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If you’ve ever been in poor health or cared for someone who was, you’ll know just how limited the nutritional options are for vulnerable people. The majority of meal replacement products on the market are packed with sugar and taste just as artificial as their ingredients would suggest.

Malnutrition costs the UK around £19.6 billion per year, and a lot of this stems from lack of care, through nutrition and support, for the thousands of people battling various illnesses or undergoing the toxic treatments for them. 

With years of expertise in the professional culinary world, and first-hand experience caring for the vulnerable, Chef and Dietician Jane Clake knew there had to be a better way – so, she founded Nourish.

We sat down with her to find out more.

After working in the culinary field, what inspired you to start your own venture? 

I’ve always been a passionate foodie. In the beginning, this was influenced by my much-loved Aunty May, who would bake wonderfully, so we would visit her and wake up to the aroma of buns and bread fresh from the oven. As I grew older, my interest in food became aligned with my interest in nutrition and its effects on the body, influenced by my dad who was a science teacher.

Like many people who devote themselves to a caring profession, my choice to practice as a dietitian and support those experiencing illness and eating challenges, was driven by personal experience of poor health and by looking after a loved one. I was very unwell as a teenager and spent a lot of years in hospital. I saw the isolation of being in that setting and the unappetising food that was served on the ward. When I was able to be at home, my family would cajole me to eat and I was on the receiving end of how love and affection can be translated through food. I also saw how disconnected the hospital setting could be from nourishment and caring. Realising there must be a better way to care for people was my emotional drive to become a dietitian. 

When did you first recognise that there was a gap in the market for nutrition for vulnerable people – did you experience this first hand? 

The defining moment was when I was working for the NHS, looking after an amazing patient who had AIDS. His appetite was suppressed but he used to love me to sit on his bed and talk about the meals I’d eaten. I asked him one day, ‘What would you like to eat at this precise moment?’ He said, ‘A fresh strawberry’, so the next day I brought one into his hospital room. I was told off for giving it to him because it hadn’t come through the hospital kitchen and didn’t have a food label on. That made me realise that I needed to change this and craft my career in a way that nurtures people. 

I set up the first private dietetic clinic in the UK, with the aim of supporting those struggling with the illness-induced malnourishment (I had to take out an overdraft to do it; I slept on the floor of my practice for a few months as rents were so high!). This is why I launched the online community Nourish by Jane Clarke, to provide recipes and inspiration for anyone facing barriers to nourishment, whether that’s swallowing difficulties caused by dementia, or loss of appetite and taste changes during chemotherapy. My dear dad is living with a rare form of dementia, and he is another huge driver of my goal to bring dignity and nourishment to those who are vulnerable and left behind by current nutritional offerings.

What makes Nourish’s offering special compared to the meal replacements you can find on supermarket shelves right now? 

I developed Nourish Drinks, made with all-natural and organic ingredients, to provide calories, protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals for those who can’t face a full meal or who need additional nutritional support. As well as being good for you, they actually taste delicious, so they don’t sit undrunk by someone’s bedside – they couldn’t be further from the synthetic, horrible-tasting alternatives on the market. It’s hugely gratifying to have feedback from care homes, saying how much difference Nourish Drinks are making to the wellbeing of their residents. 

What would prevent another brand from copying your concept?

No one can copy my career, and the trust and reputation I have built as a leader in my field, looking after patients in my practice. I’m the first point of call for some of the country’s leading oncologists and medical experts, who frequently refer their patients to me for nutritional support during their illness and treatment. 

As well as my own dietetic degree and Cordon Bleu chef qualifications, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of West London for my work supporting the vulnerable and those isolated in illness. I was the consulting nutritionist with Jamie Oliver on his school meal’s campaign, helping to change the way society nourishes our children.

I’m not a faceless brand with little transparency about their ethics, business practices or what goes into their products – and those corporations can’t compete with Nourish on the quality of our natural and organic ingredients, and the taste and efficacy of our Nourish Drinks. 

I’m a trusted and respected professional putting all my knowledge and credentials into a product that delivers on quality, cost, reviews and service, backed up with a website that provides additional resources, recipes and more. 

Is there anything you’ve learned from your customers that you’ve incorporated into product development? 

Absolutely loads. We know that our customers like versatility in what they can eat, so we have created recipes that incorporate our Nourish Drinks, creating even more value for the product. For example, our Vanilla Nourish Drink can be used as a delicious base for porridge, custard, or blended with other ingredients, such as a banana or some fresh strawberries. You can warm our Chocolate Nourish Drink to make a hot chocolate. And you can make all our Nourish Drinks into delicious ice creams – perfect for anyone with a poor appetite, who might be tempted by a cool and creamy scoop or two. My dad, who lives with frontotemporal lobe dementia, loves to mix a shot of whisky into his Vanilla Nourish Drink of an evening, for a Bailey’s style nourishing tipple. We’re also responding to customer requests for non dairy Nourish Drinks, with plans to develop products made with plant-based milks in the future. We always provide human contact with our customers, through our customer service phone line, website, social channels and newsletters.

What can we expect next from Nourish in the way of product development or partnerships?

We are looking at several new product developments but the ones I am most excited about are additional drink flavours, plant-based variants and soups. I also plan to venture into new categories that complement nourishing solutions. Partnerships will also be increasingly important to us. At the moment our focus is on brand awareness and joining with like minded brands that share our values and our vision.   

What will the funds from this round help you achieve?  

There are four key areas that will benefit from this round. The first will be upgrading our test and learn approach – this is primarily on digital marketing activities and will coincide with increases in the marketing spend. Product line expansion is another, as is geographical expansion. Finally, we will be building our sales capability to drive the B2B business.

What was the most valuable skill you took away from the culinary field to apply to Nourish? 

My passion for using top-quality, organic and natural ingredients means our Nourish Drinks not only taste delicious, but provide our customers with peace of mind that there are no nasty synthetics and chemicals hidden in them. As a brand, we aim to be environmentally conscious and responsible, so unlike our competitors, we choose not to use plastic bottles and plastic straws – all our packaging is fully recyclable, we source our organic milk and cream from British farms, and our Nourish Drinks are made here in the UK. I hate the damage being done to our planet, just as much as I do the injustice of vulnerable people not being nourished with dignity and care. Nourish by Jane Clarke and Nourish Drinks are addressing this in what we deliver and how we operate.

When you’re not working, what are you doing? 

It’s still really important to me to work with patients, so I continue to consult and operate my clinic. Outside of that, I love walking in the Cumbrian hills with Kumi, my Hungarian Vizsla dog and wild swimming.

What would be one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the F&B space? 

Don’t compromise on the quality of your ingredients. And always be honest with your community when you are building your route to market. People more than anything want to know they can trust what you tell them. If you can nurture loyalty, that’s hugely valuable.