It’s happening. The real food movement is growing in Australia as more people are discovering the benefits of eating a minimally processed ancestral-type diet. While some people are completely missing the point by using “paleo” and “primal” as catchy terms to market their products and services (see Angelo Coppola’s excellent post on this), there are people who haven’t lost the view.
Nadine Dunlop created RealFood Connection guided by the philosophy: “eat mainly vegetables, protein, good fats, nuts & seeds, some fruit, some dairy, limited starch and minimal sugar”. She was kind enough to take some time off her busy schedule to have a chat about her business.
Nadine has a background in food science and nutrition, and a passion for eating delicious and nourishing food. During the several years she spent in the corporate world, a few things sparked her interest to start RealFood Connection: she was diagnosed with Crohn’s (an autoimmune disease), she started Crossfit, and she was introduced to the paleo diet. Even when she had been eating a “healthy” (by conventional standards) diet, switching to paleo was her ticket to remission.
But as management consultant working in the CBD and a hard-training Crossfitter, she struggled to find something decent to eat. That’s when the business project started. “The idea came about because of my corporate life working in the CBD, having very limited access to food that if it wasn’t full of grain, it was full of soy… there weren’t enough options out there, it was very expensive, and when you’re having no grain you’re instead getting lots of preservatives”.
The initial business plan was to start a purely online business “because what I wanted to do was to be able to get food to busy people and have it conveniently done for them… but when I found this space I fell in love with it”. The fit-out was done in record time and the business started operating first as a cafe, and then the online component came on board.
The core of the business is the prepared meals, which you can order online for delivery to the CBD or Inner West (for the moment), eat in at the cafe, or take away for home (some smart customers take enough meals for 1 or 2 weeks at a time). These are, of course, gluten-free and grain-free, and contain approximately 200g of protein plus a generous portion of vegetables. “The fact is we need to eat protein, it’s essential, but for me the reality is that we don’t eat enough vegetables”. Agreed.
While they use organic beef and lamb, free-range chicken and eggs, and seasonal and local produce delivered daily, they do not guarantee all their fruits and vegetables are organic. “Another part of the philosophy is that you don’t need to be rich to eat this kind of food and it should be accessible to everyone. I want people to be able to access healthy food, this is the reason behind what I’m doing.”
When I first checked RealFood Connection’s website and Facebook page I was surprised I didn’t find the words “paleo” or “primal” even when the philosophy and menus seemed to fit in nicely. Nadine explained it to me: “the main reason is that we’re not a diet company… The philosophy is: no grains, no preservatives, no gluten, that’s not gonna change, we’re very strong about our brand and the produce we use but it’s not affiliated necessarily with a specific diet.”
The best-sellers change over time, but at the moment the top three are the cinnamon lamb, the picante chicken and the aromatic meatballs. The couple of vegan and vegetarian dishes they offer are quite popular too, as well as the salads in summer. Among the treats, the protein balls (made with whey or pea protein) are selling really well. There is also a nice selection of pantry staples (including their grain-free granola) for sale.
So where does the inspiration for this wonderful food come from? “I love to eat. I enjoy being in the kitchen, I’ve always loved to cook and experiment, I like going to try new flavours and new recipes and I like seeing how foods come together. I also really like to cook out of one pot, the whole idea behind slow cooking and being able to retain flavour.” As you may have guessed, there’s a super mum behind this. Nadine grew up eating mostly home-cooked Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes: lots of kebabs, salads, stuffed vegetables, and no desserts, biscuits or soft drinks. Her first exposure to Mac Donald’s was at age 7 (a late start, for the standard these days). “My dad took me there when I was 7 and he had to force me to finish the cheeseburger because I couldn’t stand it”. Her parents were very active and she was always doing sport. This all translates in a 8-month pregnant businesswoman who looks in much better shape than me.
Speaking of people who are in better shape than me, most of RealFood Connection’s customers are people who are into fitness (paleo and Crossfit advocates), health professionals, people interested in maintaining weight rather than losing it. It makes sense when you realise that the typical yo-yo dieter (been there) is afraid of fat and protein.
There are of course people who are not familiar with this “wacky” idea of eating real food. They want bread, they want pasta. Nadine tells them that it’s all about providing a grain-free alternative in a market saturated with it. Soy milk is another controversial topic. Nadine knows she could sell more coffees if she used it, but has decided to stick to her guns and ditch all the unhealthy crap. Instead, she uses lactose-free milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or coconut cream in the coffees and protein shakes.
RealFood Connection has been well received by the public and is growing strong. Some of the things we can expect in the near future are: a website revamp, more delivery locations, prepared meals sold at your favourite shop, more locations (starting with the Northern Beaches), and the cafe open on Sundays. Exciting times ahead.
Stay tuned for the next post with a review of the food.
Real Food Connection
2 Sterling Circuit
Camperdown NSW 2050
(02) 9516 0267