United Kingdom

My lightbulb moment: Crisp innovator Nimisha Raja reveals the inspiration behind her business

Nimisha Raja, 57, founded Nim's, the UK's first range of 100 per cent natural air-dried fruit and veg crisps. They are now sold in Waitrose, M&S and Ocado. She lives in London with her daughter, Freya, 21.

In 2009, I was running a coffee shop in Battersea, South-West London. I'd owned a wine bar before, but I couldn't work nights with a baby.

The shop was opposite a school, so parents and children came in. The children wanted crisps and the parents wanted them to eat fruit, so it was always a battle.

I wanted to create snacks parents were happy to give their children and that children wanted to eat, so I married crisps and fruit.

My plan was to create a crisp that contained one ingredient, using the whole fruit or vegetable (skin, core and pips intact),

Nimisha Raja (pictured), 57, founded Nim's, the UK's first range of 100 per cent natural air-dried fruit and veg crisps

I converted my garage into a kitchen and started slicing apples, pears and strawberries, then drying them using dehydrators.

I didn't peel anything because the skin is full of goodness. And I tried everything on my daughter.

I sold the crisps in my shop, but also took them to shops in Chelsea and Fulham, and left them on a sale-or-return basis. I soon realised that if I was going to make the crisps affordable, I needed to produce a high volume to buy the fruit cheaply.

So, in 2012, I sold the coffee shop and my house to buy factory premises. I was touched when a friend who knew nothing about the business offered to invest.

During lockdown people have bought fewer single packets of crisps so she thought of new products such as drink infusions (left and right) 

I found a 10,000 sq ft factory in Kent and it took 18 months to get it ready. Next, I found a machine manufacturer for dried fruit and worked with them to adapt a machine to blow hot air over fruit slices to make them crispy.

Our first major customer was Tesco, in 2017. Today, we produce more than six million packs a year and sell in five countries. They're nut/gluten free and certified vegan and kosher. After the fruit snacks, I introduced vegetable crisps. Last year, we received a Queen's Award for Innovation.

During lockdown, people have bought fewer single packets of crisps, so I've thought of new products such as drink infusions (citrus slices you put in a G&T) and Nim's Edible Tea, made using pieces of dried fruit that is filtered when we pack the crisps. When hot water is added, the fruit rehydrates and infuses the water. Once the tea is finished, the fruit can be eaten.

There have been sacrifices, but I'm proud we've kept the company in good shape during lockdown. 

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