Friday, 13 December 2019
Angelina Riccio and Tenna Anette of Purearth are bringing gut health to the masses, one dairy-free fermented drink at a time. Here’s how the pair switched lanes in the rat race and ended up founding an established health business.
These days, everyone from United Airlines to Carlsberg are caving into public demand and ditching single-use plastics. But some business people, like Angelina Riccio and Tenna Anette of Purearth, were way ahead of the curve. During a time when other companies were up to their necks in plastic packaging, Riccio and Anette stuck with glass, and used a third-party bottling company. ‘We don’t cut corners and everything is organic,’ says Anette. And if it isn’t always easy sticking to their core values, especially when dealing with distributors and chains, it is, to say the least ‘very satisfying’.
Ahead of the curve
There’s been another sea-change in perspective too, as contemporary medicine gets on board. It is the role that gut bacteria plays in our overall health, and how it may affect everything from our immune system to our mood (it has been directly linked to depression), and the links it has to bowel cancer, arthritis and heart disease. According to Acumen Research and Consulting, the gut health market will be worth $53bn by 2026, as wellness-conscious commuters increasingly exchange chocolate and crisps for fermented foods and probiotics. And once again, Riccio and Anette got there early, having founded Purearth in 2012 as a home business, initially serving up cleansing juices to their family and friends.
Purearth is now an established business, having grown 50% year-on-year (‘We’re aiming for £500,000 this 2019,’ says Anette). They anticipate breaking even in 2021-22. ‘We also now have a very experienced board,’ says Riccio, ‘which brings advice and added value.’ It’s been quite a journey for the former modelling agency boss, who now handles Purearth’s marketing and customer relations. She and Anette now produce the UK’s first dairy-free water kefir (a fermented drink originating in Eastern Europe), with four full-time office staff, and three people preparing daily deliveries in the kitchen.
The story begins after Anette returned from a Balinese detox retreat after years of burning herself out in round-the-clock events management, and hit upon a business plan. To start with, they sourced ingredients from farmers’ markets, then juiced all day every day, then did the admin at night, plus their own deliveries, and eventually became flatmates to halve costs, while acquiring a bigger kitchen. ‘We didn’t pay ourselves,’ says Riccio. ‘Many entrepreneurs fail because they don’t realise the sacrifices needed to keep the business going. We hit milestones, remained passionate and saw future success.’
The pair first moved into the mainstream market during 2013, after they were approached by Gail’s Bakery, which propelled them from a home business to a commercial one, with a commercial kitchen. ‘We were one of the first cold-pressed juices in the country and I think one of the first to have a commercial juicer and commercial cold-press machine,’ says Anette. ‘And once we got the commercial kitchen space we thought it was time to stop living together!’ adds Riccio. It was at that point they began to develop their kefir drink, launched the following year, to scale the company. The drink was originally incorporated as part of Purearth’s cleanse programmes, as it helps juice cleansers transition back to solid food for digestion.
While they ultimately want to become a household name, they appreciate kefir is still niche. To this end, they’re currently focusing on ‘turning up the volume on kefir’: educating people on the benefits of the drink through marketing, sales, sampling, brand awareness and festival promotion. ‘It’s an exciting area,’ says Riccio, ‘because gut health is such a big area now. People are realising the connection between the gut and the brain, and how it can affect anxiety, depression and mood. Your serotonin is produced in your gut, so if your gut is in good condition and working properly, it can affect your overall well-being.’ Their dream is to work with the NHS. ‘It’s an exciting time to be in the health and well-being sector,’ says Anette.
Purearth is also targeting postnatal mothers and mums-to-be with the launch of its ‘Mama Box’ in November. A veritable health food hamper, the Mama Box consists of cold-pressed green juices, dairy-free sparkling water kefirs, superfood shots, vegan broths and green powders – all providing essential nutrients, amino acids and minerals needed during and after pregnancy.
Expectant mothers are set to benefit from the Mama Box’s turmeric and ginger shots (turmeric is believed to aid breast milk production while ginger combatting the nausea experienced by morning sickness). Meanwhile, the chlorella and spirulina of its green powders can alleviate bloating and water retention; a godsend for any women suffering from swollen ankles. The Mama Box also contains Food State Pregnancy Formula. Developed by acupuncturist Ross J Barr, it helps nourish mothers before and after giving birth, as well as supplementing the production of breast milk.
Other new Purearth ventures include a Christmas revival box, aimed at relieving the hangovers and excesses of the festive party season. Riccio and Anette also aim to take advantage of the January detox season by launching a new healthy gut cleanse.
The pair are busier than ever, but still have advice for other entrepreneurs. ‘Don’t run before you can walk’ says Riccio. ‘Build the foundations and keep your values as you grow. And be flexible – if something doesn’t work, move on.’ Says Tenna, ‘Having more money doesn’t mean we can spend it all, but we can have the opportunity to scale much quicker, accelerate growth and capitalise on the market opportunity. We’re in the right place at the right time.’