Nestlé signs a Phunky deal with Harrogate firm

Purely Nutrition co-founders Dr Jennie Cockroft and Sorrell Fearnall. (S)
Purely Nutrition co-founders Dr Jennie Cockroft and Sorrell Fearnall. (S)

Shrugging off bleak economic weather, Harrogate-based Purely Nutrition is expanding its award-winning PhunkyFoods children’s health education programme, having secured £820,000 from the confectionery multinational

A Harrogate entrepreneur has won £820,000 of funding from confectionery giant Nestlé – at a time when most SMEs are struggling to negotiate access to funds. Sorrell Fearnall secured the cash for PhunkyFoods, an award-winning children’s health programme described by veteran health commentator Dr Miriam Stoppard as “one of the highest-quality initiatives of its kind I have come across anywhere in the world”.

Ms Fearnall said: “In this climate, it’s wonderful news. It gives us the opportunity to progress our plans and to fund the research which is central to what we’re trying to do.”

The project started in 2005, following the publication of a Government White Paper called ‘Choosing Health’, which said that the UK’s obesity epidemic was the shared responsibility of the food industry and government, as well as parents and schools. It called for an informed approach to help inspire children.

In response, Ms Fearnall and Dr Jennie Cockroft devised PhunkyFoods, which is administered by their company, Purely Nutrition.

The curriculum-based programme is designed for children from Early Years to Key Stage 2 and is meant to develop life-skills about nutrition, physical activity and food choice. It also embraces a special needs curriculum, with lesson plans centred on healthy eating through fun activities including drama, art, music, games and hands-on experience with food.

Ms Fearnall, whose first job in Harrogate eight years ago was selling advertising space, first became interested in children’s nutrition when she met an old friend whose daughter was struggling to keep her weight down.

“This was pre-Jamie Oliver,” she said. “I’m a trained chef, so I thought I could perhaps help.”

Little did she know that the idea would snowball: since launch, PhunkyFoods has been adopted by 1,022 schools, and a further 275 are scheduled to join this autumn.

It has been accredited by Business in the Community, endorsed by the Government’s School Food Trust and the Royal Society of Public Health and has even been recognised by HRH the Prince of Wales.

The Nestlé deal will fund a three-year Healthy Kids Programme, intended to reach 76,000 children between 2012 and 2015. It will enable the roll-out of PhunkyFoods in all the 339 primary schools near Nestlé’s facilities, from Scotland to Sussex, including 20 in York. It will also pay for the development of the PhunkyFoods website and online tools for parents.

Liz Read, a nutritionist at Nestlé UK, said; “Our global Healthy Kids programme is making a tangible difference to children’s understanding of nutrition and health right across the world.

“Drawing on this breadth of expertise, our new UK programme represents a significant investment in health education for children in our communities.

“We’re very excited about the programme’s potential in terms of direct health benefits to the 76,000 children involved.”

Most of the money, however, will be used to fund a Leeds Metropolitan University research project to fully evaluate the impact of PhunkyFoods on improving the health of children participating in the programme.

Nestlé, along with fellow sponsors 2 Sisters Food Group and McCain Foods, support the programme as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments.

So, just how did Ms Fearnall manage to convince Nestlé to part with such a sizeable sum of cash, especially when their involvement was conditional upon a strict no-product-placement policy?

“It’s not easy to secure funding,” she said, “but if a company can see the benefit to their corporate profile, then it becomes easier.

“My advice to other entrepreneurs looking for funding would be to make sure you do your homework and find something that will fit in with what the your target company is doing.

“If they can see the benefit, they’ll be much more likely to provide funding.”