Ben Whitehead, founder of Spare Snacks, on opening up conversations about food waste with kids and his new range of children’s treats.
Spare Snacks was founded in 2016 by father-of-two Ben Whitehead. Fruit-picking in his teens, Ben was shocked to discover just how much fruit and veg goes to waste (930m tonnes globally), so he decided the best way to tackle this issue was to make delicious snacks out of it. He visited his local market and started transforming wonky produce into healthy snacks, selling them through local cafes. Spare Snacks was born. In September 2020, Ben added Scrapples to the Spare Snacks range, developing them with hundreds of parents and kids with the aim of impacting snacking behaviours and attitudes to food waste from an early age.
Setting up a company is a bit like becoming a dad for the first time, in that it is one of the best and hardest things you can do. The key lessons I have learnt are – understand why you are doing what you’re doing, it will give you the most compelling proposition; have a clear plan so you understand the end game from the off; drive and persistence will take you a long way and everything takes longer than you think, so be realistic. Also, knowing your customer, and more broadly your market, inside out is essential. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help and when you do, surround yourself with credible people that not only share your vision and values, but also challenge you.
Coincidently, and arguably rather ambitiously, I started the business just before becoming a dad – so the two have always been intertwined. There are obviously pros and cons, but overall, quite brilliantly, being an entrepreneur has allowed me to be very present in my kids’ lives. It’s rare that I miss breakfast, dinner or bedtime, or a school event with them. On the flipside, it has meant we’ve had to scrimp and save a lot – but kids don’t need lots of stuff, they need your time, energy, and affection. I would also say one of the biggest challenges is that it can take a lot of my mental energy, so the end of the day can be a struggle sometimes – but at least I’m there 99% of the time.
We’re a small team, but everyone has flexible working hours. Family comes first. Of course, there are sacrifices – but no one should miss their kids’ nativity play for anything other than an absolute emergency. One of the best things about having children is that they force you to look at life through their eyes, you have to slow down and, sometimes you have to drop everything. If your kids are ill, you have to be there, no matter what.
We eat breakfast and dinner together, so I’m part of their daily routine. I rarely miss story time and really try avoiding work over weekends. If I do, as my business is making kids’ snacks – they’re usually pretty forgiving. I also try to pre-plan my working days so I can prioritise family or school activities.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be tricky. I’ve had several important phone calls in playgrounds with screaming kids – and I have been told to ‘go back to work’ several times when they don’t get their own way!
We actively live and breathe our values as a company, that means flexible working is the norm. I think the post-pandemic attitude to work has empowered staff not only to find a plausible work-life balance, but also to demand it. Companies that can embed flexible working but don’t will not only lose talent, but also profit and productivity. I think the majority have adapted and reaped the benefits. Of course, it’s not always possible but there are plenty of businesses that still need to change. I used to work for a company that helped other companies champion positive social change – yet ironically, I was only allowed statutory paternity leave and pay. You have to live and breathe your values.