Gem Misa and her husband and co-founder Jamie Harris have always been health-conscious eaters. So when the low-carb cauliflower rice trend almost took over the internet a few years ago, they began to see a major opportunity to innovate. “We tried it and found that as a homemade product, cauliflower rice is time-consuming and messy to make—and you need to eat it pretty soon after you’ve made it,” Gem explains. “So we started thinking about how we could create a long-life, ready-to-heat version.”
Meeting multiple challenges
Because Gem and Jamie wanted their ready-to-heat product to be genuinely healthy, they were adamant that it should contain no preservatives, despite the 12-month shelf-life they envisioned. The final product, Cauli Rice, was the result of three years’ working with product development specialists and food technicians. And along with the challenge of developing a technology to keep vegetables fresh naturally came the challenge of actually funding the ambitious young business. “We literally came up with the idea at the kitchen table and had no capital to develop the product, launch it and get it into supermarkets,” says Gem. “We were turned down for loans by banks so we tried crowdfunding.” She admits that it was hard to get people to believe in their vision at first but they persevered and three crowdfunding rounds later, they had raised over £2 million from more than 1,000 investors to kick-start the business.
Tenacity and ambition have been constant themes throughout Gem’s career. She worked as a global brand manager for Unilever, eventually leaving to launch two food businesses before coming up with the Cauli Rice idea. “Spending 8 years with a great company definitely helped hone my skills,” says Gem. Her time with the consumer giant also gave her an intimate understanding of the importance of marketing, despite her own business’ rather more limited budget.
Gem says that social media has been critical for getting the word out about Cauli Rice and for raising awareness of the product with supermarkets and retailers without spending a fortune. “It’s also how we began selling Cauli Rice in other countries,” says Gem. Early on, when Cauli Rice made it to the finals of Richard Branson’s UK business competition Pitch To Rich, its Facebook following rocketed from 100 to 11,000 in just a few months. Since then, Cauli Rice has become an Instagram hit, with thousands of fans sharing pictures of their healthy creations.
But it’s health that remains at the heart of what Gem does. “With the alarming global rise of obesity and diabetes in adults and children, a low-GI product like Cauli Rice – which has up to 75% less calories than rice – can really make a difference. I’m passionate about healthy eating and creating healthy products. I love the thought that I’m part of a positive shift in the way people are eating.”
Gem is also passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs in the future. She explains, “as a Filipino woman I often see the barriers that women face in setting up their own business in Asia. Since I’ve successfully set up a business in UK that sells products globally, I’m keen to share my story and encourage other women to so the same.”
But for now, Cauli Rice is in its second year of trading and the years of development and crowdfunding have paid off. Cauli Rice is the world’s first patented preservative-free,12-month stable product of its kind, available in nearly 3,000 UK supermarkets in its first year and bringing in revenues of over £1.5 million. Now that it’s gaining ground in global markets, what started out as kitchen table business is now appearing on dining tables around the world. “It hasn’t been easy,” reflects Gem, “but I love the challenge.”
Learn more about Gem Misa and Cauli Rice: