Cardiff Healthy Foodie Entrepreneurs Set to Shake Up Snack Industry


A duo of young Cardiff entrepreneurs has learned the value of tenacity, having carried out a ruthless remodelling of their premium food business to refine it, ahead of their major launch at the Lunch! Expo in London, in September.

Maria Marling and Marysia Thompson registered a premium, guilt free snacking business back in 2016. Under the brand name Benga, they set about selling protein shakes direct to budget gym users, using a bike and cart, before pivoting to market protein balls to leading café brands in Cardiff.

During this period the pair spotted a gap in the healthy snack category. “We were bored of all the date based chewy brown balls and bars that are unpleasant to both the eye and taste. We wanted to create something that looked and tasted indulgent but could be eaten anytime free of guilt, giving people a special experience every day.

Now, after a £25,000 start up loan from the Start Up Loan Company, arranged by Welsh enterprise support organisation, Business in Focus, and after evolving their brand and product offering, they are excited to officially launch PHIT (Protein-High Indulgent Truffles) at the key food industry gathering, Lunch! Expo on 20th and 21st September 2018. They aim to distribute through wholesalers, retailers and grocers. In fact, their products are already being pitched to Waitrose.

Maria, a Swansea University Business Graduate said “We are positioning ourselves as the first truly premium protein snack offering, due to our recipe and packaging. Our recipe is unlike any other on the market. The healthy truffles are bursting with fruit, almond nibs and plant protein which is then cold pressed and coated in silky dairy free chocolate, best enjoyed with a coffee at your desk, on-the-go or pre/post workout. Our packaging is very special and has been created by a former head graphic designer for Ted Baker.”

Maria and Marysia both have solid sales backgrounds in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods industry, having worked for brands such as Red Bull Energy, Molson Coors Brewery and Danone Water brands Evian and Volvic. Maria said “Working for global brands has helped us develop a robust business model and to understand the importance of a strong value offering.”

Marysia, 25 and a sports development graduate from Cardiff Metropolitan University, said “Having an idea you believe in, as we do, is simply the first step in setting up a business and creating a viable brand. The early incarnation of our business – marketing protein shakes and protein balls – was invaluable market research and product development opportunities. We would both work routinely for 15 hours a day – managing our regular jobs while making protein balls until 3am. This period made us see that there was a demand for our products and that we needed to upscale. We had a network of stockists in Cardiff, but when it came to upscaling the business we had difficulties. Manufacturers  either couldn’t produce a ball shape, didn’t use vegan chocolate, were not a gluten free factory, or had minimum order quantities that were too large for us, as a start up.  We must have contacted around 70 manufacturers in the UK and Europe to try to make that happen.

“However, in the past 18 months, demand has increased for vegan and gluten free products, so we have now found a manufacturer who sees our potential and is eager to grow with us. We adhere to four R’s which have been fundamental in getting the business to this stage – reflection, resilience, relationships and recuperation. Reflection is the key to building resilience –   after overcoming multiple hurdles it is important to look back at everything you have overcome and to acknowledge that you can meet and overcome any future challenges. Support from loved ones and like minded people is imperative on those days where you are questioning your sanity because you quit your corporate job and took on financial risk.

“Recuperation is key too.  Safeguarding your mental and physical health and the health of your relationships is crucial. Clearly, without these there is no business or anyone to enjoy its rewards with.”

Some advice from their Business in Focus Business adviser was invaluable too, says Maria. “We went to Business in Focus asking for start up loan of £25,000, which they facilitated via the Start Up Loan Company. This was granted, but not before Matthew scrutinised our business plan and helped us to create a more realistic, detailed, credible, useful business plan. He was very honest and prompted us to be much more critical and analytical when it came to the fine details of our business.”