We talked to Lara Mare, Founder, and Managing Director Rush Nutrition, about why everybody loves RUSH, and this is what she said:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lara Mare: Besides the uncertainty and the stress of running a manufacturing business with the added complexity of rolling electricity load-shedding and the profound responsibility I feel for the health and wellbeing of our staff and their families during a pandemic, 2020 has actually been a wonderful year to regroup as a family and spend quality time together. My son thrived doing school remotely, my daughter loved having her dad around more, and I actually fell pregnant at the start of lockdown, so I felt like I was still able to work on bringing something beautiful into the world in a more conscious and cocooned way…
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rush Nutrition.
Lara Mare: I’ve always had a passion for people and their health and wellbeing. After completing my Chartered Management Accounting degree and spending time in banking and management consulting, my son was born. I fervently consumed all the research available to better understand how I, as a mom, could raise him to be holistically healthy and well. I went on to study Child Psychology and Perinatal Health and Nutrition and came to realize the importance of nutrition in promoting holistic health and the wellbeing of families. Seeing first-hand the double burden of disease in Africa, with 65% of adult deaths attributable to chronic disease driven largely by society’s addiction to fat, salt, and sugar, together with 45% of children’s deaths attributable to malnutrition (with children in sub-Saharan Africa more than 14 times likely to die before the age of 5 than children in developed regions) I felt compelled to do something and support local farmers in the process (having grown up on a farm I know all too well the massive risk our farmers take to feed us and really felt they needed a platform to add value to their produce locally and market access)! I also realized that Agriprocessing was the industry with the largest jobs multiplier and wanted desperately to provide jobs- especially for mothers- to empower and uplift them and their children.
The ‘something’ I felt compelled to do provided the inspiration for RUSH Nutrition, where our mantra as a business is to turn the tide on disease!
In a society where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take time out and prepare food the way it should be naturally-and where many of us have forgotten the healing powers of food, I set out to fashion proudly African products whose superfood and botanical ingredients speak for themselves- but what’s not in the product speaks even louder! The range is made by moms and inspired by nature.
How does Rush Nutrition innovate?
Lara Mare: We have quite clear parameters in which we develop products, i.e., plant-based, zero-junk, local botanicals, and superfoods. We then identify an underserved market and learn more about their nutritional habits and needs. As mentioned above, our mantra as a business is to turn the tide on the disease. With this in mind, we formulate products that fit conveniently into the lives of the markets we are looking to serve, and in this way, we hope to provide innovative and first-to-market solutions. South Africa has the unique challenge of straddling both consumers in first-world and third-world environments (just writing that doesn’t sound so PC, and I would argue that there are a richness and a connection with community and nature in these third world environments that the first world would do well to better understand!). So it’s very hard to merely watch trends from the West and apply the learnings and innovations here. We have to do the hard hands-on work first. And this is the lesson we apply to markets we look to export to; we look to strip down the arrogance involved in thinking we can copy-paste our product in a new market and rather work with partners in these new markets to adjust to the needs and lifestyles of those markets.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Lara Mare: It was a rough year- retail sales took a dive, we operated on about 60% of our pre-covid capacity but still kept the team on full salaries, export opportunities largely dried up due to border closures, our full pomegranate harvest was not bottled in time for the lockdown BUT this quieter time allowed us to focus in and think more strategically. It removed the ‘noise’’ and allowed us to properly identify the areas of focus for us as a business so that we were able to come out the other side with a clearer vision and coordinated approach to what lay ahead (ironically, it also made us a bit more flexible in our planning as things were continually in a state of flux- something my Type A personality found quite difficult!). Most importantly, we saw the impact of the uncertainty and emotional stress on our staff and have consequently implemented programmes to journey with each of them and remove some of that uncertainty by setting goals and actions for their lives holistically.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Lara Mare: We, fortunately, didn’t have to retrench staff, and as a company, our resource capacity in fact grew, but we agreed as a team to forgo bonuses and increases to fund this growth which in the end helped relieve some of the workloads for the current team and made it a somewhat easier decision. The lesson learned is to be transparent with staff when things are difficult- I find this difficult to do because my default is to be optimistic and chart an inspiring journey. Still, they deserve to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s also a good time to make one’s teams aware of the contributions each of them makes and the responsibilities they, in turn, have to the larger team.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Lara Mare: We had always set the business up to serve our end customers directly with e-commerce capabilities, and we are so grateful we in fact, did this as we saw a 400% increase in sales across this channel during lockdown whilst our retail channels took quite a knock.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Lara Mare’: Yes, we benefitted from Jobs Fund funding which was released specifically for businesses impacted by the pandemic, and it went a long way in helping up stay afloat and continue to innovate. We were able to retain all our staff members on full salaries. We were able to rebrand our products and even launch 6 new products to cater to the trends we were seeing prior to the pandemic but more earnestly during and since the pandemic, which was a search for products showcasing their origin as well as the quality and of the African superfoods and botanicals used in the products.
Your final thoughts?
Lara Mare: Pandemics will keep coming; we can’t keep living in fear. Fear does nothing but strip down one’s wellbeing and immunity whilst understanding and connection go a long way to drive out fear. We would like to find ways to empower people to take charge of their and their families’ health whilst at the same time learning to trust nature and themselves more.
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