Meet Jo Hodson, Vegan Food Blogger, Holistic Health Coach and Owner and Creator of Whole Plus, the wonderful health foods brand, I reviewed on Tuesday. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Jo to find out about her inspirations, gain some much needed blogging advice and find out more about Whole Plus.
1. You began with your blog ‘Including Cake’ in August 2011, what inspired you to start a blog then and what inspires you to keep it going?
I began my blog whilst in a relationship with a vegan. I was keen to cook him lovely meals and treats and so spent hours scouring the internet for recipes ideas and tips. Over time the plant-based lifestyle simply became my way of living. Also, I felt so much more ‘alive’ eating that way and then I also began to create recipes using the healthiest ingredients. As I found myself developing more unique recipes and relying less on the recipes of others, combined with my love of photography… the idea to begin my own blog became obvious. That said, I had no idea at that point in time just how much time and effort running a blog would involve!!
2. What are your favourite vegan and health and fitness blogs?
Whilst I follow a lot of vegan blogs (and many other health eating not exclusively vegan blogs), I don’t follow so many fitness blogs. I am very into fitness myself but it’s not something I’ve really followed in the blog world. A small selection of my favourites are: Oh She Glows, Health Happy Life, Deliciously Ella, Fat-free Vegan Kitchen. For my self development I love Zen habits.
3. What advice do you have for newbie vegan bloggers?
I began by taking recipe inspiration from other bloggers, cookbooks and websites to get a ‘feel’ for things… that soon turned into applying my own spin to recipes. It quickly becomes intuitive. For example I’m a little obsessed with oatmeal, so i’d ask myself instead of serving this straight up in a bowl for breakfast, what if I tweaked the ratios and baked it? Little tweaks can turn recipes into totally new concepts. As with all food blogs I truly believe photography is an important part. ‘We eat with our eyes’ and I would encourage all food bloggers to get familiar with their camera and take the best photos possible. Also begin interacting with other vegan bloggers and on social media, if you like the look of a dish that they’ve created don’t be shy to share the love! Over time that will be reciprocated and you’ll reach more and more people.
4. When did you have the idea for your business, Whole Plus and what was the final push that made you give up your steady 9-5 job?
The idea for Wholeplus actually began as a ‘challenge’ from one of the trainers at a gym I work with. I was sick and tired of seeing so many so-called fitness products full of ‘processed junk’ lining the shelves and magazines. Then one day after sighing loudly and feeling despondent, the trainer turned round and said ‘well, create something better then’. So I did.
In terms of quitting my job… that had been on the cards for a number of months prior. As my mindset expanded and I began challenging my approach to life in new ways I became I became increasingly dissatisfied with ‘plodding along’ the same way I had been for the last 8 years. I didn’t know exactly what it was I would end up doing but I knew sitting in an office wasn’t it! It was a pure leap of faith!
5. What is the philosophy behind your brand?
The philosophy behind both Including Cake and Wholeplus is simply to eat ‘real food’ that fuels your body and mind. Obviously for me this consists of real plant based food, however in my health coaching practice whilst I am keen to educate the benefits of a plant based diet I don’t preach it and encourage people to draw their own dietary conclusions as long as they ‘keep it real’! I am also keen to prove that healthy plant based eating can be indulgent too!
6. Do your products play a part in fitness nutrition?
Yes, that was how it all started. Though over time I have found that my products reach a much wider audience than that as they cater for all sort of food intollerances too as well as people who simply want a sweet treat to curb a craving. I see my products more broadly as ‘active nutrition’. I know that when I eat a good diet I have boundless energy and I just can’t help but bounce around! I want others to reach that same place too!
7. Tell us about your Whole Plus products? What is currently in your range?
I currently have 4 products in my range- Hot-Pots, Toppers, Squares and Shots. I will soon be tweaking the product line and making a few changes (the Shots may soon no longer feature). All the products are vegan, wheat free, sugar free, soy free and are not baked so as to retain maximum nutritional value.
Hot-Pots: These are a unique product since they are a vegan, sugar free instant porridge sachet to be mixed-up with hot water in a mug.
Toppers: These are a sprinkle topping (or a snack in their own right!) Infused with dates, sides and other superfoods- these make the perfect sweet topping to oatmeal, yoghurt, ice cream, pancakes…. basically anyway you would sprinkle a little ‘sugar’.
Squares: Cold pressed cubes of deliciousness- perfect for nibbling as a snack or for kids lunch boxes. Many of my customers buy these instead of chocolate.
8. Who is your product aimed at?
My products are aimed at active people, those with intollerances and those simply looking for a heath sweet fix. The fitness industry is a key player and was my original market but it has expanded so far beyond and these days I let my customers dictate my development route as ultimately I want to create healthy treats and cater for as many people as possible.
9. What are the main ingredients in your products and why are they important?
Dates are the source of sweetness in the products and is also what binds the ingredients together. I also use coconut (instead of nuts) so that the products are more suitable for those with nut allergies and also for school lunch boxes that often have ‘nut free’ policies. Coconut is a great ingredient also because of its unique nutritional profile- the healthy fats found in coconuts are more readily converted to energy than stored as fat making it a fantastic ‘active’ food.
11. What are your thoughts on refined sugar?
I have a sweet tooth- there is no denying it! When it comes to refined sugar I do feel this is something that is unnecessary in our diet from a evolutionary point of view. Many people will use the argument ‘everything in moderation’, but when it comes to refined sugar moderation is a slippery slope since refined sugar causes addiction, cravings and is added (often unknowingly) in so many food products in our daily life. Helping people become aware of the food on their plate and being creative in finding alternative ways to get that sweet kick is something I’m incredibly passionate about!
12. Where is your range currently available and any plans to widen the distribution in the future?
My products currently feature in a number of ‘subscription boxes’. I also sell directly from my website. In the last few weeks I have branched out into retail- currently with small local retailers but in coming months I also hope to get on board with a number of online stockists… Watch this space!
13. Any new products in the works?
I’m always creating! I plan to do seasonal ‘limited editions’ to keep things exciting, for example last year I launched a gingerbread ball for Christmas. Over time the product range is likely to grow and develop in accordance eight demand and customer feedback.
14. Veganism is very ‘on trend’ right now? Do you see it increasing in popularity?
I think the nutritional benefits of a plant-based diet have been highlighted in the media a lot recently. I think this is a great thing but it shouldn’t be seen as some passing fad or a quick weight loss plan. I hope that people who do transition to a more plant-based way of eating take on board the ‘real food’ philosophy to ensure they gain the most from this lifestyle for the long term.
15. Any exciting plans for the future of Whole Plus?
Who knows where it will all lead! My mindset has grown so much over the last few years and I see no signs of it stopping… Including cake and Wholeplus are the direct result of my own mind shift and now helping others to create their healthiest life possible is my main focus.
Thank you so much, Jo for taking time to answer my questions and of your wonderful answers.
Thanks for reading.