Hello there, if you are just joining us, this is the fourth in a series of posts profiling fabulous food businesses. These are fabulous businesses who are sharing their wisdom and experiences to help others get a flying start on creating their own food dreams. If you would like to see the earlier posts, pop down to the bottom of this post for links to those stories.
Today I am profiling Cyndi O’Meara, a nutritionist with a difference. Cyndi has used her knowledge to build a multi-faceted food business aimed at helping people to eat better. Through her business Changing Habits, Cyndi and her team offer programs, food, books as well as the more traditional nutritionist consultations.
Cyndi has a family background in food with her Mother a great cook and her Grandfather an organic farmer. But it wasn’t until she went to University in the US, to follow her love of skiing, and study cultural anthropology that she became interested in how we eat. Returning to Australia Cyndi studied nutrition which was very science based and worked in a hospital.
Not happy with what was being fed to patients in the hospital where she worked, Cyndi started her own business that focused on what she had been taught in her nutrition and cultural anthropology studies; real food.
Cyndi’s philosophy is that while we can’t go back to eating what hunter and gatherers ate, we should try to mimic it by eating real food. Her philosophy encourages people to eat wild meat with the right fat content. This includes grass fed meat, more uncommon meats such as kangaroo, camel and goat as well as organic chicken and turkey, and pigs that are not kept on concrete. Cyndi also recommends eating lots of herbs and growing these in the garden, green vegetables and sweet potato, local and seasonal fruits and grains.
Cyndi’s philosophy also recommends methods of cooking that are traditional such as barbequing, fermenting as is done with kimchi or other cooking methods that involve water and air.
And all this has to be supported by good sleep, movement and personal connections. An holistic approach.
Growing the business
Cyndi has grown and diversified her business over the last 25 years. It has been very much an evolutionary approach
starting with columns in newspapers, expanding to a book on eating well and on to a cookbook. Then the internet happened and people started asking Cyndi to create a program. From the program, people started asking Cyndi where to source some of the foods she was recommending.
Identifying a gap in the food market, Changing Habits have specialized in that gap. They provide products that their customers can’t get locally including items such as camu camu, dulse flakes and all natural seaweed salt. Changing Habits hasn’t tried to compete with suppliers of locally sourced products.
The key to growing the business has been solving problems and responding to people’s questions and requests. Cyndi developed new products based on the questions people were asking. This year (2015) Changing Habits are planning a documentary to further expand what they can offer people.
But if you had asked Cyndi five years ago what Changing Habits would be doing she would not have dreamed to where they have gotten to. And it is important to remember it has taken her 25 years to get to this point.
Sourcing the products
Cyndi’s customers expect her to deliver food products that match up to her food philosophy and the recipes she provides. This is not always easy but Cyndi and her team have found it is well worth the effort to help their customers implement what Changing Habits teaches. Cyndi’s husband travels far and wide to obtain the products that help their customers. Last year he travelled to South America, hiring a translator and visiting factories to see how products are produced.
To expand what Changing Habits is able to offer people, trips are planned for this year (2015) to the Solomon Islands, Iran, Mexico and Sri Lanka to source new products such as turmeric and dates.
Cyndi stressed the importance of checking out the producers personally and sticking to your values. Changing Habits has been searching for a yoghurt culture that aligns with their values but have not yet found the supplier that can do this. Rather than offer a product that does not meet their standards, Changing Habits simply don’t offer the product at all until they can deliver a product they are happy with. Cyndi only sells items that she has in her own kitchen. It is important to Cyndi and her business that people following Cyndi’s programs and buying her products trust her. Building trust is key in the food industry and can be quickly destroyed if not taken seriously.
Loving the Business
I asked Cyndi what she loved about running her business and she quickly responded that it was working with a great team. She is sad that one of her team members is about to move on because he has been offered an opportunity that was too good to turn down. But Cyndi also accepts that this is part of running a business and keeping a great team around her is a priority.
Aside from the wonderful people she works with, Cyndi loves the multi-faceted nature of running a business. She love having the opportunity to look forward and is always researching and learning more.
Dealing with negative feedback
Not everyone agrees with Cyndi and her philosophy so I was keen to find out how she deals with negative comments especially given her business has a strong online presence. Luckily much of the feedback is positive. But when Cyndi does receive comments she is not completely happy with, she tries to identify if the person commenting is a genuine person. If they are she will often contact them privately and diffuse the situation; and in some cases assist the person. And where the person is clearly on a different page to Cyndi, she just lets sleeping dogs lie.
To enable her to take this positive approach, Cyndi has the strength, knowledge and foundation to deal with the comments. Where someone does raise a query Cyndi is not sure about, Cyndi works with a doctor to understand the research and build on her knowledge. Cyndi is also respectful of other people’s beliefs and goes out of her way to understand where they are coming from.
Advice for others setting up a food business
Finally, as I do with all the food businesses I profile, I asked Cyndi what advice she would give to others looking to build a food business. Her advice is to become a trusted source in your community and you become this source by doing your research. Look at where your food is coming from and be ethical with what you are doing. Only sell food and other services that you would buy and educate your community. For example explain how the animals you are selling are kept and why it is important that they are kept in a humane manner and what it means for your product. If people trust you they will buy from you.
Of course if you are selling local and seasonal food, it is often easier to do this. You can visit the farm and talk to the supplier. If you are selling foods like Cyndi that are not found locally, you can still find out about the origins of the product. It may take more effort, but it can be vital to becoming that trusted source.
I would like to thank Cyndi for taking the time out to chat to me about her business. Are you interested in finding out more about Cyndi and improving your eating habits? Then visit the Changing Habits website to read more and learn about her programs. If you are just starting out on improving your eating habits then Cyndi recommends that you start with her book, Changing Habits, Changing Lives.
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