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This Way Forward with Neena Vaswani, Prodigy

For the second interview in our This Way Forward series, we spoke to Neena Vaswani, co-founder of Prodigy Snacks. Prodigy is all about making real, delicious chocolate that is full of flavour while being free from plastic, palm oil, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Neena explains to us how Prodigy came to be, what inspired the move to B Corp, and what’s next on the cards for the brand trying to challenge the confectionery industry.A woman with red hair reaches for an egg carton-style box of Prodigy's easter eggs from a stack of other boxes in a cabinet. She is laughing and wearing a white tea shirt.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Prodigy and how you started? 

After selling our last company in 2015 and taking a bit of time off, [my husband] Sameer and I started to get ourselves into the food space by investing in smaller companies. And we could see the ‘better for you’ wellness trends taking off and knew that the world needed to go in this direction. 

But whilst on a trip with our children, it just became clear that in the countline space - where the likes of Snickers and Mars sit - there was just no real, affordable alternative. Unless you’re able to pay eight pounds for raw chocolate from Whole Foods.

We wanted to create something that was for everybody in a space where that didn't exist. To ensure that next to Snickers and Mars, there is a swap that doesn't contain plastic packaging, refined sugar, or palm oil. One that we can pick up in a hurry, eat and not feel guilty about.

Close-up of a stack of Prodigy's chocolate bars in front of a brown background, with melted chocolate dripping down the sides from above.

So considering the environment and the customer has been at the heart of your business from the outset. What inspired you to take this further and certify for B Corp? 

It's kind of the way that Sameer and I operate anyway. Right from the get-go, we built our business with those values and with the mindfulness of profit balanced with purpose. We were already running like a B Corp - we just didn't have the certification. But then lockdown happened and we were given the time and space to get some of our housekeeping in order and go through the certification process. We didn't have to do more things. We just had to do the paperwork.  

How do you bring your stakeholders - from your employees, customers, communities, suppliers and partners - on that journey with you? 

When you have a vision or you operate in a certain way, you naturally gravitate to people who align with your values. Whether it's employees, suppliers, or customers who are going to be on the same journey. Sometimes with stakeholders, they've already bought in because energetically they've come to you. 

I've also noticed that some people just don't get it. But I've seen with some of our manufacturers that while they may not get it yet, they want to understand and want to do better. I think people are more open to the journey now. 

But Sameer and I just try to live and breathe it. We try to advocate for everyone just doing the bits that they can. And I think people are inspired when they hear Sameer and I talk.

And in terms of cultivating transparency and trust, that is really about walking the talk. On our website, we have pages on Trust in Prodigy and (Y)our Impact. We have quite a big impact, and we use these pages to talk about it with in-depth rather than superficial information, to show that this is real for us. We want to show people what we're doing and what's important to us, without being preachy.


What has been your biggest lesson on your B Corp journey so far? 

Our B Corp journey isn’t separate from our journey as a business - it's just part of who we are and it’s at the heart of Prodigy's DNA. 

And we encounter lessons every single day. For example, the kind of things that make our product more friendly to people and planet are the same things that make our product more expensive. If we made our chocolate bar packaging plastic or put the sugar and palm oil back in, we would be so much cheaper and probably on a lot more shelves. We would be able to deal with manufacturers much easier because we would be doing things the way everyone else does, and we wouldn't be that really irritating company who are disrupting the status quo. 

Meanwhile, people are going to the NHS with diet-related health problems. And Prodigy is part of the solution for things like that - if in the long-term, we could make swaps in our diets, lifestyles and well-being, we will be doing ourselves such a better service. 

But we’ve learnt that not every retailer is ready for it. What we need is for our retailers to be our stakeholders and to think about Challenger Brands like us differently. It still feels a little bit far away, but we’ll get there.

Two people - one with medium dark hair eating a chocolate biscuit and the other with bright red hair pulling a Prodigy chocolate bar from a Jenga-style stack - sit across from each other smiling.

With that in mind, what words of advice would you give to other organisations - whether they're aspiring B Corps or are recently certified - on how they can try and bring their stakeholders on the journey with them?

I think what we need to do more of is find our champions and collaborate. I joined a female founder group, called Buy Women Built. Through this group, 44 of the female founders came together for a Whole Foods takeover and have been able to make some noise, which I think will accelerate how we're all performing there. It's about galvanising your champions and figuring out ‘what is the thing that we're going to work on? Let's work on that together’. As a group, you can identify where you can move the dial and join forces to increase your collective impact. 

As this theme is all about ‘this way forward’ and our continuous improvement as B Corps, we'd love to know what is the biggest thing that you're focusing on improving this year at Prodigy?

The way forward for us right now has to be growing at scale and getting the word out there until we have more of a presence. That's when we can have the impact. Having that visibility means that we can do better in the world, grow awareness for our customers and inspire other brands to catch up too.

We've tried and tested Prodigy's plant-based chocolate and can confirm they are simply delicious! And their Chocolate Oatie biscuits pair beautifully with our breakfast teas. You can find out more about Prodigy or order directly on their website.



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