Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businesswomen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
This week we chat with Yasmin Hadi, founder of Honest Badger Foods, which she launched in February 2020. Having noticed a gap in the market to provide healthy and delicious plant-based meals, the idea for the brand was born. “The concepts of ‘healthy food’ and ‘delicious food’ do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Hadi explains. “I believe healthy food can be fun, exciting and something you really crave.”
While Honest Badger Food is plant-based focused, Hadi wanted to ensure there were options for everyone, including protein-based options with food including free-range hormone-free chicken and organic eggs.
Emirates Woman sat down with the founder to find out more about the inspiration to launch Honest Badger Foods and the expansion she envisions for the brand.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Geography! I loved studying the world and nature, that’s what lead me to study Geology at university.
What was your first job?
My first job after my masters, I was a geologist in oil and gas. It was an amazing opportunity. I was part of a 2-year grad scheme that moved us around different offices and departments in the company from exploration to operations. During that time, I worked offshore on oil rigs and lived in Copenhagen, London and Doha.
It was a really formative time for me, I started to thinking about what I wanted long term and what I wanted to be working on. Moving and working so much, I struggled to keep up healthy habits and started to see how much time, effort and prep goes into eating a healthy and varied diet, I remember my friends and I spending hours on Sundays trying to shop and meal prep for the week, and we still ended up having the same lunch and dinner for days at a time. Being exposed to the growing healthy eating scene across Europe I loved the style of food, and eating such fresh produce.
What eventually brought you to Dubai?
So many factors, I was born in Abu Dhabi but my family moved to Scotland when I was 6, I would come back to visit on holiday but I’ve always felt a draw to live in Dubai. Being half Scottish and half Iraqi I love the diversity here. There are so many opportunities Dubai in Dubai for entrepreneurs too, I feel everyone is always open to trying and embracing new ideas and concepts. Some of my family live here too, which is really lovely.
Can you talk us through the inspiration behind your brand?
So many people are wanting to eat healthily, and try to have a more plant-based diet but often don’t know where to begin. The driving philosophy behind Honest Badger is that everyday food should be healthy and delicious. We offer plant-focused food, but still have options to have free-range hormone-free chicken, and organic eggs. We have a distinctive style of food, we focus on nutrient-dense meals, that make you feel great.
We wanted to create a plant-focused company, with food that actually tastes delicious. The concepts of “healthy food” and “delicious food” do not have to be mutually exclusive. I believe healthy food can be fun, exciting and something you really crave.
I do not have formal training as a chef. Cooking is something I learned at home and enjoyed as a hobby, but also just an essential part of daily life and wellness. But it developed into a passion through experimenting, reading books, and if I’m honest, watching a lot of cooking shows. That is what drove me to start the Honest Badger.
What are the key elements of your role?
As a small business owner, I can honestly say I have done every job in the company at some point. I’m very hands-on, but now we are able to build our team out, I can start to focus more on a longer-term strategy. We are starting to build out a really great and reliable team, which is allowing me to focus on the longer-term business strategy. I am also the main recipe developer and it is a part my job I love to do.
Talk us through your daily routine.
I usually wake up around 6am, and either go to a gym class or a walk to start the day. I like to get some fresh air and move first thing. Then I’ll go home shower, have breakfast and try to be ready to start work by 8:30. The day usually starts with checking with the operations team on the deliveries that morning and orders that need to be prepared by our kitchen that day. Everything is made fresh, daily from scratch
From that point on my days can really vary, somedays I’m in the kitchen with our chefs creating and trialling new recipes (one of my favourite jobs). Others it’s in the office working on anything from strategy to operations.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
Small, tiny steps are better than none. Start small, test your concept on friends and family, do your research, then go for it. There will never be an ideal time to start, but focusing on 1% improvement daily can lead to big changes.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
One task at a time, one project at a time. Sometimes huge goals can seem really daunting but outlining smaller achievable goals and tasks that will help you reach the larger goals is far more fulfilling.
We send a motivational quote every morning with our plan, I always find it a great reminder for myself too. One of my favourite quotes ever is by Audrey Hepburn ‘Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible!”
And what is the worst?
F&B is a boy’s club and you should avoid it. Everyone is welcoming and supportive, I think there is a real appetite for female run businesses, our company has 80% female customer base. I think it’s important for women to create products and concepts for women.
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Launching a business in February 2020, was definitely a challenge we had not anticipated. The following month we were in lockdown and the logistics and supply issues we had were pretty tough.
Thankfully it was great for our business as so many people were at home suddenly really wanting to focus on their health, and boosting their immunity by eating a varied nutritious diet.
What are the future plans for your brand?
Continue to grow the brand and raise brand awareness, we have over a 90% customer return rate but we want to continue to bring in new customers to experience badger life. We really try to focus on sustainability, and want to showcase that to our customers, we have started a partnership using local produce and ‘ugly vegetables’ when possible, if all companies can focus on this it can help reduce the global food wastage crisis. Our company model minimizes wastage as we make everything from fresh from scratch, we want to continue to focus on reaching zero wastage and reducing emissions.
We also are focused on expanding the retail line, based on customer demand for some of our meal plan products, hopefully, they should be able to buy them individually soon too.