Sarah Napier | G for Granola
Forget craft paper-wrapped granola for grannies. Melbourne-born, London-traveled and now Amsterdam-based granola enthusiast and designer, Sarah Napier, is making granola cool again with
G for Granola
. Striking graphics and quirky copy (ahem, Granola for Gangsters) make the granola something you want to show off on your kitchen shelves. The delicious alternative to quick weekday breakfasts is "handmade and baked with attitude" at the food incubator Kitchen Republic in Amsterdam. With flavors like fig, walnut & vanilla, and almond, cranberry & pistachio, it's hard not to get hooked after the first bite. We talked to Sarah about our love for breakfast, Amsterdam's evolving brunch scene and finding a balance between work and baking.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and lived there until I was 22. That’s when I first moved to London; my boyfriend at the time was British but I think I already had it in my head that I would move there some day. A lot of Australians do, even my parents lived in London when they were younger. I spent two years working as a junior graphic designer and assisting in chocolate shops before moving to Northern Italy for a one-year residency at Fabrica (Benetton’s Visual Research and Communication Center). Even though I still had the desire to travel more and find that next place, I found myself back in Melbourne through a series of debatable choices.
How long did you stay before you decided to leave again?
I actually lived in Melbourne for three and a half years before I finally said, “I’m out”. I went to London for the second time, and was there for almost a year but the job there didn’t work out. At that time, a friend from high school who was living in Amsterdam contacted me and I thought it was a nice opportunity to get out of London for a little while. I wandered around town, biked along the canals on beautiful sunny autumn days, and thought, this is actually kind of nice. Amsterdam wasn’t a city I had considered living in before. Although I was desperately trying to find work in London, something just came up in Amsterdam and it felt like the natural next step. That was five years ago, almost to the day.
What was the opportunity that had come up in Amsterdam?
It was actually a job at the retail design agency that I still work for four days a week called Storeage . We create commercial interiors including retail spaces and banks and corporate interiors. We’re branching into hospitality right now. I guess you could say it’s a completely different application of my skills and my background.
And when did the granola start?
The granola started about two years ago I suppose. I used to just make it for my flatmate and I, in our apartment’s little kitchen. She’s actually the one who first encouraged me to sell it. I thought it might be a nice design and branding project, and from there it slowly, step by step, grew into what it is now.
What originally interested you in granola?
Years ago in Melbourne, I would stop by this place before work for a coffee. There was this Mexican girl who sold bags of granola at the café and we got to chatting about it and she said it was just something she did to earn a little money on the side. I think that was the very first seed that was planted since I was already making my own granola at home at the time. Starting G for Granola wasn’t so much about being completely obsessed with granola; I think it was more of a general desire to do something with food. I always said that if I didn’t work in design, I would work in food.
Tell us about the name G for Granola!
It was a single conversation that I remember having with my best friend Michiel. There are so many granola brands in the market and they’re all kind of the same: there’s always this natural healthy look to them, they’re often packaged in brown paper bags and tied with a string. Geitenwollensocken , isn’t that what you say in Dutch? I didn’t want it to be that, I knew I wanted it to be different. I remember telling Michiel, “I don’t want it to be granola for grannies.” And he was like, “So you want to bring granola back to the streets. Like, Granola for Gangsters.” [Laughs]. So that’s where the name came from. I then worked with a good friend of mine who’s a copywriter, Tessa, and she took the name and ran with it. It’s meant to be quite tongue and cheek gangster speak… Obviously I’m not very gangster [laughs]. It’s not meant to be seriously gangster, it’s just meant to be fun. At the same time, I had been working on the design – I had so many different versions and it kept changing. A few friends of mine who had started their own businesses and had been through the whole startup phase gave me some very sound advice, which was just to get something out there. Get in on the shelves, get people hooked on it, and then you can think about the branding again later. That was one of the best pieces of advice I have received.
What did you hope to achieve with the brand?
Since it is a premium product (you can find granola for less, even at Marqt!) it was always the aim to be more of a lifestyle product. The brand essence is: Love the brand, get hooked on the flavors, be healthy by coincidence. The underlying goal is to get people to eat healthier breakfast or snacks, but it was always my idea to create something that people would just want to have because it’s a cool.
Do you think Amsterdam is ready for premium-priced granola?
I’ve been here five years now and I’ve seen the food industry change so much. First it was the specialty coffee scene with a couple of guys like Headfirst Coffee Roasters who were leading the way. Once people were getting used to going out and spending money on coffee, the natural next step was to go out and spend money on breakfast. It’s definitely changing, slowly. If you’re a food lover and you like to eat out, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, or just to drink coffee, it’s such an exciting time to be in Amsterdam. There are so many places popping up, the quality is just getting better and better and the ideas are getting more interesting. Exciting times for breakfast!
We're not complaining! So once you had perfected your granola recipe, figured out the branding and packaging, how did you go about selling it?
Well Headfirst Coffee Roasters (now closed, unfortunately), were the first ones to take the opportunity to buy it wholesale. I had met them on the Tweede Helmersstraat and after I had them sample some of my granola they loved it. So when they moved to the Westerstraat, I started supplying there. It started off with a kilo a week and then it was three or four kilos, at the busiest it was six or so kilos a week. That seemed like a lot. And I was working here in my kitchen! I would spend every Sunday on a stepladder getting up to the oven, tray after tray after tray.
When did you realize things had to change?
I had gotten a really big order from trend forecasters in London, The Future Laboratory. They were hosting an event called Food and Drink Futures 2015 and asked for 100 samples of my granola. I worked for nine hours straight, mixing and baking and mixing and baking and labeling and sticking and packing and sealing, with my boyfriend and flatmate as assistants… It was so much work! At that point I realized, this is a bit crazy, there has to be a solution
And the solution was Kitchen Republic ?
Yes! It was really perfect timing. The founder Bart-Jan had seen an Indie Brands write-up of my granola and got in touch with me. When they opened, I was one of the first members along with a couple of bakers, some guys producing organic juices, and several caterers. Now I can produce, say 100 sample bags, in a couple of hours, instead of the 9 that it took me in my own kitchen. Where at home I would bake 1 kilo at a time, I can do 10 kilos here in the same amount of time. It’s a lot more efficient. I go to the kitchen one day a week so I can keep my other job; that balance has been really nice.
So you would say that you’ve found a good balance?
Yes, it’s actually going very well. By choosing to work in the kitchen on Wednesdays, it means I have two days designing, one day baking, two days designing and then the weekend. It’s a really nice rhythm. I think the two complement each other quite well.
Do you see this balance shifting in the future?
It could definitely happen. I’m lucky though that I don’t do this all by myself, though. I have a little team working with me: my two brothers based in London and my younger brother’s fiancée. My older brother is an Excel wiz and he’s great on the pragmatic business side of things while my younger brother works in sales and marketing and he’s our “bla bla guy,” who talks the talk and who’s keeping things running from a brand perspective. My soon-to-be sister-in-law has worked in creative agencies and she has a great head for social media planning. It’s so great to be doing this with more people. I don’t think I could do it by myself. There was a point, about this time a year ago that my design work was really busy and the granola was kind of heating up and it was just too much. I had kind of scaled it back, but with the encouragement with my team in early 2015 we decided to push it a little and things started to pick back up again. But despite this, I still find myself doing so many different things. I find that the major difference with working for myself is that it doesn’t matter if I’m mixing a bowl of granola or creating a new design for a label or sticking labels on bags, it can really be the most mundane task but there’s still this level of satisfaction that you don’t get when working for someone else.
Where do you see it going?
This is a discussion I have with my brothers and sister-in-law all the time. Amsterdam is a really great testing ground since it’s quite a tough market as far as food goes, particularly breakfast since there isn’t really a culture around it. We figure that if we can make G for Granola work here, then it will definitely work in London and in Melbourne. Since those three places are effectively my three homes, that’s kind of where I hope to see it go. I don’t know if it would have its own bricks and mortar home to live in or that it would still be a product that would be made somewhere and shipped everywhere else, we haven’t gotten to that point yet. But to see it sold in those three places… that would be my dream.
Thanks Sarah for taking the time to meet us! You can find Sarah's granola at various cafes around the city including TOKI, Quartier Putain and Wake & Bake at Bouncespace, or pick up a bag at the Local Goods Store. Be sure to follow Sarah on Instagram and Facebook .