Q&A with Little Bird's Megan May

Monday, 4 March 2019 5:39:00 pm Pacific/Auckland

When did you first discover plant based and raw food as a way of eating?

I had never had a big love affair with eating meat, growing up on an organic farm I knew first had where our meat, eggs and dairy comes from and what larger scale conventional operations looked like - factory farming is something I never wanted to be a part of supporting so I always once I stopped eating junk food as a teenager I was eating less meat than the average person, I mostly just consumed fish unless it was from a good source. Over time I gradually reduced my meat consumption until it wasn’t a part of my diet anymore. 

In my 20s I spent a lot of time unwell and with a raft of medical issues. I was a very determined young woman working as a chef in London and set to prove that I could handle the long hours and stress inducing environment, but unfortunately my strong-minded personality meant I ignored my bodies internal cues and it eventually took a toll on my health.

I had grown up on an organic farm with parents who were pioneers in the Organic movement in New Zealand and so I already had a good understanding of the importance of organics, the detrimental reality of conventional farming and animal rearing, and the necessary skills to eating a predominantly wholefoods diet from garden to plate.

Despite this, my ailments just wouldn’t go away when I returned to my roots of an organic wholefoods diet. Being unable to work, I was rather desperate to try anything to get better. I spent my time doing a lot of research and trialed many different things.

A raw plant-based diet was once of the things I came across and I decided to give it a go. Soon after going on an almost exclusively raw plant-based diet, my health began to improve and my energy started coming back.

Green smoothies and juices were at the heart of this, along with my sprouted granola and nut milks. This was around 10 years ago now. Now that my health is vastly better, I don’t consume an exclusively raw diet and focus on a plant-based organic wholefoods diet, with plenty of raw veggies in there, especially during the Summer months. 

How popular was this style of food back then?

A raw plant-based diet was almost unheard of back then. A big reason why we created our first two products, the Grawnola and Macaroons was because there was nothing out there on the market that could satisfy my needs. As a chef, I’ve always placed a huge amount of value on taste and quality, and so although there were some organic, gluten-free and wholefood plant-based options out there at the time, they weren’t very tasty.

Little Bird Organics was almost born by accident. To begin with, the products were created as a solution to both getting better and looking after my health, without compromising on taste and quality.

What sparked the initial idea for Little Bird?

The initial conception of Little Bird was completely by accident. The idea of turning it into a business really came after friends and family tasted the products and couldn’t believe just how delicious they were. It was then that I wanted to share my food with others, showing them just how exciting, delicious and innovative plant-based foods could be. We deserve to both enjoy our food and feel good from the food we eat. Through Little Bird, I could express that this was possible – it simply isn’t true that you have to give something up to prioritize your health and wellbeing.

Was starting your own business something you had been considering for a while?

When I was 22 I used to tell people I was going to open a café on Waiheke. I remember meeting up with someone after I started, and they said isn’t it amazing you did exactly what you said you were going to do. I had always wanted to share delicious healthy food with people but wasn’t brave enough to take the plunge and make it a career, until I tried out a few other career paths and realized that it was always what I was supposed to do.  

What have been the biggest highlights so far?

Since starting Little Bird Organics I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities. From speaking at Tedx to being an ambassador for Hyundai and getting to drive around in their amazing electric cars.

Opening our first café in Kingsland was one of the major highlights. I had dreamt of having a café for so long, that it was incredible to see how well it was received. Having many of Auckland’s top chefs eat at Little Bird has been incredibly validating for me too, that I’m doing what I’m meant to do – make healthy food delicious and inviting for everyone.

And what have been some of the biggest challenges?

Running a business certainly isn’t short of challenges – being constantly challenged is one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of running a business. One of our biggest challenges is keeping cost down. When you’re running an organic, handmade, wholefoods company and there is no option for compromise or taking shortcuts, it gets expensive. I would love to be able to be a part of changing the New Zealand food industry, so that organic produce was more available and affordable for everyone.

Tell us about your team? How have they contributed to your journey?

We have such an amazing team across the company from manufacturing to the café. They are a passionate bunch of really good, hard working people. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful for our team and the work they do. Many of our staff have their own stories of either themselves or a family member suffering from debilitating illness, which led them to discovering Little Bird. Therefore, they share that same passion for health and wellbeing, and really believe in the work we are doing, which I think is powerful for creating a strong and cohesive team.

What drives you?

Doing what’s right. The current state of the environment and our health as a nation isn’t looking good and changing how we consume and what we eat can have a significant impact on these major issues. Eating a predominantly organic plant-based diet and being more conscious about our consumer habits is something I know can create positive change and Little Bird is about inspiring people to make those changes. I love what we do and want to share that with as many people as I can. A delicious plate of organic plant-based food can go a long way to opening someone’s mind for what’s possible.    

Who Inspires you?

Everyone – honestly, I think everyone you meet has something to teach you. I am constantly inspired by our team, my daughter, family, friends, customers and shareholders. I love listening to people’s stories in life and business (at times I become a bit of a podcast or audio book junkie). I get so much inspiration and drive from listening to other people’s stories and their own struggles – and it doesn’t need to be someone who’s done anything grand. It’s usually in the details that I find inspiration and meaning for life, which gives me the drive and passion to continue to grow little bird into being an ever-evolving business.

At Huckleberry, shopping locally and seasonally is really important to us, and something we are working to support more and more. Tell us, what does ‘support local’ mean to you?

I really believe in getting to know your local farmer and producers. When purchasing a product, I always do my research. Supporting local and getting the best, highest quality product and produce often go hand-in-hand. Our product quality and standard here in New Zealand are very high, that when you support local you’re often getting the best quality product too. It really pays to get to know your brands and their story. As it is often the story that determines their values and thus the quality of the product itself.  

Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs out there?

Talk to other people in business before you start and really asses whether owning your own business is really for you – it’s certainly not for the faint hearted. If you want to have weekends off or long summer holidays – think again. You must be so passionate about what you’re doing that things like that won’t even bother you.

Working for someone else doesn’t mean you can’t do extremely meaningful work that is rewarding. But… if you can’t shake the bug that you want to do your own thing – go for it! Enjoy the ride and learn as much as you can at every step of the journey.  

What’s your favorite Little Bird snack?

Gosh I love them all! I made them for myself after all. 9 years on I still love the macaroons, chocolate is usually my go-to, but the passionfruit ones are such a flavor explosion – its hard to choose. For breakfast on-the-go for myself and my daughter Pepper, I’m loving our new Good Breakfast Cookies at the moment.

Anything you can tell us about any new and exciting projects on the horizon for Little Bird?

We have lots of projects we are chipping away at currently and we will see which ones come to fruition. There are so many steps in the process from idea to end product and sometimes things don’t work out as expected. But you should be seeing new products and flavours coming soon….  

Little Bird Macaroons are 20% off at Huckleberry during March 2019 – be in quick, while stocks last!

 

Posted in Organic Life By

Ally Hetherington

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