1. Can you tell us a bit about who you are, your story and what inspired you to create your business?
My name is Dav Lotay and I’m the creator of Vegnola, a veggie-infused granola, and founder of Good People Foods.
What inspired me to launch a business was a combination of my experiences during pregnancy and my lifelong obsession with food. When I was expecting, I found myself looking for snacks that would satisfy my cravings but were also good for me. I soon realized that the nutritious treats I was searching for didn’t exist, and since I love being creative in the kitchen, it led me to experimenting with different ingredients and flavour profiles and before I knew it, Vegnola was born!
I started selling my first two products at a farmer’s market as a way of getting my products out into the world. Every week, more and more people came and bought it and by the end of that summer, I had my products in a few stores too! After receiving great feedback from customers, I realized that expressing my creativity through food was one of my biggest passions, and that this was what I was meant to be doing. I also realized that by applying my knowledge of food in the development of Vegnola, I was able to curate flavours that were tastier, more nutrient-dense and unique compared to other granolas on the market.
2. How has your background influenced your business?
Being born and raised in an Indian household in England meant that I was able to indulge in both British and Indian food on a daily basis. I think that’s where my appreciation of food came from. I ate a lot of home cooked meals, and since my parents are very skilled home chefs, I guess I learned from the best! As a kid, I was very involved in the kitchen and was taught early on how to balance flavors and layer ingredients. I was encouraged to be adventurous and to not be afraid of experimenting. Growing up in an environment that was so rich in culture and opportunities to learn has definitely influenced some of the flavours I’ve played with for Vegnola, as well as my decision to pursue my love of food professionally.
3. How has your experience been as a minority in the natural health and organic products industry?
Looking back on my experience as a minority in this field so far, I can say that there were a lot more positive moments than negative. My ethnicity doesn’t seem to bother people and I’m very grateful for that openness. Having said that, it can be a little nerve-wracking when I’m preparing for events knowing that 90% of my fellow business-owners, as well as the customers, are not going to look like me. I’m sure all vendors experience some anxiety, but I think when you're a woman of colour working in an industry where there isn’t a lot of diversity, you tend to have another level of anxiety to manage.
Sometimes people are confused when they see me because it’s not obvious what my cultural background is, and I think they might even wonder whether or not I can speak English. I see a lot of surprised expressions when I start talking, because not only do they realize that I can speak English, but that I also have a British accent! Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with racism as much as many other people have, and I know that I’m very fortunate. Consumers are generally very curious to learn about the company and different kinds of products (and the accent doesn’t hurt!).
4. What advice would you have for those who are just beginning to or want to start a career or a business in this industry?
If you feel it in your gut, just go for it! You do need to mentally prepare yourself for being your own boss, because you’ll be living and breathing it every single day. You’ll go to sleep thinking about it, you’ll wake up thinking about it and you'll be dreaming about it. Also, don't get offended easily because there will probably be a lot of criticism from people. For me, I realized early on that I had to be my own cheerleader because I didn't have much support, so I really had to remind myself to celebrate the small victories. I would encourage you to do the same and cheer yourself on as you embark on this journey. If you believe in yourself and your product, you can do it!
5. What is (are) your favorite health food or natural health product, and why?
I definitely have a sweet tooth and I love chocolate! I love Little Tucker’s Snickaroo Squares, the texture and the sweetness are perfect! I also love Midday Squares and FreeYum’s Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, which I share with my son. For supplements, I love Organika and Kaizen’s protein powders.
6. Is there an inspirational figure you look up to?
My delightful younger sister, she's my biggest inspiration!