Foodie fanatics listen up. Here’s the story of a female founder who turned her own intolerance into the pivotal opportunity to create an inspired kitchen-table business.
Eloquently Her is delighted to chat to Susan Yule about Hungry Squirrel.
For the most part, you’ve got two options open to you when life throws a curve-ball. Either you embrace it and create a new opportunity, or you bury your head in the sand and feel utterly hard done by. Everything about Susan Yule’s journey, suggests she’s absolutely one of the former. When she finds life getting a little less fulfilling, or that it’s throwing up something she’s not so comfortable with or didn’t expect – she’ll go seeking a perfect solution. That’s largely how Susan, together with friend Hazel Farquhar, ended up the female founders of nut butter business, Hungry Squirrel.
The enterprise has swiftly become a popular foodie-scene arrival in the last 18 months, with its focus on providing vegan-friendly small-batch nut butters (without the nasties).
It was partially because Susan herself, now 48, had developed an intolerance to more conventional peanut butters, that the concept for Hungry Squirrel first came into being. Not prepared to sacrifice the buttery treat from her diet altogether, she’d turned to purchasing almond butter as part of her regular grocery haul.
“Eating peanut butter had always been something I’d loved, as a child and as an adult, but I think over the years, my body had just decided it had had enough – so that started me on a quest to find a replacement I could enjoy just as much,” Susan explains. “Thankfully, in recent years the food industry has become much more diverse around ingredients, so it was possible to get an acceptable alternative, and within a short time I was able to find almond butters and other products which could be my new ‘go to’ choice.”
Initially, Susan was little more than a satisfied consumer of such foodie gems, but the move to such products ran in parallel with a growing frustration about her own professional world. Having worked in IT for 20 years, the Aberdeenshire mum of two was growing increasingly short on career satisfaction, more and more concerned about the lack of time she was spending with her children, and still wondering whether there was a certain ‘entrepreneurial itch’ she would need to scratch.
“I’d studied art before then developing a career in IT, so I suppose I’d been stifling my creativity in some respects, and perhaps it was inevitable I’d get to a point where I felt the need to embrace it,” Susan continues. “IT paid well and was comfortable, but it didn’t completely fulfil me, and for five years I started also running after-school art classes, just to keep that side of my brain satisfied. “By 2016 I’d found myself increasingly thinking that I just didn’t want to be working full time in IT anymore, and that I needed to consider what else might be out there for me.
“There comes a time when you start wondering whether the job you’re doing is worth the sacrifice of not being around your children as much as you would want to be – and for me the decision was clear.”
It’s a choice countless women wrestle with, and for Susan, it led her on the path to creating a new venture which could quite literally be born ‘from the kitchen table’. “Because of my nut allergy and the fact that I’d developed a very conscious approach to eating foods which were not filled with unknown sugars and additives, perhaps it’s no great surprise that I ended up looking at food products as a business option,” she says. “It sounds far-fetched, but I honestly just woke up one morning and thought ‘that’s it…’ ‘nut butter’. “While I’d moved into using almond butter in recent times, I’d already become a little bored with the ones that there were out there. I decided I could probably come up with some more tempting options, and develop them in quite a lean way until things really took off.”
It was about this time that Susan reached out to her friend, Hazel, who was also at a crossroads in her professional world, having recently been made redundant. The pair spoke at length about a possible foodie venture, and before long, had booked themselves into exhibiting opportunities at a variety of local food fares. “It was quite easy for us to get going,” explains Susan. “Farmers markets are popular in Aberdeenshire, and with Hazel and I both being food loving conscientious hard-working types, we knew if we were prepared to put some long hours into preparing recipes for our butters and creating the product, we would have a market to test on. “With my partner being a graphic designer, it made it even easier to organise things like branding and product labels, so by the May of 2017 we were up and running and developing our following both online, and through markets across Scotland.”
Susan is the epitome of a woman who says there’s absolutely no ceiling on what age a female founder should find her niche and take a brand out there to the wider world. In fact, there’s a growing sense that more and more people are discovering (or listening to) that entrepreneurial muscle in their body later in life. Who says you have to be straight out of college or in your less restricted 20s to get a business idea off the ground? “Personally, I just don’t think there’s a perfect time to start a business or to give something else a go,” insists Susan. “I think it’s about listening to what feels right for you and going with your gut when you feel that there’s something more for you in this world. It’s not just about the money you earn, but about the balance you have in life, or the amount of fulfilment you’re receiving from what you’re doing.”
She continues: “In so many ways, it would have been better for me to be launching Hungry Squirrel 10 years ago, but, that said, I’m bringing more experience and more self-awareness to what I’m doing now, than I would have been able to do back then. “I feel very strongly that I’ve found a place in which I’m fulfilled, and where I feel I’m setting a fantastic example to my children that you should pursue what feels right for you, and that you should never be afraid to go after a dream.”
Susan’s rapidly growing nut butter business is gaining a significant following (she now runs the enterprise alone as Hazel has returned to her original profession), and the product range has developed enormously since its launch days.
You can now indulge in everything from a maple and pecan version, to the ABC (almonds, brazils and cashews) to cookie dough, no less. There’s plenty more recipes up the sleeve of this founder, but for now, she’s still largely the driving force behind a ‘home kitchen’ based enterprise.
“Yes, the brand is definitely punching above its weight, but it’s achieving some great things and I’m on the cusp of getting staff and a premises,” says Susan excitedly. “What’s worked so well for us is being able to get our brand and our story out there via social media, and growing the interest in our products. Every day we get some fabulous feedback, and people sending us photos of the delicious ways in which they’re making things with our products. It’s like getting 24-7 customer updates about what they’re doing in their own homes, with the butters which we dreamed up in our kitchen!”
Susan is part of a flourishing community of Scotland-based female founders who are certainly achieving impressive outcomes in the world of business or social enterprise. There’s no ‘key to success’, believes Susan, but certainly confidence and a determined independent streak helps. “When I look back at what I was like at school, I realise I didn’t have a great idea of what I wanted to do for a career, but I’d got a creative and independent streak, which I should have done my best to pursue,” she says. “I may have spent 20 years in the world of IT, and that may in some way have been a bit of a distraction from what I ultimately wanted, but now, with more confidence and more experience, I’m more able to listen to what feels right and what fulfils me.”
Whether you’re a seasoned nut butter lover, an intrigued foodie, or just want to support the kitchen-table start-up of a driven female founder, Hungry Squirrel is certainly a business to watch. Now….you’ll have to excuse us. There’s a cookie dough nut butter toasted sandwich with our name on it!