The fruits of manufacturing labours

Posted on 10 Nov 2023 by Lanna Deamer

Nimisha Raja, Founder of Kent-based food manufacturer, Nim’s Fruit Crisps, was awarded an MBE in King Charles’ first ever birthday honours for her services to business and enterprise. The Manufacturer’s Lanna Deamer paid a visit to the company’s zero food waste factory in Sittingbourne to find out more.

Usually, factories have some interesting smells and as such, you may have heard us talk ad nauseum about our trip to see LUSH Cosmetics last year, one of the most pleasant smelling factories you could ever wish to visit. However, we’ve got a new contender to add to the list – Nim’s Fruit Crisps. The Kent-based factory blessed my nostrils with the scent of fresh citrus fruits on a recent visit.

A former coffee shop owner, Nimisha sold her previous company to start the UK’s first air-dried fruit crisp manufacturer in 2016, and has seen it develop into a huge success, supplying its growing range of products to high street retailers, pubs and bars, Eurotunnel, British Airways and, more recently, to ‘Pret A Manger’, Zizzi and Wagamama restaurants. You may have even had a packet or two without realising, as the products have also been adopted by some well-known retailers, such as Holland & Barratt, selling under its own brand. 

Beginning with a few initial varieties, Nim’s now has a range of up to eleven different types of crisps, five edible teas and an exciting range of infusions, botanicals and ingredients that are being used in high-profile restaurants and, if you like a tipple, by the Craft Gin Club. I was lucky enough to come away from the visit with some goodies and I can confirm the air-dried pineapple crisps were delicious! 

The company’s purpose has not changed since the first moment Nimisha had the inspiration for the business. Put simply, her aim is for shoppers to pick up a Nim’s product and immediately know that it is 100% natural, without having to turn to the back of the packet for confirmation; a level of trust where consumers are safe in the knowledge that anything that carries the Nim’s logo is made from the finest natural fruit and vegetables, with nothing added.

Naturally Nim’s

When Nimisha initially embarked on the journey of crafting crisps, her primary intention was to utilise the entire fruit, driven by a dual purpose: ensuring nutritional value and addressing the misrepresentation of children’s food and snacks. Often these are advertised as being ‘free of harmful ingredients,’ yet seldom contain the essential nutrients children require.  

She explained: “Many so-called ‘healthy’ options merely contain fruit puree in a pouch, devoid of substantial nutritional benefits for children. My aspiration was to retain the natural skin and even the core of apples, for example, recognising their inherent nutritional richness and contributing to the recommended daily intake of fruits. Achieving recognition as the sole crisp brand officially endorsed by Public Health England, as part of one’s daily fruit intake, held significant importance for us.  

“Furthermore, we have embraced a sustainable approach by minimising waste, fully embracing the utilisation of every part of the fruit. This ethos has become ingrained as we’ve explored more innovative products over the past few years, avoiding unnecessary peeling whenever possible. Even previously discarded elements, such as pineapple skin, have found purpose in our processes.  

“I am elated to share that since April of this year, we have achieved the milestone of complete food waste reduction. In processing citrus fruits, typically reserved for garnishing beverages, we confront the challenge of incorporating the entire orange or lemon for this purpose. Certain portions, like the ends, are often deemed ‘waste’ and have traditionally been discarded. Yet, we meticulously salvage any non-blemished parts, transforming them through drying into versatile resources such as powders.  

“These products, extracted from citrus remnants, find application in enhancing the flavours of cakes and beverages, such as gins. Similarly, the need to remove apple cores yields an opportunity for repurposing. The dried cores have paved the way for a range of pet food products.  

“In our commitment to waste reduction, even the smallest fragments of crisps that break during packing find value. These fragments are channelled into our edible tea line, composed of whole fruits and vegetables that infuse into a refreshing, flavourful tea when steeped in hot water.”

A zero food waste factory

For years, achieving zero food waste has remained a top priority for many businesses in the sector, and now that Nim’s have reached that goal it has set a new challenge to assist consumers in their efforts to reduce their own waste.  

Innovation has always been at the core of the company’s values and Nimisha revealed that Nim’s has exciting plans to introduce a range of products designed to support individuals on that journey.  

While we can’t disclose too many details at this time, we encourage you to stay tuned in the coming months for exciting developments. Furthermore, Nim’s commitment to sustainability extends to the recycling of all cardboard materials. While the crisp manufacturer prioritises the use of virgin plastic whenever feasible, it’s important to note that its packaging, though indeed recyclable, is further categorised as industrially recyclable.  

At present, the biggest challenge for the company lies in finding cost-effective solutions that balance product freshness with domestic recycling compatibility. There are currently no affordable packaging alternatives that maintain product quality which can also be recycled through household bins. Nonetheless, Nim’s is working on other initiatives that encompass various environmental aspects, including energy consumption; the company source exclusively from renewable, green energy suppliers.

Supply chain challenges and the current landscape

Brexit significantly impacted the business, particularly around the imports of class 2 fruits (reasonably good quality produce that may have one or more defects such as some bruising, damage or change in colour). Since leaving the EU, this aspect of Nim’s Crisps’ operations has come to a halt, making it increasingly challenging to access certain fruits.  

The company’s supply chain has also been severely affected. Being a small business without a dedicated import/export team, navigating the new paperwork and regulations has been a challenge. However, on a positive note, this situation prompted the company to forge partnerships with experienced British importers, resulting in an increase in Nim’s volumes and the retention of funds within the UK economy – a favourable outcome outlined by Nimisha.  

While fluctuations are inherent in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, Nim’s has learned to adapt. Many bars and restaurants are now opting for dried fruit garnishes as opposed to fresh, primarily due to longevity. Therefore, a notable advantage for Nim’s is the extended shelf life of its products, allowing the company to stockpile inventory, ensuring the company’s resilience in turbulent times. Typically, the business maintains a minimum of three to four months’ worth of stock.  

“Currently, we are grappling with a fresh set of challenges. Obtaining various fresh fruits and vegetables has become problematic due to logistical hurdles and economic factors. For example, acquiring local apples has become a challenge as Kent’s farmers are refraining from storing apples due to the associated heating and lighting expenses.” 

It is interesting to note that Nim’s haven’t encountered any significant production hurdles, despite initial concerns post-Brexit when labour shortages in the food industry were anticipated.  

Nimisha said: “Thankfully, our exceptional team has proven its resilience both before and after Brexit. Interestingly, we’ve observed a persistent shortage of skilled professionals in roles such as administration, marketing and sales. This could be attributed to our geographical location. Perhaps if we were situated in the heart of London, we might be better positioned to attract top talent.” 

Where does automation and digital tech fit in?

In today’s fast paced business world, automation has become a powerful tool for many businesses to streamline operations and maximise efficiency. For small enterprises, automating repetitive tasks and harnessing new technologies is a means to save time, dimmish errors and allocate resources towards strategic endeavours. But is it really within reach for a small business? 

Nimisha shared her reservations about how suitable digital technology would be within the Nim’s factory. Nonetheless, the company have explored the realm of automation and robotics. During the tour, we saw one of the Nim’s team members meticulously sifting through the final product while conducting quality assessments.  

Nimisha explained: “This very mundane and repetitive task would be ideal for automating with a cutting-edge robot and we explored this possibility with an external company; it’s an idea that’s brimming with potential. However, the reality is that, as a small business, the cost of bringing robots into the factory remains just out of reach for us at the moment. But who knows what the future holds, innovation is our compass and we’re always on the look out for opportunities to move the business forward.”

Awards and MBEs

The Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion is awarded to individuals who have played an outstanding role in promoting enterprise skills and attitudes. And it seems all the company’s collective efforts proved to be worth it as the business was awarded a Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2020. 

Nimisha shared: “It was a momentous and esteemed occasion for us to host The Lord Lieutenant and Deputy Lord Lieutenant at our production factory, alongside our entire team. Lady Colgrain and Clive Stevens displayed remarkable grace as they dedicated their time to engage with our team members, gain insights into their roles and acquire a deeper understanding of our business and processes. 

“Although we had received the award in 2020, the pandemic postponed our celebrations. It wasn’t until the post-COVID presentation, accompanied by Lady Colgrain’s speech detailing the merits that led to our award, that the magnitude of our achievement truly hit home.  

“For a relatively small and young company like Nim’s, to receive such a prestigious accolade was an emotional moment. I wholeheartedly encourage businesses of all sizes to participate and celebrate the vibrant Kent business community.” 

Not only did Nim’s receive the Queen’s award but soon after Nimisha was honoured with an MBE in the inaugural birthday honours list of King Charles III for her outstanding contributions to business and enterprise. Her vision had transformed her fledgling firm into a thriving enterprise, processing over 1,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually. This expansion also translated into the creation of up to 25 jobs at the Trinity Trading Estate factory in Sittingbourne.  

“When I embarked on the journey of starting Nim’s in 2016, I never envisioned receiving royal recognition for our achievements,” Nimisha reflected, also noting her receipt of an MP Heroes Award the previous year.  

“Receiving the MBE for my dedication to business and enterprise was a truly remarkable and unexpected honour. It stands as a testament to the hard work of my dedicated team, who have been steadfast companions on this journey, supporting our mission to revolutionise the global snacking and beverage garnish market and encourage people to embrace healthier and more sustainable options.”  

She further added: “The MBE shines a spotlight on our brand for all the right reasons and assists us in reaching a broader customer base.”

Key takeaways

  • Nim’s Fruit Crisps’ commitment to natural and sustainable products includes using the entire fruit to minimise food waste and even repurposing typically discarded parts 
  • Brexit has impacted the company’s supply chain, particularly importation of class 2 fruits 
  • Nim’s Fruit Crisps received the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2020, and Nimisha was honoured with an MBE for her contributions to business and enterprise 
  • While recognising the benefits of automation in streamlining operations, Nim’s acknowledges the cost challenges, especially for small businesses 

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