The people behind YUM Granola are as good as any, and they’re a business I’m stoked we’re friendly with not only because they make delicious granola and mountain bike, but because Sarah, Mike and their team do so much to give back, whether that be by operating a certified Climate-Positive business or by donating granola to local food banks. We caught up with Sarah to get an insight into YUM, and to find out how Covid-19 has affected them.


Tell us a little bit about YUM Granola, what you do and your ties to mountain biking.

We make YUM Granola here in Nelson, which includes everything from creating our own recipes, sourcing the ingredients, baking the product, photos, website and online content creation, packaging design, and distribution across the country. Mike and I started YUM down in Wanaka about 5 years ago when we were living there, and it really took off at the local market. Watching it grow on its own at the beginning was quite impressive. I’ve always believed when you do something you love and that fires you up, the finished product is noticeably different, and that’s one of the main reasons I believe YUM tastes as good as it does. We take it one step further and are conscious on every level of how what we do is affecting our footprint and how we can make it better.


While we are a small company, we punch above our weight on so many fronts – sustainability, contributions/donations, minimising packaging waste, paying living wage, eliminating the use of plastics. For us, it is the right way to do business and the only way to do business. We see other companies receiving awards for just being in business and it’s always a bit disappointing because it would be nice to see how (or if) they are giving back to their community and the planet, not just looking after their own image and bottom line. So, we focus on what we do best and stick to our values, which is thoughtful to the whole process and keeps us tracking in a (somewhat) straight line.


YUM and mountain biking go hand and hand for us! We both are addicted to riding in our own ways. YUM was created initially to fuel our own adventures. Then, more and more people wanted it and we wanted to share its goodness. Funnily enough, the first delivery of YUM was on my Yeti SB95 from Lake Hawea to Wanaka. We are lucky in that YUM provides us a lifestyle now where we ride pretty consistently. We moved to Nelson a few years ago because of the riding. We knew the move would be good for YUM too but at the end of the day it is the getting out on the trails that brings balance (and breathing) to our lives. We’ve also just been able to ride together again. I had forgotten how much fun Mike is to ride with, so we have been getting out weekly again which feels like a treat. There have been times when YUM needs every minute of our waking days, and in the beginning there were no free weekends and little free time, but we now work pretty normal hours with the ability to go ride Nelson’s amazing trails when the sun is out. YUM HQ is right in downtown Nelson, so just a few minutes ride to all the trails which we are stoked on.


What challenges have you faced over the past couple of months? From our entry into level four, to our move to level three and where we sit now, in level 2.

The night before lockdown I had a huge meltdown! It wasn’t about the unknown of what was going to happen, it was more the fact we felt spread thin already and I couldn’t imagine that on top of having Rai home from kindy all day every day. I knew it would be bonus quality time to be with her but having less time to drive YUM scared me to be honest. The irony was that Mike seemed happier and more relaxed than ever! This is why we are a good team😊 I asked him why and he said that he is always stressed about YUM and now it felt a little better because everyone was in it together. I guess for me, I feel that if you’ve started your own company , you find yourself in the red sometimes, but if you do it right, you learn how to be lean, agile, and smart. We know other companies who work with a lot of capital and because of that they just throw ideas and money in the air to see what will stick. We’ve never been able to afford to have that mentality and because of that I believe we have good general resilience.


We were super grateful to be an essential supplier to supermarkets and to be able to continue producing YUM through the entire lockdown. I remember the first day going to work in Level 4, riding my bike to YUM downtown and it was eerie. It felt like every person and every business had vanished in a way, virtually overnight. There was no one on the streets and it really left me feeling sad for all the people who had lost their jobs and the business owners that didn’t know how or if their businesses were going to be able to continue. After a couple weeks at Level 4 while our supermarket sales had dropped a bit, our online sales were through the roof. We were essentially doing more production with half the staff in a fraction the time. I had to reprioritize and condense my role down to what was essential and only do a couple hours of work a day while Rai was sleeping. Mike was wrapping his days up by mid-afternoon, to come home and relieve me a bit with Rai. The irony was that because we weren’t allowed to ride our mountain bikes during lockdown here in Nelson, we were forced to relax and breathe in different ways, and it felt pretty good to not feel guilty about not getting out. We just changed gears and did more hikes with Rai and found other ways to get out into the bush.


At Level 2, I came back to work at YUM HQ along with Rachel who helps us with all our store support. It felt really good to have the team back under one roof! Rai was probably equally happy to be back in kindy playing with other little people again.


Has/how has COVID-19 affected your plans for the year?

It’s really interesting because just this week I went back to our Strategy Plan that we were working off pre-Covid. It was only a couple months ago and I have little memory of it. The world is a different place now, with shopping habits changing overnight as well. I am hopeful that some of the good habits we had over lockdown will continue. We’ve always commuted to and from work on our bikes and the amount of smelly cars on the road again are kind of a bummer. We’ve been asking ourselves what worked for us over lockdown and then taking that forward into planning for the rest of the year.


Tell us about how you’ve been supporting food banks around the country over the past few months

I remember getting to YUM the first day Level 4 was being discussed on the radio and Mike said, “I’ve worked the numbers and I think we can donate 1 x 400g retail bag for every 1kg purchased on our website”. “What… Really?!” Our margins are already really slim compared to our competitors because of the organic ingredients we use, so I was pretty shocked at this coming from the guy who is pretty stressed on a daily basis around YUM’s finances. He went on to explain that a lot of people were going to be out of jobs and not be able to afford the basics and it would be good for us to think of those people and help them. We had no idea how our business turnover would be through lockdown, but we knew this would help us maintain our focus and feel good about being able to continue baking YUM. So, that day we launched YUM’s Breaky Drive and now we’ve donated over 500 bags to local and national food banks which is over 4,000 YUM servings to keep people going, and still growing. It has been pretty awesome to see how well received it has been from people and it makes us even more proud of YUM.


A lot of businesses, including us, have been able to put energy into projects that had been sitting on the backburner before Covid hit. Have you been working on anything over the lock down period, or has it been business as usual?

There was a lot of business as usual but one of the other silver linings to lockdown was that my creativity really kicked into gear and I came up with a couple new YUM recipes, as well as finishing a couple more. So, those are now new products in the queue for moving ahead which is pretty exciting in our world. We still get very excited for new YUM products as they are our own unique creations. Over lockdown we finished our audit with EKOS and received our certification for being Carbon Zero + Climate Positive, which really feels great as we don’t know of anyone else in our category that has a similar commitment to sustainability. It also offsets our carbon by 120% with regenerative native plantings in Takaka, just over the hill from us.


Finally, what’s in store for YUM over the rest of 2020?

So much goodness! We have just started working with a group on the North Island who are going to help us grow YUM into more supermarkets which will grow our market share. This combined with our plan to switch over our entire retail line of YUM into home compostable packaging will mean that the more market share we have, the more packaging waste we will be eliminating, which is something we feel pretty strong about. We have switched all our 1kg bags already to home compostable packaging, but it is a large project for the retail line. We have wanted to do it for some time, but it was cost prohibitive. However, now it is looking more like a reality. We are going to roll our newest flavour, The Mighty Fig, out into retail packages as well as it really took off with our trial of it in 1kg bags. One of the recipes I came up with over the lockdown, will come out in the next couple weeks on our website and it is unlike anything out there as it will be from 100% NZ grown ingredients. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt to see what NZ grows and how we could create a granola with it. In a way the rest of the year will be continuing to get YUM out into the world while ensuring we are leaving the best footprint as its legacy.


Words: Cam Baker & Sarah Hedger

Images: Sarah Hedger & Mike Cowlin