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

I hope you’re all having a productive week. I’m back with another Behind the Biz interview and today we’re taking a closer look at a natural and vegan-friendly food company.

Today I’m chatting with Susan Gafsen, the co-founder of Pep & Lekker.

Irena Pechon Portrait Photographer

Where did the inspiration for Pep & Lekker come from?

In a nutshell: The idea stemmed from struggling to find tasty, wholesome food for my vegan son that could also be enjoyed by the rest of my family. The more I dug into the UK’s incumbent vegan offer, the more disheartened I became reading labels and discovering ‘spurious’ health claims, unrecognisable ingredients and in many cases nominal ‘appetite appeal.’

Looking a little further down the track: We wanted to do our bit to break down the arm’s length image associated with so many ‘free-from’ foods. Creating a selection of enviable, family-friendly, plant-based products with broadbrush appetite appeal.

How did you decide upon your brand name? 

Pep & Lekker may sound like one of the highbrow law firms I used to work for, but in truth the explanation of our brand name is much simpler. Pep is all about the ‘pep in your step,’ whilst Lekker is a word of Dutch/ Afrikaans origin meaning ‘tasty’ and when we found it in the English Oxford dictionary we fell in love with it.

How did you approach your first major stockist? 

With trepidation! Neither Juliette or I came from the food sector, so there was no-one opening doors for us back in the early days. That said, Ocado were an absolute joy when we met the buyer at a trade show in March 2017. They instantly got what we were seeking to achieve in terms of honest, wholesome natural ingredients from Nature’s larder. They appreciated that we had no intention of staying a best kept secret, ‘discovery’ brand for the naturally inquisitive. Instead we chose to appeal to everyone from vegans, the health & weight conscious and flexitarians, to coeliacs, the organic fraternity, ‘empty nesters’ and pregnant women.

What did you do before Pep & Lekker?

I worked for over 25 years in two of the City’s most prestigious global law firms. I suspect that the very nature of my job, where I spent large swathes of my day listening to and advising successful entrepreneurs tackling all manner of pioneering adventures played a part sowing the seeds for my own ‘break out moment. That said, I didn’t jump in with both feet, choosing first to enrol in business school and secure a second degree.

My co-founder (& sister-in-law) Juliette is a sublime cook and ex-psychotherapist, so we genuinely bring a diverse skills set to the ‘healthier living’ party.

Did you always plan to be self-employed?

See last answer – I always believed I had sound business acumen but needed a business idea that I could really get my teeth into, which is where my vegan son comes in. I’d also just enjoyed my 50th birthday and had decided that it was ‘now or never,’ with regards to my step into the unknown.

Please share a highlight of your business journey to date.

Only one year down the line and there have been many, from securing our Vegan Society accreditation to seeing our products in such prestigious retail operations as Ocado, Planet Organic and Whole Foods Market or working with ‘kindred spirit’ partners like Wholegood & Diverse.

If I could have only one highlight it would be being enrolled within the Seed Fund Academy (I know the synergies!) absorbing whatever we can from ‘wise owl’ industry experts and like-minded start-ups.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Communicating our vision on a shoe-string budget!

Irena Pechon Portrait Photographer

What role does social media play for your business?

It is imperative for any brand with shallow marketing pockets! It may sound a tad old-school but Twitter resonates with us especially as it provides countless opportunities to rub shoulders with the great & the good of the UK’s thriving artisan food & drink movement.

What advice would you share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself, I changed career paths post 50 and don’t beat yourself up when things go a little wonky as that’s an inevitable consequence of stepping into the darkness. Believe me, without the ‘hairy’ moments, the breakthrough moments wouldn’t seem nearly as amazing.

Where do you hope to take your business in 2018?

Beyond London, into a national mult, (without diluting our commitments to the bustling independent food scene), a third tranche of npd (new product development) and most importantly of all becoming an established player within the mainstream, ‘healthier snacking’ arena.

Find out more about the delicious line-up of soups and seed snacks over on the Pep & Lekker site. You can also support them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

I want to say a huge thank you to Susan Gafsen for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I loved hearing about her career change, business journey and learning more about Pep & Lekker. Susan also offers fab advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

I love discovering independent foodie businesses and when they have a healthy twist it’s even better. I can’t wait to see Pep & Lekker continue to grow and look forward to finding out more about their future product developments.