- The muesli-maker who began in a squat mp4 3mins 30mb
- Behind the scenes: Alara Cereals started in a squat with two pound notes. But an inauspiscious start has blossomed in to an unlikely success story …
- I got involved in the squatting movement in the early 1970s. I’d moved to London to study architecture and was living in a building on Tolmers Square, just off Tottenham Court Road. I opposed the philosophy of destroying existing Victorian properties and replacing them with modern blocks solely in the name of making money, so I decided I had to live without it. I didn’t spend money for a year until, in 1975, I found two £1 notes in the street and decided to start a business with it.
We began what’s now Alara by selling fruit and veg that would otherwise have been thrown out. We bought a sack of flour from a wholefoods wholesaler near the squat and started baking bread. Eventually we squatted in a retail premises and turned it into a wholefoods shop.
We got evicted from that shop and another, second premises within two years, so, in 1978, we leased a small shop just off the Euston Road. The shop continued to do very well, but the area was being redeveloped and Camden Council allocated our shop as the site office, so we struck a good deal with them to move to a bigger place on Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury.
We wanted to produce really healthy food, and there were no cereals on the market that had no added sugar, salts or fats at that time, so we started making muesli. With more space in Bloomsbury, we were able to get a muesli mixing machine. It all expanded from that point on, until we had our own factory in Camley Street, King’s Cross. We’ve been embedded in the community for years now – we’ve planted lots of trees near the factory, we have an orchard, and the people who work here live close by, too. Our next mission is to sequester more carbon than the carbon we create in making our products.
Our focus is on creating a healthy product with high nutritional value. As well as keeping our muesli free from sugar, salt and fat, we use superfoods such as goji berries and linseeds, and we’ve developed a complex database that we use to develop blends with specific requirements – such as high selenium, or vitamin C – that will still taste great.
Alara was the first cereal company in the world to be certified organic, and now our factory produces about half of all the organic muesli sold in the UK. We are also the first company to be licensed by the Coeliac Society. We’ve come a long way since squatting, but being accessible to everyone remains central to what we do.