Meet our latest Wow Woman, founder of our favourite organic food store Planet Organic. A self proclaimed small-town American girl Renée has always been passionate and determined challenging convention to help improve life and the world we live in. She came to England in 1986 to date her partner Brian and has since gone on to become an organic pioneer, challenging conventional retailing by founding Planet Organic, the UK’s first organic supermarket in 1995.
A health and well-being enthusiast, Renée recently published her third book, ‘What to Eat and How to Eat it’, founded Beluga Bean, an in-person and on-line business and life-skills academy, lectures to budding entrepreneurs and is a full-on mother to her three kids.
We sat down with Renée to talk all things wellness and organic and to find out more about her inspiring story.
What is your earliest ‘wellness’ memory?
I was 19 years old and read “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé. It was about the horrors of the beef industry in America. I could no longer see meat as a healthy food and organic meat was not an option then, so I went veggie.
What is the best ‘wellness’ tip you have ever been given?
From the stewardess on the airplane, ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first.’ Because women are nurturers, this is so often counter-intuitive, but it is essential to take care of yourself first. Only then can you really show up for yourself, others and in your work.
What does ‘wellness’ mean to you?
When I started Planet Organic, wellness meant nutritional wellbeing – a foundation of health so you can feel great and live life to the full.
Over the decades, I’ve nurtured my wellbeing across many areas, which is what Beluga Bean is all about. I create wellbeing in the following areas:
Intellectual – Always keep learning.
Economic – Earn, spend and save.
Emotional – Tell the truth.
Psychological – Do personal development.
Physical – Eat great food, maintain fitness and go to sleep!
Spiritual – Find a spiritual practice that grounds, centres and calms you.
Social – Laugh and have fun with family and friends.
Tell us about the Soil Association and why this is such an integral part of your business.
The Soil Association have been at the forefront of organic for many decades. Not only as a standard setting and certification body, but they are also a charity that campaigns against GM food, for organic and other related issues that have so much value. At Planet Organic we set the highest product standard in the country, so it made perfect sense to be the first and longest-standing Soil Association certified supermarket.
I have served as a Trustee on the Council of the Soil Association for many years and I am now on the Catering Mark Standards Committee, which promotes healthier menus in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and caterers.
What was your dream job when you were younger? Did you ever think you would start your own business?
I never knew what I wanted to do, so other than becoming a wildly famous singer, I had no idea what my dream job was. It certainly wasn’t a shopkeeper! I honestly never imagined starting my own business but I am so glad that I did.
Why did you start Planet Organic?
To be my own boss.
To do work I would LOVE forever.
To promote health in the community.
What are you proudest of with Planet Organic?
That as the first organic and natural food supermarket, we can, do and will always lead with our values.
What made you write ‘What to Eat & How to Eat It’?
Craziness! The book was so much work with all of the research plus creating, testing and eating over 120 new recipes I honestly struggled to manage it with everything else that I do. But there are so many voices out there telling you what to eat – and not all of them give accurate info. I really wanted an authoritative book on the subject to be in the world, so I poured in my thirty years of experience.
My book supports good eating by talking about what foods are good for you and, most importantly, how you should prepare them to get all the wonderful nutrients they offer. Maybe you know that quinoa is great to eat, but do you know that it’s best to soak or toast it before you cook it?
The book details 99 ingredients, from baobab to barley and beyond. I believe that eating well is mostly about ordinary everyday foods like apples that may surprise you with their goodness, some foods like miso that you may know about but aren’t using and a few superfoods like maca that you may not have heard of yet. Most of the ingredients in my book are great everyday foods and all of the ingredients are easy to buy.
For each ingredient, I talk about the ‘Benefits’, discussing why the food is good for you, like beetroot is good for high blood pressure and it can make you run faster. There is also a list of ‘ways to eat’ for a wide range of ideas to include the foods into your diet (there are 11 ways to eat more beetroot). ‘how to use’ shares useful tips like do or don’t peel, soak it, cook it or eat it raw.
All in all it’s a very useful cookbook.
How do you think we can educate people better on healthy eating?
I think the only way you can encourage people to eat better is by providing inspiring information and supporting them in taking small steps that make sense and make healthy eating easy. Trying to change bad habits is stressful and oh, so not what I’m about. Creating a healthy diet takes time. And that’s fine.
How do you ensure you always stay true to your core?
I never do anything that doesn’t feel right. I listen to my gut.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I go where I’m wanted, valued and useful. That’s priceless.
What would you say to young women who want to start their own business?
Do it. No matter what happens, you’ll learn and grow through the process. (It’s easier than having kids!!)
What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
The truth is, the entrepreneurial journey is a roller-coaster of ups and downs. You may have one big challenge, but the chances are that you’ll have lots of little and medium-sized ones. It’s important that at those times, you are smart and remain grounded.
When things get tough and I’m struggling, I don’t throw a pity party, instead, I do as many of the following to see me through hard times:
Eat well, stop drinking, exercise, meditate, forgive, be grateful, have fun, reach out for support, tell the truth, change the thought, give myself a break, pat myself on the back, trust my gut – and the Universe.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
My dad Ed told me that I could do anything that anyone else could (even without the highest IQ or best education). I believed him.
Everyone practices yoga/Pilates for different reasons. When did you start and why?
I started Pilates in 2001 when I was just pregnant. I wanted to create core strength to support my spine plus flexibility from then and through old age.
Favourite Pilates pose and why?
The shoulder bridge because I can feel the good it’s doing up and down my spine.
Mindfulness or Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation, hands down.
Where do you go to ground yourself?
Outside in nature.
What are your favourite London hotspots?
I spend most of time in Sussex, but when I’m in London, I love Providores and Casa Brindisa for food, I hang out at the Royal Academy and the British Museum, and I’m always up for ballet, opera, theatre and music.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
What are three things you can’t live without?
Other than all my peeps, they would be
2. Personal discovery
3. Stellar food and matcha
What is your quote of the day every day?
What is your single piece of advice to the next generation of women?
Trust your gut – and yourself.
Who is your ‘Wow Woman’?
Anita Roddick, with whom I was lucky enough to meet, share lunch and really talk.
If you could only live in one item of our organic activewear Asquith clothing what would it be?