So we all know the story. A blogger starts making a recipe in his/her kitchen, attracts a ton of followers, is wooed by corporate, then brings a healthy product to market, right? Wrong. If only it was that straight forward. . .
Nibble Protein Bites, the new must-have, lower sugar, high protein snack, was created out of necessity by founder, Erin Moroney. And annoyingly the final recipe came quite a while after the idea (about 300+ recipe versions later!).
Erin’s background is in the media, having spent the better part of 20 years working in photography and advertising. She co-founded a boutique photographic agency at just 22—less than a year after relocating to the UK from Boston, MA. Known for its high-end, travel-reportage photography, her agency worked with the best newspapers, magazines, ad agencies and global brands. But when digital really took hold (and stock photography became less about quality), she sold the agency. After consulting (and running a photographic charity), Erin eventually moved to a creative agency where she art directed/ produced print, digital, and ambient ads for the BBC and others.
So food was the obvious next step--uh. . . Well, the Nibble idea was born out of Erin’s time in advertising, when she started marathon training and had very little time to eat!
Erin has always been a keen runner but she had never tackled a marathon, and she was on a mission to qualify for Boston (something she always wanted to do after the bombing). If she had any hope, she had to hit her training hard and get her nutrition right. And after taking a long hard look at her diet (which is largely plant-based), she discovered that she was protein deficient. She had a lot of the classic symptom: she was exhausted, she wasn't sleeping well, her immune system was low, her nails and hair were breaking—a lot, etc. Erin discovered she should aim to get close to 100g of protein a day for the level of training she was doing and she wasn’t even getting a quarter of that. She had to look at high protein snacks to supplement her meals and most were grim-- often they were sticky bricks full of high GI sugar.
And at this point Erin was working in a busy creative agency, managing up to a dozen ad campaigns at once. Finding time to eat was tricky. So she started cutting protein bars up into bite-sized pieces, stashing them in a ziplock bag so she could nibble enroute to meetings. . .AHA!
Then a couple weeks before the marathon, Erin slipped a disc in her back and she was out of commission. Laid up, with a bit of time on her hands, she spent months and months doing research—everything relevant from nutrition (inc best plant-based protein sources, sugars, ideal ingredients, etc) to manufacturing (a bigger headache than she could imagine!). She got lucky with fundraising, and then she was off.
Although Erin’s background wasn’t in food, she always was a good cook. When she was little she used to bake a lot. Technically her first food enterprise was when she was about 12. Erin regularly made marble cheesecakes (complete with chocolate leaves—always the art director!) for her friend’s mum’s dinner parties.
From the outset, Erin was adamant that Nibble had to be a dairy free, lower sugar, low Glycemic Index protein snack (how far she came from those cheesecakes!). Over the years she had struggled with fluctuating, low blood sugar (no doubt her low protein intake didn't help here) that sapped her energy and regularly made her dizzy. When years ago her friend, bestselling author of The Gut Reaction, Gudrun Jonsson, taught her the benefits of eating low GI, there was no looking back. By avoiding the sugar rushes and the inevitable crashes, it helped to keep her blood sugar more stable. She learned that keeping blood sugar on an even keel helps to give you more sustained energy, keeps you fuller longer, improves your mood (in a big way!), increases concentration, and also helps facilitate fat burning. A bit of a no brainer, really.
It was a total game changer once Erin finally got the right balance with her diet so she's really keen to spread the word. “For a long time I thought I was being so healthy, eating tons of veg and avoiding sweets and other junk. But I was still missing the mark. I felt rubbish for ages and it was totally avoidable with a few tweaks to my diet.”
It can be hard to get enough protein if you are veggie or vegan (an egg only has 6g of protein, a whole tin of chickpeas about 18g). And high protein products and snack bars are a minefield because they're often of full of sugar—and often high GI sugars at that (like brown rice syrup). Even many date-based snacks are nearly half sugar.
Erin was passionate about not only creating a low GI snack, but also one that was lower sugar too. On average a bag of Nibble only contains 6.5g of sugar. By using antioxidant-powerhouse dried plums as a base (they contain over 40% less sugar than dates), Nibble keeps its sugar content down to a minimum.
But it’s not easy getting a food product to market—especially an innovative free-from snack (Nibble was just recognized a Bronze Innovation Challenge award). Erin had her lower sugar targets and a long list of must-haves (including her key low GI ingredients), and all of the manufacturers she approached said what she wanted wouldn’t be possible. She got the old “there probably was a reason no one has done it before yet”. But Erin is seriously stubborn so she learned what should could about food science, and did most of the problem solving herself (with some help from a superstar food scientist in California, Sangeeta Patel). The recipe development process was long and painful (she worked on it for close to a year), but she got there in the end. “I think it probably helped in some respects that I’m not from the food industry. Because I didn’t know any better, I pushed for things that experienced food developers had already ruled out as being too tricky or simply not possible. Talk about a seriously steep learning curve!”