From a food processor and a bag of nuts to an award-winning nut butter brand

From a food processor and a bag of nuts to an award-winning nut butter brand
Susan Yule
Susan YuleHungry Squirrel

Posted: Thu 22nd Apr 2021

Susan Yule is the founder of Hungry Squirrel, a brand that provides alternative nut butters to traditional peanut products.

An intolerance to peanut butter inspired the Aberdeen-based entrepreneur to start the business. What began with a food processor at home is now a company with a commercial kitchen and the winner of several awards.

Hungry Squirrel is also selling on Amazon's online store after the entrepreneur took part in a Bootcamp for food companies as part of the Amazon Small Business Accelerator.

Here's Susan's inspiring story. 
The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in 218 bitesize videos.  
If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your member dashboard to access the e-learning. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

"I started Hungry Squirrel in May 2017 from my home kitchen after becoming intolerant to peanut butter and finding the alternative nut butters available on the supermarket shelves at the time bland and uninspiring.  I also wanted to provide my children with a healthy, nutritious spread that was not full of refined sugar and palm oil.

"I started looking online for ideas and recipes and was quickly inspired to create interesting flavours that could be used with all sorts of accompaniments."

What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

"I started the business with no financial backing, so it was quite literally a domestic food processor, a bag of nuts and an idea from the outset. I quickly saw a gap in the market for what I was doing and set about finding my customer base and developed an outline marketing strategy.

"I began selling at local farmers' markets in and around my hometown of Aberdeen and started seeing repeat customers and began getting valuable feedback with which I was able to adapt my recipes to suit customer requirements. One example of this was to replace honey with agave syrup in a couple of recipes to make the entire range suitable for vegans.

"Gradually building the business and seeing an increase in sales enabled me to buy bigger, better equipment and eventually move my production from home to rented commercial kitchen premises in January 2019."

What is your marketing strategy for engaging with customers and making sales?

"From the beginning setting up a strong social media presence was key - a cost effective way of connecting with potential customers.  I continue to experiment with social media posts, promotions and collaboration with likeminded businesses to engage with existing and attract new customers.

"I contact and visit independent retailers and offer samples and introduce my business to them,  enabling me to sell through these retailers has made my brand more accessible and is an ongoing process.

"I set up an online store early on in the business and this has been a great way to make my products available to customers from all over the UK and the rest of the world.

"Part of my marketing strategy has also been to enter competitions that will raise the profile of the brand and give potential customers a degree of assurance that they are buying from a reputable company. To date, Hungry Squirrel has won three awards including a BBC Good Food Show Producer's Bursary Award in 2017, Healthy Choice Award at the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2018, and a Great Taste Award with one star in 2020."

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

"COVID-19 has definitely changed my business over the past year. I haven't been able to attend the usual events and farmers' markets that are part and parcel of running a food business, however on the flipside of that, online sales have increased significantly.

"Retail sales have remained strong. Some new shops and takeaway cafes have started up and seem to be doing very well - particularly with the focus on buying and supporting local. This is definitely something that people are much more aware of and willing to support.

"Online events, networking, and meet the buyer events are all becoming the norm now and you do wonder if we'll ever revert to our old ways of travelling to meetings and events which can be easily hosted online."

Why did you decide to apply for the Amazon Small Business Accelerator Bootcamp?

"As a loyal Amazon customer myself, selling Hungry Squirrel on Amazon had always been on my radar, but it always seemed like a bit of a minefield when I looked at getting an account set up.  So when I saw the opportunity to join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator Bootcamp with Enterprise Nation I didn't have to think twice about applying to participate."

What were the key benefits of the Bootcamp for your business?

"Taking part in the Bootcamp made the whole process of setting up my Amazon store less daunting. I was able to go in with an understanding of all the options available to successfully build a sustainable business presence.  The workshops were hosted by knowledgeable speakers with first-hand, practical experience on all aspects of setting up your store and a whole range of topics related to selling your products in both the UK and overseas."

Hungry Squirrel

What actions did you take after taking part in the Bootcamp?

"I set up my Amazon store and populated it with suitable photos and relevant information about my product range - all made easier with the information provided during the Bootcamp.

"I have started my Amazon journey managing sales independently but have plans to switch to the Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) service in time once I have the capacity."

What is your strategy for making sales on Amazon?

"To continue to build my presence on Amazon and attract more sales by encouraging customer reviews and repeat orders. Listing optimisation and product photography will be key to building a strong brand presence before switching to FBA and harnessing the power of Amazon Prime."

What tips have you picked from the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme?

"There are so many great videos including 'building a community and why this matters', 'brand building for growing companies' and 'secrets to SEO success' - all important aspects of starting and growing a small business and having a strong online presence.

"The 'brand building for growing companies' video with Rachel Whittaker prompts you to consider who your community is and what you have in common, what are the key interest and attitudes of the people who will buy into your brand - this in turn will help you to develop your brand mission, values and goals so that you can post engaging content with a clear and definite message."

Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?

"I attended a talk with Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne of Genius Foods a couple of years ago and I was so inspired by her story of determination in creating a great tasting gluten-free bread which was as good as regular bread. She never gave up until she had the product she wanted and then kept on going, despite numerous knockbacks. until she got that first supermarket listing. That determination and drive are what I strive for every day."

What are your top tips for business success?

"Never give up on your dreams. If you have a vision and a goal, keep aiming for success. Disappointments and knockbacks are part of that process and you have to learn from them and keep moving forward.

"Connect with as many groups, organisations and like-minded individuals as possible. I have found so much support in my region which has opened up all sorts of introductions and opportunities which have really helped me develop and shape my future business plans.

"Very few people start up a business and understand everything that is needed to run that business successfully, so it is essential to keep learning and adapting to the ever-changing business landscape that lies ahead."

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in 218 bitesize videos.  
If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your member dashboard to access the e-learning. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Susan Yule
Susan YuleHungry Squirrel

You might also like…

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.