In this series I’m chatting with some of my favourite entrepeneurs, chefs, bloggers, business owners to talk all things, photography, entrepreneurship, lifestyle, wellness just about anything and well food of course! During this period of social distancing, our need for community and connection is stronger than ever. I hope you can draw inspiration from these incredibly talented humans and their super inspiring and interesting conversations.
This week I’m chatting to Alexandra Vellasco founder of Tiba Tempeh. We touch on what it takes to start a business. From working a 9-5 office job to building her own business from home. Struggles faced as a small business owner during the pandemic. Her background in Brazil, and her transition to living a plant based lifestyle. Tiba Tempeh now sell online and can be found in major retailers across the Uk. A truly inspiring story of perseverance and entrepreneurship.
Can you share a bit about yourself and what was your main motivation to start a plant-based company?
I grew up on a farm in Brazil and my dad had a poultry business. I saw little chicks come out of the shell, fed for 40 days, and then suddenly appear on supermarket shelves and our plates. It felt normal and gave us a living. At the age of 18, I moved to the UK, graduated at University in London, and started my career in sales at Heinz. I then met my now husband Ross who also worked in Heinz in marketing, and we both always talked about having our own healthy food business and helping leave the world in a better place.
After lots of research (including listening to the Rich Roll podcast which is my personal favourite) we realised the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. So we set out on our mission to create a healthier world and make eating plant-based food a little bit easier and a lot more delicious.
Tiba is a truly unique name, where does the word Tiba originate from?
We’re based in London, but our spiritual home is Indonesia, the birthplace of tempeh and where we first discovered it. Tiba means ‘to arrive’ in Indonesian. After centuries as a popular local Indonesian food, we thought it was about time tempeh arrived here in the UK and now it really has. Tiba Tempeh has arrived!
Bali is a truly magical place, but for Tiba it’s more than simply a holiday destination. Could you explain how Tiba Tempeh came about?
We first went to Bali 3 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful scenery, friendly people and most importantly the amazing plant-based food. The first time we tried tempeh was at a beautiful beachside restaurant on the Gili Islands and we were blown away. On this trip we also discovered that tempeh was a superfood packed with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. All this from just three natural ingredients of soybeans, water and a simple live culture. It was clear to us right away we needed to find a way to bring this incredible superfood to the people back home. We then headed over to Java in Indonesia, were Tempeh first originated, to work under a world-renowned tempeh master and learned how to make the best tempeh.
We really want to celebrate the origins of tempeh and bring to people a taste of Indonesia, so this runs through everything we do from our products, pack design and communications. We’ve now been to Bali twice and it has been great to see how proud Indonesians are of Tiba.
Tiba is stocked in some major retailers: Selfridges, Planet Organic, Whole Foods, and most recently Holland and Barrett. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to launch Tiba Tempeh in stores?
Over the past 11 years, I worked for other brands to get their products listed in retailers. So when it came to pitching Tiba Tempeh to retailers, it felt so special and actually pretty easy as I believe in our products so much. The only challenge was time. I just wish it happened quicker!
Your husband and yourself, have built the business from the ground up. While working full time careers. How did you balance, work life, your Tiba business and your relationship together during this time?
We worked ridiculously hard for the past couple of years creating Tiba Tempeh, and I would never call it a balanced work life. We had our full-time job, which we dedicated ourselves fully from 8-6pm every day and loved every day of it. But we would then come home, have dinner, and work on Tiba until 11pm every night and mostly at weekends. We knew that it would fulfill our dream so it was worth every second of it. Our personal husband and wife relationship is just as strong. Tiba has been very similar to having our own baby. It’s hard work, expensive, gives us sleepless nights, but we hope that it will flourish and we’ll be really proud of it when it grows up!
The world is unfortunately in the midst of a pandemic. A visit to the shops can be an incredible stressful situation, during this pandemic. Not to mention isolation. During this time you’ve built a successful online store. How have you found the process of taking the brand online?
It’s a really challenging at the moment. Consumers are staying home and shopping online more than ever, but none of our retailers offered online delivery of our products beyond London, so I spent the weekend building our online store. Now, we deliver anywhere in the UK and I connect with every single customer that orders from us. It’s amazing to get their feedback and to see customers ordering again for the second and third time.
This period of isolation can serve as a great time to reflect on our priorities. What are some of the things you are personally grateful for amidst the crisis?
I’m grateful for having Ross and his companionship. For our house and the opportunity to go for a run or workout every day. And also for technology. Whilst we are in isolation, we’ve connected with our family and friends online more than we used to see them in person before. It has brought us together.
Tiba tempeh is a company strongly built on it’s values. You mentioned in our chat that Tiba is a purpose driven brand. How important is it for you for these values to be reflected in every aspect of the business?
Our overall purpose is to create a healthier world by helping people to eat more delicious, healthy and sustainable plant-based foods. Before we make any business decision, we ask ourselves, how is this going to help people and the planet? For example, we only use natural and organic ingredients; our packaging is 90% recyclable (which we are trying to make 100% soon); we deliver our product direct to consumers using a carbon neutral service.
We’ve seen the plant-based realm grow from strength to strength. But do find people still have misconceptions about vegan food in general?
Yes, there are still some misconceptions. Some people still perceive plant-based food as bland and boring, but now you can find an incredible range of delicious plant-based foods. Then there is the misconception that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet, but the reality is that we can get plenty of protein and thrive on a plant-based diet. For example, there is actually as much protein in a Tiba Tempeh burger as a beef burger.
As plant-based continues to grow and people become more aware of its benefits, we’ll hopefully see that some of these misconceptions disappear.
I love how versatile Tiba’s products are, without losing that truly authentic Indonesian feel. What future products do you have in store for us?
Based on the success of our Sweet Chilli and Curry-Spiced Tempeh Marinated Pieces, we are excited to be launching a new product next week which is our new Soy-Marinated Tempeh Pieces. It’s perfect for stir-fries, wraps and even sushi. We also have an exciting innovation pipeline for the coming months and years, so watch this space!
Lastly, if you could turn back the clock, what advice would you give your younger self?
Stay patient and trust your journey.
Thanks so much Alexandra for taking the time to chat with me and introduce us to Tiba Tempeh! For more information or buy Tiba Tempeh online, visit tibatempeh.com
Want to read more and feel inspired? Find all the interviews from this series here.