‘Believe in your product’: Slendier founder Erica Hughes’s inspiring message to all

In the past five years, Erica Hughes and her team have accomplished great things, gaining shelf space in Coles and Woolworths and expanding their business internationally while dealing with a pandemic, with sales in countries like France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the Middle East. 

Foods that are minimal in calories and carbohydrates, vegan, and free of added chemicals or preservatives are Slendier’s speciality.

The pasta produced from the uncommon, historic Asian root vegetable konjac is the company’s main and most recognisable product, and the company now generates sales of more than $10 million annually. Slendier currently exports to over 32 nations in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

However, Erica, a former senior banking executive who began her wellness journey from frustration and exhaustion, found that the road to success wasn’t always smooth. 

“We were sick and tired of being sick and tired: our corporate jobs full of meetings, more meetings, presentations about forgotten issues and tiny moments of achievement were making us unhappy. 

“After taking a break from work due to my husband’s ill health, I realised I didn’t want to return to my old corporate job.  Working in the banking sector, I wasn’t truly fulfilled, and I was ready to give my own business a go. I was looking for something exciting and challenging, providing flexibility and more work-life balance. 

“Something was into me about rediscovering the world of ancient foods, and I was ready to launch my own business.  It was the perfect stage of life for a reset, and I wanted to take the opportunity to create healthy food products that I felt passionate about. 

“So we decided to get happy. We discovered konjac, and we’ve built our business from there to make a healthier and happier future for ourselves and our customers.”

“Natural ingredients and making easy, healthy meals were two things that were important to me. I wanted to share this with others through Slendier while giving people options if they were vegan, had food intolerances, or wanted to live a healthier lifestyle.” 

How it all began

After discovering this intriguing substance, Erica wondered why more people hadn’t heard about konjac. A plant known as konjac has a starchy corm root. Producers use this corm to make flour, jellies, and dietary supplements.

Popular uses for konjac flour include the production of noodles and baked items. Along with soups and stews, it is used to prepare a variety of sauces and gravies.

“It’s a vegetable that has been consumed for centuries in Asia but was largely unknown in the western world. 

“As it is naturally high in pre-biotic fibre but also very low in calories and with no carbohydrates, I saw that it had potential. 

It’s made into pasta, noodles and rice styles, and the products only have two ingredients – konjac flour and water.  

“It also absorbs the flavour of any sauce, and I thought this would be a great product for me to start my business with.  I visited konjac farms in Asia as well as potential manufacturing facilities. 

“I investigated options for shipping and warehousing, but most importantly, I put together a robust business plan and budget as well as a go-to-market strategy.  

“From there, I set up an online store and sought distributors for sales in independent supermarkets and health food shops.  Our first year in business saw us successful through these channels, and this was the foundation that allowed Slendier to expand into the major supermarkets and create a strategy for overseas expansion.  

“The process involved seeking distributors, logistics, warehousing and offices in Western Europe.  Like many businesses, the pandemic has thrown us challenges, but shipping and port closures were the big ones that affected our ability to supply products – consequently, costs increased dramatically. 

“Thankfully, these conditions have now largely gone back to normal, but they were undoubtedly stressful times,” Erica recalls.

The expansion

The market for rice, pasta, and sauce in Australia is projected to be worth $1.25 billion, and the European industry is estimated to be worth $45 billion. Slendier has successfully carved out a profitable niche in these markets by offering healthier alternatives.

After Slendier entered Western Europe, we broadened our product selection to include other low-carb, healthy pasta, pasta sauces, healthy snacks, and instant noodles in addition to our initial konjac offering. More than 30 nations in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe now sell Slendier.

Slendier specialises in foods that are low in calories and carbohydrates, vegan, and free of unnecessary chemicals or preservatives. Pasta made from the rare, historic Asian root vegetable konjac is the company’s main and most recognisable product, and it now produces more than $10 million in annual sales. 

Slendier currently exports to more than 32 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Slendier’s most popular items are healthy fruit snacks, crackers, and pasta sauces made from konjac, soy, and edamame beans. The company’s annual sales now exceed $10 million.

The learnings

Erica believes that Integral to her success is that she and the team truly believe in the products that they sell – there are no added nasties. Our collection of konjac pasta and noodles is something special that we are happy to offer to Australians, and we have grown and expanded the Slendier line after careful research.

“We’ve also taken calculated risks at times but have had a solid business and marketing plan underpinning what we do. It’s important we always go back to these, even as the business grows. 

“I was ready for everything involved with starting a business, and that willingness from day one set me up for the road ahead. That determination still helps me get through the ups and downs even today.”

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