Sasha Watkins is the co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Field Doctor. Sasha is also a registered dietitian with a background in FMCG marketing. She is passionate about translating nutrition science into healthy meals and targeting better health through food.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
After completing my degree in psychology at University of Cambridge, I embarked on a successful career in FMCG marketing and ran some iconic ice cream brands such as Haagen-Dazs, Calippo, and Mini Milk before making a complete career U-turn to retrain as a dietitian. After 15 years working in research, public health and completing an MSc in food allergy, I decided it was time to challenge the model that convenience food cannot be healthy.
As a dietitian I have always been passionate about investigating nutritional science to help people feel happier and healthier through better food choices. I am also a realist and know that being armed with nutrition knowledge is not enough if you don’t have the time to find healthy recipes, shop and cook from scratch. This is even more the case if you suffer from debilitating symptoms associated with a chronic health condition and need to follow a complicated specialist diet.
At Field Doctor we believe in the power of food as medicine and we’re on a mission to feed people’s health one delicious meal at a time. We focus on specific conditions and health outcomes where food can have a positive effect.
We start with science, designing our meals based on the latest clinical and nutritional research to work out how, nutritionally, we can deliver tangible benefits. We then turn that science into delicious, award-winning meals using carefully sourced ingredients which we cook in our Somerset kitchen where we can control quality and develop fast. Then, we flash freeze them to lock in the goodness.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Despite working for large companies in the past, a part of me always wanted to be a change-maker so I jumped at the chance to join co-founders Martin Dewey and Alex Brooks, as I was enticed by the challenge of making a ready meal range that was truly healthy, i.e., based upon peer reviewed scientific research.
The lightbulb moment for Field Doctor really came from the fact that there are millions suffering with chronic illness and millions more at risk. It’s been known for years that eating good food can be part of the solution to improve health, but the problem is that there haven’t been any simple meal solutions to help, until now.
How did you achieve awareness?
Our aim is to find specific populations of people with a health goal or condition, so we work with a variety of people including:
- Experts and organisations e.g., charities for the condition or leading healthcare experts
- Social media influencers
- Other brands who are aligned to the specific audience
- Digital advertising targeting specific keywords for the condition/health goal
- Word of Mouth via current customers
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We have been supported by a group of angels that are aligned with our vision and mission.
What are the key successes?
We’ve had some brilliant successes so far, some standout including:
- Hit £2M annual run rate sales this month, putting us 40% ahead of last year so far in 2023.
- Launching ranges for specific conditions including the UK’s first certified range of low FODMAP meals for IBS, a gluten free range which are coeliac safe, and a calorie-controlled range for people with type 2 diabetes and looking to lose weight
- Being rated excellent on Trustpilot, and winning numerous awards including great taste awards, innovative product of the year and many more
- Growing from a team of 4 to 25 employees in total with our own kitchen in Somerset.
We’ve got aspirational plans – launching new ranges and ultimately helping the millions of people with illnesses take back control of their health.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
On a personal level, running a start-up is a crazy rollercoaster of ups and downs (extreme ups and downs) and is probably the most exhausting but exhilarating career journey I have experienced to date. You often play several roles in the business, and you never know what your day is going to look like. Being a working mother comes with additional challenges.
We also built this business during the first lockdown and only met as a full team in person 7 months after we started it. Distributed working requires organisation and clear communication structures.
Without a doubt, the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning as an entrepreneur, is knowing that I can make a difference to the health journey many people are on – that’s why I trained to become a Registered Dietitian in the first place! The frequent emails and positive feedback from customers have been fantastic.
Looking at the brand’s challenges more broadly, our biggest challenge relates to the connection between food and science. Particularly developing food with science and applying strict nutritional parameters to meals – while still making them taste amazing!
What are your plans now/for the future?
To continue to drive our direct-to-consumer business and help more people with conditions live better lives. We will also be getting into the healthcare industry and want to work with the NHS and other partners to make healthier, delicious food available more widely.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Don’t do the entrepreneurial journey alone. There is lots of evidence to show that 2 to 3 co-founders are more successful than a solo-founder as you motivate each other to cover more ground quicker and bring a wider range of skills to business from Day 1. It is important to have full trust in your co-founders and a shared vision, as you will end up spending more time together than your family and your future success is dependent on each other.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
The Field Doctor leadership team brings together a winning combination of dietary expertise, food marketing and manufacturing experience, and passion.
Myself as Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder with a background in dietetics and FMCG marketing.
Co-founder and CEO Martin Dewey was the founder of Square Pie, who created the gourmet pie, taking the business from a market stall in Old Spitalfields to supplying Selfridges and more.
Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer Alex Brooks was one of the founding team rising to MD at For Goodness Shakes, that pioneered the ReadyToDrink sports nutrition market and sold in 2015 for over £20M.
And Head of Development, Michelin-Trained Chef Matt Williamson, who travelled the corners of the world to learn about food and makes our food taste amazing!
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My son – only 12 years old and already so wise and honest. He teaches me daily about the value of being present and what really matters in this world.
My late father – I think he was the happiest person I have ever met. He was an eternal optimist and taught me that a positive attitude can help you conquer many things and even give you the power to convert some challenges into opportunities.
Amy Williams MBE – Gold Medallist for Skeleton at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. She talks a lot about controlling the controllables and not worrying about the things you cannot do anything about.
Gunhild Stordalen – the Norwegian founder and executive chair of EAT Foundation is a big inspiration. She founded this non-profit start-up to transform our global food system so it can provide a growing global population with a healthy and nutritious diet that is also within safe environmental limits.
Nelson Mandela – as a South African I will always be in awe of how Mandela transitioned our country from an apartheid regime to a democracy without any violence and how the whole nation came together for a new beginning. He was the father of new South Africa and there will never be anyone else like him.
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