can’t wait to try. You can find a full list of their products over on their site.
I can’t wait to see Mr Organic grow and will certainly be supporting them in Waitrose.
If you’d like to get involved with Behind The Biz please leave a comment below or drop me a message over on Twitter.