Gem Misa: On Globalising Cauli Rice And Winning Over Richard Branson

Crowned one of the UK’s Food Pioneers, backed by over £2m in crowdfunding and already on the shelves of over 1,300 supermarkets, pioneering, healthy startup Cauli Rice has won the affection of many a health-conscious consumer. But there’s one particular fan who stands out from the crowd.

Recognised by Virgin mogul Richard Branson as one of Britain’s hottest food businesses at the 2015 Foodpreneur Fest, Cauli Rice is revolutionising the way people eat and Branson is championing the homegrown brand from Britain to beyond.

Set to feature as a permanent fixture in U.S. retailer Target, after pitching to the company as part of winning the Foodprenuer accolade, Cauli Rice is now well placed to scale in the global market.

So, if you’re wondering what it takes to make it onto Branson’s hit list, we sat down with Gem Misa, one half of the husband-and-wife duo behind the healthy rice alternative, to find out.

“The obvious benefits behind Cauli Rice have really helped it to sell itself,” explains Misa. “With 75% fewer calories than normal white rice, the long life, ready-made cauliflower rice provides benefits that are not offered by any other type of rice, couscous or quinoa available on the market, making our product truly unique in the category.”

Founded in 2014, Cauli Rice, the second venture for Misa and husband Jamie Harris, who previously founded Righteous, a healthy salad dressings company currently turning over £350,000, came to the pair during a ‘light-bulb’ moment.

Cauli Rice founder Gem Misa explains how she won over Richard Branson
Image: Cauli Rice

Both passionate about healthy eating, after making the popular rice alternative at home, they realised there was huge opportunity for a long life, ready-to-heat version to make a real impact on the food industry. And so the idea was formed.

Lacking the funding to turn their dream into a reality, Misa and Harris launched their first crowdfunding campaign via CrowdCube in September 2014. Raising £498,710, the pair used the capital to help fund product development as well as the technology needed to produce Cauli Rice.

“We thought the concept was amazing, but we weren’t sure other people would like it enough to invest, explains Misa. “But three successful crowdfunding rounds later we’ve raised over £2 million to perfect the product, build a factory and get Cauli Rice into over a thousand UK supermarkets.”

The first of which was Tesco, agreeing to stock Cauil Rice in over 300 stores nationwide, helping to really launch the product in the September of 2015. Waitrose, ASDA and Sainsbury’s have followed suit and Misa says the response from consumers since then has been staggering.

“We’ve had an incredibly positive response from people who understand what we are offering. We’ve seen fantastic repeat purchase levels in stores and our demand per store continues to increase. To say that this is our 5th month of trading and we are already in over 1,300 supermarkets is pretty incredible.”

Without the big budget leading food brands usually set aside for PR and marketing campaigns, Cauli Rice has relied heavily on word of mouth to increase the brand’s exposure.

“Focusing on the novelty of the product has really piqued people’s interest” says Misa, with Cauli Rice becoming a hot topic on social media.

“If you look up #caulirice on Twitter and Instagram you’ll see photographs of the packaging and of meals people have cooked with our product. This is probably one of the most exciting things for us as founders – to see people liking the brand enough to share their experiences with their friends on social media.”

But if there’s one piece of PR that’s really helped to propel Cauli Rice into the global stratosphere, it’s securing the backing of Britain’s most recognisable entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Cauli Rice founder Gem Misa explains how she won over Richard Branson
Image: Virgin Foodpreneur

Spotting an advert on the Virgin StartUp website looking for entrants for the annual Foodprenuer competition, celebrating Britain’s most creative, inspiring and disruptive food and drink startups, Misa and Harris decided to enter.

3,000 companies later, Cauli Rice was named as one of the top three startups, winning the chance to be trained by the department of UK Trade and Investment and offered real-life insight from Paul Lindley, Founder of Ella’s Kitchen, before flying to the U.S. to pitch to buyers from Target Corporation.

“Winning Virgin Foodpreneur didn’t just help generate invaluable PR,” says Misa. “It also allowed us to get our foot in the door with one of the largest American retailers,” she explains.

With long term plans to expand Cauli Rice internationally, the opportunity was a major development for the brand, who later discovered that Target were so bowled over by their pitch, they plan to carry Cauli Rice across all stores.

But Misa and Harris still have a long way to go in order to push Cauli Rice into the mainstream market, a they appear confident they can achieve.

“Cauli Rice is incredibly relevant not just to health-conscious consumers in the UK but in other countries as well. And over the next 5 years we aim to launch it in major markets around the world, with more flavours and in different formats,” she says.

Believing that their product has longevity, for now Cauli Rice continues to gain traction as the only long life, ready to heat version of the global health food phenomenon that’s available on the market, a first-mover advantage that Misa argues has been fundamental to their success.

“There are so many opportunities to come up with innovative new products in health and wellness,” she says. “But don’t settle for launching a product that is a ‘me-too’ in a crowded category, really challenge yourself to create something new that can help improve people’s health. It might be difficult to do but it will be worthwhile in the end.” Cauli Rice is a case in point.