Hannah McCollum leaned on her experience as a private chef when she founded ChicP, a brand established to bring ‘healthy, colourful dips’ to the UK food market.
As a hummus lover, she was ‘tired’ of the ‘bland and unhealthy’ options available on supermarket shelves. “I decided to combine my creative cooking and eagerness to help prevent food waste, into healthy, punchy vegetable hummus from surplus vegetables,” the food entrepreneur told FoodNavigator.
ChicP produces a variety of flavoured dips using surplus vegetables and has expanded its offering to include additional SKUs, such as veggie bites.
“The inspiration behind ChicP was the overriding determination and passion to change the way we approach cooking and food waste,” McCollum explained.
Family-friendly healthy snacking
Helping make good nutrition accessible is an important ambition for the company. “ChicP’s aim is not just to educate people around food waste but to eat more healthily,” McCollum noted.
ChicP hummus is a ‘healthier kind of hummus’ with a higher vegetable content and added ‘superfoods’ including root ginger and turmeric. Thirty percent of each pot consists of fresh vegetables and the rest is ‘full of protein and other nutrients’ from the chickpeas and tahini. The range is additive free.
And while the brand certainly offers appeal to an adult audience, McCollum believes it also provides a great opportunity to introduce kids to healthier options.
“Kids love hummus, so we really try to get the products in front of parents to encourage kids to eat it,” she noted.
“This has been a great success so far because: One, the products are delicious and very easy to eat – if it doesn’t taste good then the kids won’t like it. Two, they are wonderfully coloured with fun branding, hopefully appealing to the kids. We’ve seen them choose our hummus many times at events and when sampling in stores. Three, they’re natural, great for snacks in the afternoon, pack lunches and even breakfast.
“They last and are hassle free with lots of hidden veg.”
Healthy innovation to tackle obesity
McCollum stressed that this kind of healthy innovation is ‘absolutely’ essential to tackle the ‘huge obesity crisis’ in the UK and elsewhere.
“Children need a healthy diet with all the nutrients they can get in order to develop into healthy adults, to maintain good brain health in order to function properly at school, to be active and to prevent disease later on in life.
“Not having good nutrition accessible is detrimental to individuals as well as the country and the NHS. Nutrition is accessible everywhere, more importantly education around nutrition is what is lacking,” she believes.
McCollum advocates a hands-on approach to family nutrition and education. “There are so many activities, such as recipe videos on YouTube and Instagram, that really we should be encouraging families to make their own snacks by buying the vegetables together and learning what is in season and also ideally local (not imported), then getting stuck in in the kitchen! This is what will appeal to children when they know the story about where their food comes from.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the pressures of Brexit, are growing consumer awareness of – and demand for – locally sourced products that deliver positive nutrition, McCollum observed.
“COVID and Brexit have made people more aware of the importance of eating more locally grown produce and eating healthier. There is a clear reason to eat nutritious foods – it keeps you healthy and less likely of catching diseases/viruses or falling ill.”
Unhealthy snack sector called to account: ‘It’s time for change’
McCollum said that she has witnessed a subtle shift in the market, with supermarkets putting healthier snacks nearer the tills. “There is, however, still so much work to be done.”
Alongside a lack of education, the food founder said accessibility is a significant barrier to healthy eating, while better-for-you brands have to compete with less healthy alternatives on price.
This results in a socio-economic divide when it comes to healthy eating, with poorer families left in the cold, she suggested.
“Many areas of the country are still not aware about the importance of healthy food. Healthy snacks are still limited in smaller corner stores and most supermarkets still fill their aisles with unhealthy snacking products that are also cheaper than the healthy products – and this is a huge problem. Lower income families find it harder to buy healthy foods because the large multipacks of unhealthy snacks are a fraction of the price. It is the big corporate giants who produce these products as well as the supermarkets and the government who are responsible for this.”
Taste can also be an issue, she conceded, because as a nation we have become hooked on the sweet stuff and healthier snacks that are lower in sugar struggle to compete. “We are so used to sweeter food now that getting people who are very used to sweet is much harder to make them enjoy healthier choices. There is sugar in bread and many savoury foods now that it is a real challenge,” the entrepreneur observed.
“Healthy snacks need to be able to compete with crisps and chocolate but at a similar price point. The problem is that many healthy snacks include expensive ingredients such as coconut oil, nuts, dark chocolate, dates and so on.”
McCollum would like to see much tougher action to redress this imbalance in the food system and deliver a fairer outcome for poorer families.
On regulation, McCollum elaborated: “I think there should almost be a cap on the amount of sweet foods a family and individual can buy. This would make so much sense for a number of reasons. The NHS would be saved from millions of pounds on treating overweight individuals who are suffering from obesity driven illnesses. Families and individuals would learn more about the amount of sugar/healthy food they should be eating on a daily/weekly basis…. It would enable healthier snacking options to compete in the market more.”
And she wants to see action taken against the big food corporations that supply cheap, unhealthy snacks. “Large food companies should be fined for producing products that are literally killing us. They are pure money-making machines that know very well the detrimental effect that these products have on the people that eat them,” she said in her scathing attack.
“There is not enough emphasis on this and it’s time for change.”
A healthy future for snacking?
While McCollum is a realist when it comes to the challenges facing healthy snacking, she nevertheless does believe change is coming.
“I see the future of kids snacking becoming more interesting, fun and healthy. We are actually developing our new kids ChicP branding for our hummus.
“I think kids are going to be more aware of health as our world has recently shown that health can play a major role in our lives in order for survival – for ourselves and for the planet.”
As youth movements supporting change – particularly around environmental issues – continue to garner widespread support McCollum predicted change will come from this upcoming generation of consumer.
“More and more kids are standing up for the environment and a better world. This is so encouraging to see and goes without saying that they will also be caring for themselves…
“I think adults are partly to blame and make it too easy for kids to go down the unhealthy route with not enough education or effort to try to make them healthy.”
Innovation will act as an important facilitator for the adoption of healthy diets among future generations, she forecast.
“It is so important and most of us don’t realise the enormity of this importance. I can only hope that new concepts will disrupt the space and make healthy snacks cool. Yummy natural lollies, natural chocolate, funky nut bars, chickpea crisps… cricket bars! They are out there – and more will come.
“It is our duty to make them more accessible, appealing and fun to eat. They need to be in TV programs, on buses and so on and unhealthy food marketing should be illegal.”