A little bird told me
Little Bird Organics co-founder Megan May talks about how she turned her raw-food hobby into a successful business, seeing it blossom into an Auckland institution
Raw-food pioneer Megan May of Little Bird Organics shares her business tips
Kimchi pancakes, kumara and coconut hotcakes, portabello Benedict and Sicilian kelp noodle salad are just a few of the vibrant raw-food dishes on offer at The Unbakery in Ponsonby, Auckland. Since opening its doors, the Little Bird Organics cafe – with its extensive offering of gluten-free, dairy-free, raw, organic and refined sugar-free plantbased sweets and savouries – has become a popular destination for those looking for a healthy but delicious all-day breakfast and lunch menu.
Chef Megan May and her architect husband Jeremy Bennett founded the brand in 2010 by selling their homemade macaroons and ‘grawnola’ at farmers’ markets and health food stores, essentially pioneering the mainstream raw-food movement here in New Zealand. The response from customers was such that the pair opened their first branch of The Unbakery in Kingsland in 2012, established a smaller pop-in cafe in Auckland’s CBD, expanded into cold-pressed juicing with The Squeezery, and launched their own app and cookbook in rapid succession. With Little Bird Organics achieving success at such a rate, we asked Megan to share some words of wisdom about trusting your instincts and never compromising on your brand’s identity.
You started on the raw-food path when the concept was far from mainstream. How did you know you had a viable business?
When I started, I think a lot of people thought I was crazy. I was really nervous about putting my products out there as there was no established market for raw food here. It had been a dream of mine since my early twenties to have a food business so there was a lot of anxiety surrounding it for me. I almost never made it to my first market (which is really where it all started) as I was so worried about people not liking my products. My sister coached me into getting into the car with my macaroons and grawnola and sent me on my way. I sold out of everything really quickly and people kept contacting me afterwards, wanting the products. That’s how Little Bird Organics began. Life changed very quickly as I had to learn to start trusting my instincts and abilities to make this into a viable business.
In your experience, what are the key factors in creating a successful business?
Have a core goal that encapsulates what you’re trying to achieve. Knowing what you stand for and why you’re creating the business is key. It not only keeps you motivated when times are tough, but also helps you to keep heading in the right direction. For us the core goal is to have a positive impact on our customers’ health and the environment by getting people to experience eating a more plant-based diet. Everything we do must align with that goal.
How has being a parent affected your business and what is your advice on juggling the jobs of parent and businesswoman?
Being totally present with what you’re doing is important. Be with your kids when you’re with them and the same goes for when you’re at work. That way you don’t feel so stretched and I think it makes you a lot more productive as well.
The most important thing is to be compassionate with yourself, listen to your body and your child’s needs. Getting as much rest as possible to store up energy prior to and after the birth is key. This means you’ll be doing less catching up and have more sustainable energy levels in the long run, which makes for a healthier mum, baby and business.
Little Bird Organics is constantly evolving. What inspires you to keep pushing and creating?
Little Bird is always growing; a successful business should be constantly evolving. It keeps things exciting for the customers and the staff, but there is a balance that I find is needed. The evolution must happen with the company’s mission at its heart. It’s easy to get caught up with new ideas and trends and be reactive in the way you grow and put out new products. Good things take a little time, reflection and planning.
I’m really motivated and driven around food education at the moment – the health of our country is shocking. There are great people doing amazing things in this area, like Nadia and Michael Meredith, among many others. I’m excited that Little Bird Organics is part of helping people make positive changes around food and health. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth and it’s just crazy that we are not healthier as a nation and I want to help change that.
What are three things you wished you’d known when launching your business?
1 There are a lot of great people out there who will help you. Just ask and keep asking until you find people that are the right fit for you. A business adviser can save you a lot of anguish. Kiwis are known for their do-it-yourself attitude; this is an awesome trait and gets you so far, but it can also make things a lot harder than they need to be.
2 Big is not always better. The most important thing is to grow your company sustainably and in a way that resonates with you. There is no right way of growing a business, but there are a lot of things you can learn from others’ mistakes. 3 Know who you are and what your business is about. Confidence is so important for creating a successful business and enjoying it. Work at building up your confidence and back yourself, because not everyone is going to believe in what you’re doing or encourage you. You need to be confident in your vision.
“It’s easy to get caught up with new ideas and trends and be reactive in the way you grow and put out new products. Good things take a little time, reflection and planning”
Above: Little Bird Organics’ Megan May and Jeremy Bennett in their garden with daughter Pepper.