Nadine Habayeb of Bohana: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food
An Interview With Vicky Colas
Know the problem you’re solving — have a clear why, you’ll need it when in doubt.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadine Habayeb & Priyal Bhartia.
Founded in 2018, Bohana® is a free spirited snacking™ brand that believes in listening to your body and doing what works for you. Bohana is the first brand to introduce air-popped water lily seeds, an ancient Ayurvedic ingredient to the US market. Bohana is a women founded and led, Boston based company co-founded by Nadine Habayeb & Priyal Bhartia.
As self-proclaimed spiritual junkies, curious to learn about some of the world’s most ancient practices and traditional superfoods. On this journey, Co-Founder and COO Priyal Bhartia went back to her Indian roots and rediscovered her childhood snack — Popped Water Lily seeds. When Priyal introduced this puffed super snack to Co-Founder and CEO Nadine Habayeb, she was hooked and made it her go-to snack too! The dynamic duo never looked back and vowed to bring this ancient super snack to free spirit snackers everywhere. In 2020, Nadine appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank and secured two offers from sharks and unanimous praise for Bohana’s snacks.
Nadine and Priyal knew they were the right team to bring this snack to market because of their unique but complementary backgrounds and shared core values. Before Bohana came to life, Priyal worked in her agriculture-based family business in India focusing on the supply chain and operations side, specializing in bringing agricultural products to mass retail. Prior to Bohana, Nadine worked in the luxury fashion & hospitality industry specializing in consumer brand marketing and communication strategy between the Middle East, Europe and the US.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I always had a passion for food, avid home cook and always curious about exotic ingredients from around the world. I grew up moving between the US and various countries in the Middle East, I am of Lebanese and Palestinian origin though only visited and have not lived in either country, so I was always living in another culture to my own. I fueled my passion for embracing new cultures and learning about their traditions through food. Though my career started in hospitality before Bohana, I was most recently working in Fashion. I secretly always missed food and beverage, and so after I went to business school I knew I would try to find a way back.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
Priyal, my co-founder and I became instant friends when Priyal started dating her now husband, my childhood friend, 8 years ago. We instantly bonded over being spiritual junkies, curious to learn about some of the world’s most ancient practices and traditional superfoods. After a health scare with Priyal’s husband, the doctors advised that he ate only plant-based. On this journey, Priyal went back to her Indian Ayurvedic roots and rediscovered her childhood snack growing up in India — Popped Water Lily seeds. Uncovering the nutritional properties of the snack — she introduced them to me while I was in business school in Boston. An erstwhile popcorn junkie, I became hooked and was grateful that I had found my functional alternative that came from such a beautiful background. As we saw the ingredient grow in popularity around the world but realized it had not reached the US yet, that was the ah ha moment, together we decided to introduce these seeds to the US.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We were looking for makhana (water lily seeds) suppliers in India. Having no idea on how to go about finding suppliers we turned to the World Wide Web. There we found a few suppliers claiming to be the largest in India. Taking their word for it, we flew to India to have a meeting to start procuring water lily seeds. When we arrived at the meeting, we were in shock because the said biggest supplier was sitting in a wall-less building that was still under construction and barely had a desk inside. We soon learned that he wasn’t a big supplier and barely was in the trade at all! The lesson here is to do your research and never take things at face value. Always do your homework and question everything.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I have seen people make is to launch the product but not clearly understand the problem they are trying to solve and identify their brand’s purpose and clearly articulate their difference. When creating your brand it’s important to really dig deep to understand your ‘why’. Why your brand exists and how it will compete with other brands in the segment.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First, try making it yourself if you can, get a close enough recipe to what you think is perfect. Don’t worry, it will be tweaked when you scale. Then share it with everyone you know. Family, friends, classmates, neighbors, get feedback. Tweak, then share again. This time try using farmers markets, or local events to share the product, get more feedback. Tweak again! Then buyers, local stores etc. Along the way, share surveys, collect information, ask if they would buy it and how much they would pay for it. This is essential information that you need to know from the start. If it turns out that it will cost you twice as much to make as someone is willing to pay, you have a problem. Having a sense check of that will be hugely beneficial.
Join local food maker communities or meet ups online or offline, there are always food entrepreneurs who are at separate stages of their businesses ready to support others in their community. These communities are a wealth of information. If you can make it at home, start there, if you need a commercial kitchen you could explore renting kitchen space, and if you’re ready to scale you can look for a co-manufacturer who can help produce your product at scale!
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Follow steps above. Just start. Trial your product, even if it’s homemade, get feedback, find out if someone is willing to pay for it. Once you start to get validation that there are people that would pay for your product and you begin to sell your product and make a margin you have started a business. Now it’s time to grow that business. Think about what kind of business you want to be, a small business that sells locally, or grow to be a multinational or sell to a CPG, no wrong answer but setting your vision from the start will help as you begin to build.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Get clear on what you want first, at least what problem you want to solve and as far on the development as you can. I do believe in always asking for help, and seeking guidance from those with more experience, depending on your resources. It’s also great to have someone to develop ideas with whether that’s a co-founder, mentor, advisor or consultant.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
The golden question but what we’ve learned is that it’s a personal choice. If you are ready to share the ownership of your business with others, raising venture capital money is a sure way to invest heavily and grow your business fast. I also think that investors can be advisors that have more experience who are able to support your growing business. Bootstrapping will allow you to keep overship, decision making but oftentimes its slower growth.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
That’s a lot to unpack, the whole business operation practically! We have not filed a patent so I can’t speak to that but staying as close as possible to your supply chain is key. In our case we work directly with our farmers to source the highest quality ingredients that we are proud of. We cut out the middleman and source directly from the farmer, it allows us to compete on price, quality and a sustainable supply chain. Doing your research, asking for referrals, ready industry newsletters, publications and forums, oftentimes walking a few industry trade shows will have everything you need under one roof, it’s great for discovery of these services. When it comes to retail and distribution, I think it’s always best to start in your backyard, visit stores you think would be a good fit for your product, talk to the buyers, store managers and ask them what it takes to get into their store. Once you have enough support from a number of stores, you go to a distributor, with a “commit list” and share the interested retailers with them,
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Know the problem you’re solving — have a clear why, you’ll need it when in doubt.
- To not take it personally . Listen, learn, improve.
- Plan for twice as much time and twice as much money — people warned us, but it’s actually true.
- It gets really lonely- have a strong support network. Other entrepreneurs will be your greatest ally and resource.
- Just do it — Don’t be afraid to start from your kitchen.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Just because you love it doesn’t mean everyone else will. Sample, share and collect as much feedback as possible from as many people as possible. Align your values with values of your customers, but be careful not to follow trends, they come and go quickly. To have sustainable longevity, make sure you’re making it easy for people to love your product and make it a part of their lives and grow with them. Stay connected with the needs of your customers and how they use the product, then keep iterating and improving. It’s a forever work in progress.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Bringing to light the beautiful holistic lifestyle that is Ayurveda.
At Bohana we believe in Free Spirit Snacking, simply listening to your body and doing what works for you. In a world where we are inundated with messages to follow prescriptive diets and trendy health fads, we want to bring freedom to our consumers by offering a snack that is nutritious, functional and fits into any lifestyle. Rooted in the same values as Ayurveda we believe that each of us is unique and only when we tune and follow our own unique bodies needs, it will ultimately lead to the best health and wellness. We are starting this business as a food brand but hope to expand our vision to more than just food and apply our same values across other parts of the wellness industry.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah, of course. Do I even need to explain why?!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.