This week we talk to Stuart Macdonald the founder of ManiLife https://mani-life.com/
You moved to Argentina for a year in 2015, what inspired you on this trip to start ManiLife?
I started working with a peanut butter social enterprise, distributing the stuff to soup kitchens. Nutritionally it was pretty magic (and it also tasted a lot better than the stuff I remembered from back home) so that sparked an interest. It wasn't until I started experimenting with my own recipe and then eventually met the farm we still source from today that I decided to give it a go. The decision was driven by people as much as product - I just really liked the idea of working with the people I met.
Had you ever made peanut butter before?
The first jar I ever made was in a kitchen in Palermo - pic of jar attached - The brand name clearly needed some work.
Given that there are so many other well established peanut butters on the market, were you ever scared that ManiLife wouldn’t take off?
I still am. We've obviously grown lots and people are really buying into it now but we've so much more to achieve. I read an article that the founders of innocent didn't lose that fear until they were selling over 200 million bottles a year... feel I'll be living in fear for a while!
How easy was it to set up the company once you had thought of the initial idea? Any pitfalls?
Absolute f*cking nightmare.. Probably the thing that kept me going was that I spent 11 months as an accountant so when stuff got shit - I'd pause and say to myself 'this is better than audit...' - There were too many pitfalls to mention but at the same time there were just as many (probably slightly more) benefits so on balance I think it was a good decision. Biggest one is I couldn't and probably still can't switch off. Flipside of that is there's millions of people searching for a passion as intense as the one the team and I have..!
What’s the story behind your signature Deep Roast?
You mean the only peanut butter in the world to ever get awarded 3 great taste stars ;) ? It was a complete accident - we basically burned the peanuts - I panicked as thought we were going to have to throw them out - my friend tried it and was like 'Holy shit this is amazing', we sat in a circle and came up with the best name for burned we could, took them to Barnes Food Fair and it sold out in 3 hours. The first jars had deep roast written on them in red pen.
It's amazing really because now there are brands all over the world who've created their own takes on it - Meridian's rich roast, Whole Earth Dark Roast - in 5 years every brand will have one and we'll have started it...completely by accident. Obviously the one we have now is a honed version - we don't just burn nuts..!
How many people are in the ManiLife team?
5 full time killers with a couple of externals and a great board.
Run us through what a typical day at ManiLife looks like?
Cliche but no day is the same we're working on so much different stuff at the moment it's pretty full on - just need to spread that Mani!
Where are you based? Do you now have a separate production kitchen?
Our office is Vauxhall, we work with the same roastery we've worked with since day one and we have a production line in the west country.
What has been your most exciting business achievement to date?
Waitrose nationwide listing that coincided with them removing Sunpat from their range. One could even say that a bunch of upstarts from London replaced the biggest volume seller of peanut butter in the UK..!?
What is your favourite way to eat ManiLife?
Off my girlfriend, Saz's, tummy or with dark chocolate depending on how we're feeling.
What are your thoughts on butter before peanut butter?
Different strokes for different folks - Toast is well down the list as favourite vessel - it's quite dry so butter is a valuable addition...!
ManiLife seems to be getting more and more recognition, what’s next?
More products, more mouths hopefully more recognition..!? We've a long long long way to go..!
One word of advice for someone wanting to grow their own food business?
Don't quit your day job until you're at absolute breaking point, hire good people as soon as you can (but don't rush the hiring) and take lots of pictures along the way - I still kick myself that I never took a picture of the ton of peanuts in my bedroom,..!
Now for the personal bit. Stu what’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Pig's ear - it was absolutely disgusting. I have no idea why anyone would eat it.
If you could only take 5 ingredients to a desert island what would they be?
Water, Camden Pale ale, Garlic, onions and Eggs (assuming I've got a fridge a frying pan and the desert island has cheese. and Manilife.. )
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Probably the fact that unless i take the time to think up something posher - my favourite restaurant in London is Nando's...
Whose your biggest food inspiration?
if it's food and drink - Probably James Watt from Brewdog - I've never met the guy but by all regards he seems like an absolute magician.
If it's just food.... Probably Angus Thirlwell from hotel Chocolat - His tasting club boxes keep my mum happy and he's helped elevate chocolate to another level without it being mega snobby.