HEALTHY & DELICIOUS!
Young entrepreneur Vanessa Brown has launched her own business making healthy yet delicious gluten-free protein bars and vegan brownies
A year in Italy inspired 24-year-old Vanessa Brown to start up her own business, NEAT, that makes gluten-free, high protein health bars for gyms and local health food shops.
Some months into her year working as an au-pair in Tuscany, Vanessa, who lives in the Ribble Valley, developed a severe skin problem: “Within quite a short space of time I developed really bad acne,” she recalls.
“It was awful – it was not just on my face and it became quite painful. I had always had good skin so I wondered what it could be that had sparked it off.”
The first thing that Vanessa considered was the change in diet: “While the Italian diet includes lots of fresh vegetables it also includes lots of pasta!”
She was initially advised to cut out all dairy products in her diet but this had little or no effect. However when she cut out wheat and gluten, her skin miraculously cleared.
“Within six months it was clear and back to normal. I couldn’t believe the difference it made,” recalls Vanessa, who when she returned home to the UK, sought out gluten free products in various supermarkets.
“All the gluten free products tasted like sawdust! The ingredients, and the balance, was just not right.”
Vanessa’s interest in cooking was sparked by TV chef Jamie Oliver: “I broke both my arms in a boating accident, and watched Jamie on TV back to back! It was then that I decided to try to make health bars that were tasty and gluten free.”
Working from her parents’ home in Ribchester, from a certified working kitchen, Vanessa, launched NEAT – Nutritious Edible Alternative Treats!
“I researched what people wanted from a gluten free product and developed my first gluten free chocolate and peanut protein bar.”
“It was very much trial and error – my parents and little brother were my guinea pigs!”
Using all natural ingredients, Vanessa went on to develop a Banoffee bar, a cranberry and almond bar, a hugely popular orange vegan brownie and the new flavour chilli and maca powder – an ingredient that is being used increasingly due to its health promoting properties. It is said to boost the immune system and the libido!
“I did a lot of research on the internet and a lot of testing to get the consistency just right,” recalls Vanessa.
“A lot of protein bars on the market are very dry because they are packed with protein powder. I looked at other products and to get the balance right, I include 15g of protein in my bars.”
Each chocolate and peanut NEAT bar includes gluten free oats, peanut butter, whey protein, dark chocolate, filtered water and honey: “I would love to use local honey. I am at the moment looking at a supplier.”
With a 30-day shelf life, the bars contain no preservatives and are totally natural.
Currently looking at new, branded packaging, Vanessa now makes NEAT bars for local gyms and Longridge’s Health Food Shop, where she is based every Friday so she can explain to customers how she developed and makes the bars by hand.
Getting involved in every aspect of her business, Vanessa has helped design the new packaging which features a hand drawn door: “It represents opening the door to something new.”
She also makes all her products by hand, blending the ingredients, refrigerating them and then covering each with hand-piped chocolate that has been tempered.
Making more than 100 bars each week, Vanessa embarked on a short business course run by the Prince’s Trust before she launched NEAT, something she found extremely useful: “I didn’t really have any business experience so I did the two-day course, which did help.
“I am not good with words or number so I struggled with my business plan but I got there eventually.”
“I think in future I would like to develop the business into something that is full time – I currently have two other jobs and work seven days a week! I want to keep my business local but I would love for other places to stock NEAT bars.”