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June 08, 2017
When you win Forbes Russia’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, you know you’re doing something right! Elena Shifrina is the award-winning powerhouse behind BioFoodLab – the company that produces the healthy and nutritious Take A Bite snack bars, which feature zero additives, preservatives, colourings, flavourings or added sugar… but still taste absolutely delicious!
We sat down for a chat with Elena to find out what inspired her to start Take A Bite, what advice she’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and what’s next in the pipeline for BioFoodLab.
What inspired you to start Take A Bite?
During an internship in Boston, I was inspired by the locals' lifestyle – going for a morning jog and having a ready-to-eat, healthy snack – and realised that this is what I was missing in Russia at the time. That's how our first product, the Fruit & Nut Bite Bar, came to be; it’s absolutely natural, healthy and very tasty. Initially there were five flavours in the line, and now it's up to 11. Each flavour has a different functional purpose.
Take A Bite bars are free from all additives and preservatives – did this pose any problems in the ingredient sourcing and manufacturing process?
I wanted from the outset to create a natural and healthy snack with a composition that is clear and simple. All BioFoodLab products consist only of ripe fruits, juicy berries, nuts and aromatic spices, which provide the necessary amount of vitamins, trace elements and minerals. Nature has taken care that we get all the tastiest and healthiest ingredients – we only have to find trusted and certified vendors, who are responsible for the quality of products.
We have also developed a special technology of careful production, which allows our products to retain their healthy qualities without the use of preservatives. We do not add sugar and flavour enhancers, as ripe fruits and berries already have a natural sweetness. It is important that as many people as possible can buy a quality product and have a healthy snack.
How do you come up with the flavours for your products? How do you balance taste with nutritional value?
All our recipes are developed by the BioFoodLab team. They are real professionals, and their task is to ensure that Bite is the tastiest and healthiest it can be. We track healthy eating trends, analyse scientific research and get a perfectly balanced product as a result. Of course, we also focus on the taste preferences of our consumers and adapt the product to market opportunities.
What are the steps from conception of a food item to the final product? How long does that process take?
It took a year to create the company. First, I studied the market and waited to see if someone might finally put my idea into reality; quite a long time passed and no such product appeared, so I realised that I could make such a product myself! As for the product, several processes are implemented in parallel: development of the product concept, design, selection of ingredients and suppliers, production of a test batch… the entire period lasts for about six months.
Why do you think the idea of "clean eating" has become so popular recently? Do you think it's a trend that will just die out?
Leading a healthy lifestyle is a trend that still continues to grow. This situation has a positive effect on people – media, bloggers and opinion leaders "pick up" the trend, and the public domain now has lots of information about how to eat healthier, go for your first run and take up a healthy lifestyle. Many myths about healthy living have been debunked too – now we know that proper nutrition is not about bland and monotonous meals, but rather an extensive menu and a broad field for culinary experiments. You do not need to completely change your life to lead a healthy lifestyle; it's enough to start with small steps, such as replacing your usual snack with a Bite bar. And most importantly, you need to listen to yourself and your body – believe me, it will not disappoint you!
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in creating Take A Bite?
When we came up with the production and packaging technology for Bite, we were faced with a lack of the necessary equipment in Russia – this was our only real problem!
In addition to Bite snacks, what are your other kitchen pantry essentials?
In the first half of the day, I like a snack of fruit or some nuts. I also like green vegetable juices without added sugar.
What's an average working day like?
Usually, the BioFoodLab team starts the workday at 9am and finishes at 6pm. I myself work a lot, and often come to the office at the weekend to solve important questions. For me, BioFoodLab is like a family; I like spending time with my team, to invent new products and surprise our consumers.
You're quite active on social media – how do you think being on Instagram enhances your brand?
Social networks help us to be as close as possible to our audience. We know what our customers are attracted to, what is important to them and what they seek. This knowledge helps us to anticipate their expectations and always be one step ahead.
What else is in the pipeline for BioFoodLab?
BioFoodLab now carries three product lines: Take a Bite includes 11 flavours and last year, we launched a line of low-calorie fruit and berry Slim Bite bars, which are the ideal dessert for those counting calories and watching their figure. We know that it is sometimes hard to deny yourself a sweet, so we produce healthy goodies. Our latest innovation is Bite Candy, natural candies with no added sugar – this is one instance where you can eat a whole box of candy by yourself without any harm!
My children inspired me for our third big project, Bitey. I do not buy them snacks that have a lot of added sugar and chemical additives, and I want every child to have the opportunity to have a bite on the go and eat right. At the same time, the product has to be bright and interesting – after all, kids always want to grab all the unusual things in stores! With our children’s snacks, there are items for different ages: for the youngest, we have a fruit and berry Bitey bar, which is suitable for children from 2 years old. We have also developed Chewies, natural marmalade in various forms; from the outset, these have been a favourite with children and have proven a real hit. For children who, for example, play sports, we came up with the hearty Quadres – oat and fruit cubes. We will continue to develop our children's line, so that every parent can buy a child a snack and doesn’t have to worry about its ingredients.
What advice would you give to any fellow entrepreneurs and start-ups?
I adhere to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that 10,000 hours of work is needed to achieve success in any field – you have to believe in your idea and work hard.
... And what's the biggest piece of advice you'd give about nutrition and healthy eating?
The most important thing is to be in harmony with yourself and your body. It isn’t necessary to test yourself with all these new healthy lifestyle trends – we need to find our own way in nutrition and sports.
Rachel Read is a freelance writer, editor and blogger with over a decade’s worth of media experience under her belt. In addition to co-founding writing & editing agency Editors’ Ink and writing her own lifestyle and beauty blog Through The Looking Glass, Rachel is a food lover whose job frequently involves checking out the latest restaurant openings in Hong Kong – yum! Follow her on Instagram for #foodporn aplenty.
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