founders Mitchell McClenaghan and Ryan Kamins are on a mission to kick the stereotype about the old paleo "caveman" diet. Here's how their food producing business is scaling in a dynamic and competitive market.

A brief description of the business?
Kamins: We started CleanPaleo in early 2013. Mitchell and myself were following a paleo-style lifestyle for a 12 to 18 month period beforehand and basically the products originated from what we were making a home.

We branded a couple of recipes that I was making at home and trialled the products in some small health stores. After they started selling we decided to make it go as a business. We now supply 120 independents across New Zealand, Countdown supermarkets and 100 stores in Australia.

What inspired you to start the business?
Kamins: It was the lack of what we felt was genuine healthy food in a whole form and convenient manner. What we do with our products is try to minimise processing and only use real ingredients to flavour them - that's our point of difference.

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How did the business begin?
Kamins: I met Mitchell and Art when we were working on the Spartacus TV show when Mitchell talked to us about paleo and what it was. [Initially] we thought it was pretty nuts and couldn't really understand it but after doing our own research, Art and myself ended up following paleo.

Mitch and myself got back together when Art was in Australia and that's when we decided to see if we could make a business out of it. We were friends first - it was quite a random way to meet - and now we're business partners.

What's been the biggest challenge in running the business?
Kamins: The biggest challenge initially would be educating customers and retailers.

As the first company [in New Zealand] to produce paleo products it has always been about education as well as making and selling great products.

A lot of people are very averse to the word paleo and it's unfortunate that's what it is called because it typically provokes thoughts of cavemen, but it has evolved to be more than that - it's about eating what is suitable for your own body and the principles around that.

CleanPaleo co-founder Mitchell McClenaghan.
CleanPaleo co-founder Mitchell McClenaghan.

In a business sense managing growth has also been a challenge.

When your a small business cash and cash flow is always tight and you've got to be pretty on to it with forecasting. It's also a challenge at the start where often your working one day on one thing and then a completely different the next.

McClenaghan: For us we've found it really hard to kind of just explain to people that all paleo is, is eating whole foods, it's eating proper foods in its natural form.

I find it really hard when people knock paleo when it's just eating proper food.

When you explain it like that - that you are actually just eating fruit, veg, meat - just normal food in it's whole form that hasn't been processed, then people actually understand it.

What has been the best thing to come from the business?
McClenaghan: The best thing to come from CleanPaleo is that we've seen mainstream retail chains take on our products and being able to promote whole food and clean eating, healthy lifestyles in the general public sense - it's no longer seen as a niche-type market (product).

The best thing about it has been it has been accepted by the public as an appropriate way to live your lifestyle and big companies and other retailers are all getting behind it.

How have your products benefited cricket career?
McClenaghan: Immeasurably. For me [before following the paleo diet] I had a lot of swings in terms of energy throughout the day. Cricket being a mixture of endurance and power, I wasn't consistent across the board and mentally, too.

Once I started stepping up to a higher level of the sport, which is incredibly mentally taxing, that's where the whole researching came about and I started to understand how clean eating and whole foods contributed to improving the mental side of the game and being able to be consistent both on an off the field.

CleanPaleo co-founder Ryan Kamins.
CleanPaleo co-founder Ryan Kamins.

The biggest improvement I've found in general life and just getting up for trainings, is it is so much easier to get up in the mornings, and has definitely decreased inflammation.

As of now I have a bone injury and [the doctors] are really, really surprised at how quickly everything is healing. I've got a feeling it has a whole lot to do with the lifestyle I lead and the foods I produce.

Who are CleanPaleo products made for?
Kamins: A lot of our consumers are health conscious in the most broad sense but we pride ourselves on that we would never make anything that doesn't taste as good, or if not better, than the foods they're used to.

The priorities for us are making sure these healthy foods taste great.

Some people really like our products solely on taste, and then you've got customers who on the other side are after the products for health benefits, whether that's reducing sugar or avoiding unnatural processed ingredients.

What's quite unique about our products is that they cater to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.

In terms of creating products, how does the recipe process work?
Kamins: Initially the products came from myself, I was making them at home and pretty much all of them have originated in that sense.

The billtong we make - my family has a Southern African background and it was always something we ate and made at home ourselves - we really found that there was nothing on the market which was tasting as good as it should so that's how that product came about.

The others, they were all about not being able to consume what was already in a packet or tube. With developing the recipes, we do all of them ourselves.

My father came up with one of the bases for our Manukau Crunch [cereal] recipe from him wanting something a bit sweeter and a bit tastier and we decided to trial it in-house with staff and then decided it was something we wanted to launch.

Ingredients used in CleanPaleo products.
Ingredients used in CleanPaleo products.

What are the long-term goals for the business?

Kamins:

As a brand we aim to be a global leader in paleo convenience foods and in the whole food space in general.

We have global ambitions for the company and are pressing pretty hard in to Australia at the moment. We get a lot on enquiries from Asia and the United States too and we're looking at how we can expand to those markets.

How are the business responsibilities divided among the three of you?
Kamins: My main focus is long-term planning, forecasting and leading the general direction of the business as well as anything to do with business development. My role is to guide staff, guide the business forward and drive the top-line of sales.

McClenaghan: At the start [my role] was about promoting the business to kind of get the ball rolling, but as it has gone on, I am now a director of the company.

When I'm around I make sure that I help out wherever I can. We are growing so quickly so I try to lend a hand whenever possible. [The business] has been a baby of Ryan's from the start so I help to make sure we are heading in the right direction and strategically plan how we want to get our brand across to people.

Kamins: Art bought in to the business with us a year after [the company] began when he got back from Australia - this was before his Bachelor days.

He came basically in as my second in charge to support operations. He is similar to Mitch in the sense that he helps with the marketing and promotion side of the company. His personal brand and exposure is quite valuable for us and he lives and breathes the healthy, paleo lifestyle through health and fitness so he is a great ambassador for our company and that's what his role has evolved in to.

Blackcaps cricketer Mitchell McClenaghan. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Blackcaps cricketer Mitchell McClenaghan. Photo / Mark Mitchell

How big is the CleanPaleo team?

Kamins:

We have a team of seven office staff, seven in-house production staff and a considerable amount of part-time staff. At any one time we have between 15 and 20 people working.

How is the business different now compared to when it started?
McClenaghan: We have since made the step to make all of the products ourselves.

A big step for us last year was to invest in our own production facility to make sure we can really keep improving our product quality and to ensure we can basically keep up with demand without having to rely on anyone. That has been the biggest change and it's definitely been a very positive one because we can control everything from start to finish.

Has CleanPaleo been involved in any community initiatives?
McClenaghan: We are constantly supporting people who approach us for any kind of fundraiser events they're doing locally.

We've helped a number of people over the last couple of years, but the person who comes to mind is Jess Weller. She went through breast cancer and is now educating people on how to deal with it, so we support people like her constantly with product, giveaways and hampers.

A lot of our marketing has gone in to support people and helping people is definitely at the forefront of our minds. If we can support people who are advocating that kind of lifestyle then we are all for it.

Kamins: Every month or so there is an event where we will provide a couple of hundred dollars worth of product for things like auctions where it will go to a charity and we are pretty open to people approaching us for help when we can.

CleanPaleo's product range.
CleanPaleo's product range.

What advice would you give to other small business operators?

Kamins:

It's definitely a lot tougher than you first think and it can be a challenge.

From the outset people would look at us and think 'wow, they're really great, they're riding on that line but we're thinking how did we get on this line.' In that sense we're in it and we're in it for the long haul. You learn a lot along the way.

We certainly love every minute [of running the business] but there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears, sometimes literally that goes in to it.

How much time do you dedicate to the business?
McClenaghan: It's every minute - 24/7 - it just doesn't stop.

When you start growing and keeping growing at the rate we are at the moment there is not a chance to slack off. We're putting in the hard yards, we're hauling up to make every minute of everyday count.

What is CleanPaleo's main focus?
McClenaghan: We want to educate people and advocate to people that you can still have a balanced lifestyle and go out and enjoy yourself and fall back on eating a whole food diet 70 per cent of the time.

We think it is important to have that social balance and reiterate the fact that social health is just as important as physical and mental health, but then the third phase is if you are looking to train and looking for more performance - to achieve that 3 kilometre run or marathon - then there is a way to how you can adapt and use our products to get to that point.

We are trying to help people and promote the fact that you can always fit healthy, wholesome foods in to your lifestyle - to any degree - and to achieve anything you want to achieve.

Kamins:We've got some pretty cool products in development at the moment which are really exciting. A lot of our product range is about maintaining health and supporting that, but we're really trying to come out with products pretty soon that are big on the healing aspect and some really innovative things around gut health.