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Darren Wingfield

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Image of Alex Smith, Alara WHolesale Foods
Episode 107

Starting a business with £2

Alex Smith founded Alara in 1975 with £2 he picked up in the street. Now he makes half of the UK's organic museli.

Along with others, Alex was very active in the squatting movement of the 1970s and he decided to live without money for almost a year. The day after he decided to start using money again, Alex found £2. He spent the money taking a van around New Covent Garden Market to gather fruits and vegetables which were to go to waste and sold them on in a squatting shop. That shop became one of the first health shops, selling flakes, fruits, dried fruit, seeds and nuts. By 1977, they were producing a mix of these ingredients that became the first muesli recipe with no added sugar.

Alara’s focus has always been on clean, healthy food. In 1988, Alara was licensed by the Soil Association to produce the first Organic certified cereal in the world.

Alongside environmental sustainability, social fairness was also a key consideration for the company. In 1993, Alara produced the first certified Fair Trade cereals for both Traidcraft and the Alara brand.

The focus has always been on health. Dealing with gluten-containing ingredients made it clear that this type of food causes health problems for some people. Wanting to serve those with sensitivity to gluten, Alara became the first company to be licensed by the Coeliac Society in 1996 to produce gluten free cereals.

Food waste and packaging waste had been long-term concerns for the company. Working with Southbank University under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Alara developed processes and systems to eliminate all waste, transferring them into other materials. In 2008, the Alara factory in King’s Cross became the first Zero Waste food manufacturer on earth.

By 2018, They had started using home compostable packaging and we’re presently challenging themselves daily to be the ‘Most Sustainable Food Manufacturer on Earth’.

During the chat with Alex, we discuss:

  • The journey of Alex and Alara
  • Creating a business from £2
  • Fishing in the Pacific for a year 
  • Being the first organic certified cereal in the world
  • Being the Most Sustainable Food Manufacturer on Earth
  • Investing in software and data
  • Getting the best from yourself with productivity hacks
  • What's around the corner for Alara
  • Recommended reading and mindset