When Lizzie Vann first hit on the idea of making healthy organic food for babies, she decided to draw up a list of the most nutritional ingredients she could find and then mix them together to create the ultimate superfood.
Unfortunately, the three foods at the top of her list were blackberries, lean steak, and peanut butter. The experiment was not a great success. She says: ‘I ended up with this horrid, grey, slimy mess that looked like a squashed slug.’
Happily, her subsequent attempts to create healthy food for children worked rather better. Sixteen years later her company Organix sells £36 million of baby food a year, the company has won numerous awards for food quality and campaigning and Vann has been awarded an MBE for services to children’s food.
Confident that success was just around the corner she quit her job in the City and began experimenting with recipes in her kitchen with the help of a friend. She says: ‘I thought “Oh I can do this, it’s easy.” I decided I needed half a million pounds and thought “I know people in the City so I’ll just go and see them.” How naive can you be?’
Unsurprisingly her lack of any experience in setting up a food company did not impress. After being turned down by dozens of venture capitalists and merchant banks she was forced to scale down her ambitions. She started up the company with a more modest £50,000, raised through loans from banks and friends. She was not even able to persuade a British manufacturer to get involved and ended up having to get the first batch of baby food made in Germany.
She went on to briefly study biology and ecology at Lancaster University, where she also became actively involved in campaigning for social justice. This included volunteering for housing action trusts and helping to set up a whole food worker co-operative.
In 2008 Vann sold the business to one of its suppliers, Hero Foods, for a substantial undisclosed sum. She no longer works for the company on a day-to-day basis but has stayed on as president and a trustee of the Organix Foundation charity which funds research into food quality and child health.
Now 50, she says: ‘I really believe in the power of people. I believe we can change the world by putting out ideas and raising awareness, by showing different ways of doing things and by being noisy and loud.’
Vann says her outlook on life has always been driven by a combination of energy, passion and optimism. She says: ‘If I have a spare hour then I think I can do ten things in it. I’m constantly looking for solutions.’