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Emerging Talent: Real Rad Food’s Hannah Mellsop

Emerging Talent: Real Rad Food’s Hannah Mellsop

Not many 23-year-olds head up their own wholesale, plant-based food business, but most 23-year-olds aren’t like Hannah Mellsop. Thanks to a whole lot of work ethic and drive, the Mount Maunganui local has grown Real Rad Food, her business that creates plant-based slices and treats for cafés across New Zealand, from the ground up – and as she tells Araina Pereira, she’s just getting started.

Mellsop is a twenty-something who ticks many of the millennial boxes: she loves being active, being at the beach and is a born foodie, with a big love for drinking coffee and visiting cafés.

She’s also the founder of Real Rad Food, an outlet creates raw, plant-based slices and balls for its own store, its online store and the 64 cafés across New Zealand that stock her products.

Three years ago, Mellsop had finished university majoring in geography and education, and was spending the summer working in a café.

But on the side, she was passionate about making raw treats as a creative outlet. She’d showcase the creations on Instagram as a hobby and meet like-minded people, which led to her growing a following.

“I never wanted to own a café – my brand evolved from Instagram,” she says. “I just knew what I liked looking at on Instagram – big, chunky, colourful slices in a café – so I would go with that idea for wholesale and the raw balls designed in a way that I could send them.”

The more she shared, the more she realised there was a big movement towards conscious consumption and raw, natural foods. She begun selling the treats at local markets and soon formalised the business by founding Real Rad Food in 2016 and moving into wholesaling and distribution of her products. She initially invested $5000, which has been the only form of investment she’s received for the company so far.

“We have reinvested all profit back into the business, and haven't taken in any debt or investment,” she says.

She says her degree taught her to be able to articulate herself and communicate well with others, but having no prior experience in business means she’s had to train herself up on other fronts.

“I struggled to relate to the term entrepreneur,” she says. “I’ve come into my own more in the past year where I do see gaps in the market and I can market a product really well. That ability has grown, and I do see myself as an entrepreneur now.”

Some skills that have helped Mellsop along her journey include her ability to craft a strong online presence via social media. Real Rad Food’s Instagram page boasts a cult following of 25.1k people, while its Facebook page has 4100 likes.

“I am a good communicator, and can communicate to my online audience really well. I can be relatable and this helps,” she says.

“I’ve had no choice but to learn by doing and by doing exactly what I had to do. I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and I took it seriously. I've always had a work ethic, but this has made me work really hard and work has been top priority. I feel my priorities are different to others my age. But I'm obsessed with what I do, there's nothing I’d rather be doing, even though it's hard work.”

Design has also played a huge role in the success of Real Rad Food. From the look of the balls and slices to the packaging and portrayal on social media, Mellsop has cleverly worked to craft her brand in a way that appeals to her audience but holds true to her vision and heart for the company of being fresh, raw and eco-friendly.

She recently worked closely with Cam from Afternoon studio on a new look and feel for its packaging.

“I want us to be an eco-friendly, sustainable brand, but I don't want us to look like we are hippies! I want us to be a chic, cool brand,” she says. “I also wanted us to incorporate some of the ingredients into the patterns and I was sure that I wanted it to be a brown card box so it recycles, as I knew it was important for myself and my audience.”

As for what’s next, Mellsop has plans to start exporting, looking into dry mixes and providing alternatives for people with dietary requirements. She recently started this with her new keto-friendly slices.

I've always had a work ethic, but this has made me work really hard and work has been top priority. I feel my priorities are different to others my age. But I'm obsessed with what I do, there's nothing I’d rather be doing, even though it's hard work.

“I want us to be in 100 cafés by the end of the year, that would be great and I think it's definitely doable. I also want us to be running wholesale like a well-oiled machine. It's mostly working on the internal things in what we are already do, so that we are ready for the growth when it comes.”

Her advice for young people with an entrepreneurial streak include testing the market, seeing if there is a gap, starting it as a side hustle and creating demand for the product.

“You’ve got to recognise the sort of person you are, passion will fade if things go downhill. You need to have the determination and work ethic. I also think there is a huge merit in a side hustle before making it a full time gig. Real Rad was a side hustle and for a while I wasn't making money, but I was making cakes for people and they were buying it.”

And her ultimate goal for the future?  To ‘grow a community around beautiful food’.

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