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CommonwealthFirst is CWEIC's flagship initiative to help SME’s trade and invest across the Commonwealth.

Over three years, 100 leading UK SMEs have been selected to become CommonwealthFirst Export Champions. Export Champions are provided with unique access and support in their quest to win new business in the fast growing Commonwealth markets. Their success will be showcased as an encouragement to the wider UK business community.

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Giving Tree Ventures Ltd – Third Cohort Export Champion

Giving Tree Ventures make healthy and innovate fruit and vegetable crisps with flavours including broccoli, pumpkin, mixed vegetables, mango, strawberry, apple and peach. Their freeze or vacuum dried products count as one of your five a day and are rich in antioxidants, potassium and fibre.

Key customers are retailers such as Whole Foods, Planet Organic and Ocado with end consumers anyone looking for a healthier alternative to normal crisps, especially parents looking for healthy snacks for their kids.

Its freeze drying process is an innovate technology used by Nasa to deliver long shelf life food to astronauts. For the first time the company is bringing this to the consumer at a manageable retail price.

Having already made their mark in Malta and Cyprus, CommonwealthFirst looks forward to helping the business extend its reach into Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.

Interview | Jonathan Newman, Managing Director

Jonathan Newman, Managing Director

What exactly is vacuum frying and freeze drying, and is it healthy?
Freeze drying is a process whereby the fruit is frozen and the moisture is removed via a vacuum. This means 100% of the nutritional content is retained without the need for preservatives. Vacuum frying is a process whereby the vegetables are fried at a very low temperature in a small amount of healthy rice bran oil. At this temperature, lee oil is absorbed and the nutritional content is retained due to the temperature.

How did the idea for your business come about?
On my travels to the US I noticed how big the freeze dried snack category was. In the UK it’s virtually non-existent. Freeze drying is a brilliant process that preserves the nutritional content leaving a really light, crispy and most importantly, healthy snack without the need of preservatives or added sugar.

How do you ensure the best taste and what’s your most popular product?
Strawberry followed by broccoli. Getting the taste and the texture right took a lot of work and development. It starts with picking the perfect fruit and veg at the optimum ripeness. Then it is about timing and temperature. A lot of freeze dried fruit can taste like polystyrene packaging – just air. However ours is bursting with flavour and has a light crispy texture.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
Traditionally freeze drying is a very expensive process, so bringing this to market at a reasonable price to the consumer has been the biggest challenge. Getting the texture right was also difficult. Finally, financing the start of any business can be challenging

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
To have any chance of success, you have to sell to a foreign buyer much lower than anyone else you would sell to. This is to account for shipping, any import duties etc. This really eats into your margins. In addition, we’ve done well in a few markets and so keeping up with supply has been an issue for us.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business? 
Ensuring good credit terms with my suppliers, and also ensuring I have enough cash to finance my business!

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
I’m interested in exploring and exporting to commonwealth countries.

What is a typical working day for you?
Well, as an entrepreneur, you really have to do a bit of everything! But I’m on XERO, my accounts package all day. This helps me stay on top of sales, bills, and cash flow. Then I have a hand in marketing, new business, logistics, design and everything else that appears during a given day.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
I’d like to have sold a stake to a strategic partner which will help us grow out distribution and break through that independent ceiling.

Do you have any exciting projects/products in the pipeline?
We are working on a range of freeze dried products aimed specifically for children and lunch boxes. In addition we are looking at some innovate new flavours never been seen before!

What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Don’t just think about it. Do it. But also make sure you are sufficiently funded. Ensure your idea is innovative but also scalable and does not face too much competition or barrier to entry.

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.