Meet Rimi Thapar, founder of Cheshire-based luxury vegan snack brand Love Raw
- Credit: LoveRaw
Vegan chocolate? Delicious may not be the first word that springs to mind when contemplating vegan chocolate – unless you’re a lover of the very high cocoa-content dark as dark chocolate the aficionados want us to choose. If, like most, it’s the creamy, sweet, wicked deliciousness that wins your heart, you’ve probably not considered a plant-based alternative to your usual sweet treat.
This was, in part, the very thinking behind LoveRaw founder Rimi Thapar’s decision to plough all her considerable energy and knowledge into developing a collection of super-indulgent, unarguably delicious, chocolate-based vegan snacks and treats.
‘The LoveRaw story starts a long way back,’ she says, ‘when I was living in Spain with my husband, Manav, who ran a textiles distribution business. My own background is in merchant banking, but I was unable to find a role there, so had more time on my hands. I started shopping at the wonderful farmer’s markets, making much healthier food choices, and we both started to notice a difference in our energy and health.
‘I realised that while I could buy fresh, seasonal ingredients for making my own meals, there were no really healthy snacking options, so I started to develop my own, just for us, friends and family.
‘Sadly, while I was in Spain my father died, and that really made me question what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to follow my heart, and tried to set up a business in Spain, making them for retail, but Spain really isn’t geared up to support entrepreneurs in the same way the UK is, so Manav and I decided that I would return to the UK and move in with his parents, and set up a business here.’
Rimi headed to Altrincham and, like so many, started her business in the home. She converted the garage into a production unit, gained all the correct licenses, and commenced work.
Her initial plan was to create indulgent, but relatively healthy, vegan snacks and retail them locally.
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‘I had never had any plans, or even thought, about upscaling,’ she says. ‘I really enjoyed actually meeting the people buying my product, and sharing the message myself. Then one day a friend asked: who would be your absolute ideal retailer? My answer was immediate – WholeFoods, in London. They represent everything that we’re about and we share their ethics.’
Rimi discovered the name of the buyer she needed to see and, undeterred by strict guidance to send an email only, headed to London to make the connection personally.
‘I just walked into their head office and faked having a meeting with the buyer. The receptionist went and got him and I blustered a bit and handed him some samples. Luckily, he was a very nice guy, and Spanish too, so we already had common ground. He sat down, he gave me time, he gave me feedback and within two weeks placed an order for 5,000 units.’
This huge order sent Rimi into a slight production volume tailspin, as up until this point she had been producing and packaging just 200 units each day.
‘I went immediately to 18-hour days,’ she says. ‘It was crazy; I had my mum join me, and my in-laws, we had pallets of ingredients being delivered outside the house – the neighbours must have wondered what on earth we were doing.’
In 2016 LoveRaw was approached by Dragons’ Den, which films in Manchester.
‘We were just too busy,’ Rimi says. ‘But in 2017 we were approached again and thought, why not? I passed the audition and before I knew it was sent a date to go on air. It was very tense. You don’t meet the Dragons beforehand and I was standing there for over an hour fighting for my business and explaining what we do and trying to get some investment.’
Deborah Meaden offered to invest, but Rimi felt that the percentage of her business that Deborah wanted in return was simply too high.
‘I was thinking about all those 18-hour days I had spent making the bars and making so many sacrifices for the business and it just didn’t feel right, intuitively, to give away that percentage, even though probably we did need investment at that point.’
In 2019 Rimi moved away from her original offering and was focussing her efforts on a more luxurious product – chocolate. And vegan chocolate at that.
‘We went through quite a product evolution. We started with cold pressed raw bars, which in 2013 was really innovative, but the barriers to entry were too low and competitors started to enter the market. I felt that there was a real gap in the market for something luxurious, indulgent – and still vegan. We wanted to create a chocolate that was decadently enjoyable, where you felt like you were eating something naughty, and yet was vegan.
‘We wanted to disrupt the chocolate confectionary category, and we’re doing that. We have proven that vegan chocolate still tastes good, you don’t need to compromise taste to maintain your dietary choices.’
They launched with their Chocolate Butter Cups, vegan nut butters wrapped in vegan chocolate.
‘Wholefoods in London sold nearly 12,000 units in the first week, which is huge. We decided at that moment just to focus on chocolate. We discontinued our other lines and decided just to do one thing, and do it really well.’
In 2020, in the middle of lockdown, they launched the Chocolate Wafer Bars, which are currently their bestseller. They have also more recently launched their M:lk Chocolate bars, and already have plans for new launches in 2022.
‘We have a mini kitchen in our offices in Altrincham and we do constant recipe development. First and foremost, it’s always about taste. To get the creamy, luxuriant taste and feel of milk chocolate, without the milk, we use nut butters – cashew nut, hazelnut, etc. We also really carefully source the cocoa that we use.’
The LoveRaw website not only offers product to purchase, but an unending collection of recipes that look not only too tempting, but as far from ‘healthy’ as can be, despite being vegan.
Rimi laughs, ‘Healthy is such a subjective word. All we do is claim vegan, we don’t claim healthy. We try not to be preachy; we just advocate what we do and show how you can still treat yourself within a vegan lifestyle.’
Having enjoyed more than a few of Rimi’s tasty treats, I can say the word vegan doesn’t really even need to come into it – they taste great and immediately satisfy a need to indulge, and while it’s a bonus to know they aren’t full of rubbish, that’s most definitely not the only reason to buy.