Licensed nutritionist AV Gawtee started Earth Desserts for those with a sweet tooth looking to indulge in healthier alternatives.
How did you turn your hobby into a profitable business?
I didn’t really expect to be earning from baking so most of the decisions I’ve made up until this point were based on my gut. My product is fairly unique in the Philippine setting, so it was hard to find a point of reference. Luckily, there’s a growing vegan community in Manila and more people are becoming health-conscious, so I was able to find my niche market. I think when you’re passionate about something, it’s easier for you to want to keep improving and inventing. There’s always going to be a demand for food, but when you provide an option that makes them say, “This tastes like the regular thing, but guilt-free,” you instantly get customers who want to come back for your product.
What was it like starting Earth Desserts?
I don’t think I started my business out the usual way. Financially speaking, I literally started with all the money I had in my pocket. My dad was still giving me a weekly allowance of P1,500 a week while I was looking for a nutrition-related job. Job-hunting wasn’t going so well so I turned to baking as a way to relieve the stress. Instead of the usual recipes, I started experimenting. My dad was diabetic and hypertensive, so there really isn’t much he can eat when he’s looking for desserts; that’s where I drew my inspiration from. I started swapping ingredients like butter, refined sugar, and eggs for healthier alternatives like olive oil, flax seed, and muscovado sugar. It took a lot of trial and error, and countless hours in the kitchen but I managed to come up with a few recipes that I was happy with.
I didn’t want to ask for money from my parents so all my movements really depended on the allowance from my dad. I used that to buy ingredients and packaging materials and I would take a couple of orders from friends. Whatever I earned from that week’s sale was put into buying more ingredients and packaging materials. And it really just snowballed from there.
Where do you get ideas for recipes?
I take inspiration from flavors I really like; some conventional, some aren’t. I really try to keep a balance between sweet, salty, bitter, and earthy. Sometimes, two ingredients sound great on their own but you don’t know if they will work together until you try it. For example, I didn’t know olive oil and dark chocolate tasted good together until I made a cookie using just that. I just try to figure out what tastes I enjoy and see if it could work in a recipe. It’s a lot of experimenting in the kitchen and stumbling upon random ingredients in the grocery and thinking what I could do with it.
As a licensed nutritionist, how does that play a role in creating your recipes?
Being knowledgeable about food definitely gives you a different perspective and intention when you create recipes. I didn't just want food that tasted good; I wanted food that I knew wouldn’t be so bad on my body. My brain is programmed to point out which ingredients are healthier than others and to approximate nutrient content, especially for calories, carbs, protein, and fat.
As an entrepreneur, what goals do you set for your business? How do you track your progress?
I really want slow and steady growth, so that my customers really understand what my products are here for—and that’s giving healthier options to people who want to indulge. As a nutritionist, I believe that eating better and taking care of your body doesn’t equate to depriving yourself of food you enjoy.
For me, it’s progress when you “convert” people to this kind of lifestyle where you are more conscious of what you eat. It’s progress when people open their minds instead of closing off vegan food as yucky and boring. It’s progress when people believe in your product and I think growth in sales can be a reflection of that.
What sets Earth Desserts apart in the competitive online food business?
Well, I think the biggest difference is that I really try to strike a balance between being healthy and being delicious. There’s a notion that vegan food, especially desserts, is boring and tasteless. Food that’s good for your body doesn’t have to be bad on your taste buds. Earth Desserts wants to challenge that perception of health food.
Now that your business is growing, how do you keep up with customer demand?
When I started out, Earth Desserts was a one-woman team. I was doing all the purchasing, baking, packing, delivering and marketing. Right now, I have an assistant baker and a driver so all I really do now is buy materials and take care of orders, social media and publicity materials. That way, even when I’m out on a trip or busy with other work, baking doesn’t have to stop.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own business?
Believe in your product or your service. Believe that what you offer is something of value and that people need it. Never settle for “okay lang” because someone else can capitalize on what you lack. Finally, love what you do because that’s the only way you’re going to survive some of the soul-crushing, physically exhausting and mentally trying moments of putting up your own business.
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