Inspiring Women in Food & Beverage: Meet Abilasha Bhohi, Founder of Moonji

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Jemima Heard
March 3, 2021

Between the years of 2014 -2019, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled from 150,000 people to around 600,000. An additional study found that 30% of 24-35 year olds are currently dairy-free. 500,000 people also took the Veganary pledge in 2021 - it's clear that the vegan lifestyle is becoming more and more appealing for its ethical consumption and widely-report health benefits, with farmed animals is one of the leading theories about the incubation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global vegan food industry was valued at $13.8 billion in 2018, and is predicted to reach over $26 billion by 2026. It is a sector that is being widely driven by women, who are twice as likely to be following the lifestyle.

As a result, vegan food is one of the largest areas where food innovation is currently occuring - and women are paving the way in this change.

About Moonji

Moonji is a vegan ice cream that's all-natural. It's clean label - this means that it doesn't contain any dairy, gluten, refined sugar, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or artificial ingredients such as emulsifiers and additives. They're also the first ever Ayurvedic-inspired ice-cream brand with flavours made from spices, superfoods and adaptogens. The product comes in an array of wonderful flavours: Vanilla, Avocado, Matcha, Golden Turmeric, Salted Caramel Chai and Chocolate.

For International Women's Month, we spoke to Abilasha Bhohi, Founder of Moonji, to discuss her product and her experience as a woman in food tech.

Hi Abi, thanks for speaking with us! To begin, please tell us about yourself?

My name is Abi, I'm a founder of Moonji. I have a real passion for all things health and wellbeing, and I enjoy nutritious desserts. I also love music and yoga – when I’m not making ice cream!

Please describe your product in a sentence?

Moonji is a plant-based ice cream that's hand-made with natural ingredients, using flavours that are inspired by Ayurvedic spices and superfoods.

Moonji's ice cream flavours. Sourced from Instagram: @WeAreMoonji
You make your ice-cream with oat milk and coconut milk - why did you choose those ingredients?

I wanted to create a really neutral base for my ice-cream so I experimented with using a variety of nuts, such as cashew nuts, and different types of vegan ingredients until I found the best combination that worked.

I found that coconut cream makes it really creamy in texture, and then the oat milk balances out the coconut, so that you get a neutral base with the flavour, so neither one becomes overpowering.  A lot of people say it tastes just like dairy ice-cream.

And we saw that you're now being stocked in Fortnum and Masons?

Yes - two of our flavours, Salted Caramel Chai and Avocado are served in The Parlour on the first floor. We are also looking at introducing a new flavour in their Spring menu. It's an amazing achievement that I'm very proud of and it's such a joy and a privilege to be be working with them!

How are you finding selling ice-cream during lockdown? Where are your main channels?

I was supplying mainly restaurants before, and obviously last year I had to learn how to pivot and adapt to the situation. I spent the last year developing the tubs for takeaway. It’s been very trial and error. and am now managing to sell them via Farmacy's vegan restaurant in Notting Hill. We also supply En Root, which is another vegan restaurant based in Clapham. I also have a local delivery service, but at the moment I'm working on the logistics of how I can start selling the tubs across London and in more places.

I found it challenging to be honest, and I think like a lot of businesses, I've had to creative and learn to adapt. I’m still in the very early stages, so luckily for me it wasn't too bad financially and I was able to survive the impact of lockdown.

When did you start working with LAFIC?

I started working with LAFIC about two years ago. I went to a lot of free workshops at the beginning. They were really helpful – there was a broad range of different workshops and they were great. I also met some other really great founders. Now I’m on the next level of the programme, getting a bit more one to one support.

What would you say has been a challenge or obstacle in your product development?

One of Moonji’s strong values is being a clean-label product. One of the challenges that I found is making a really good tasting, high quality product that’s clean-label is not impossible, but it's tricky. You need to think about shelf-life, and how to make the ice-cream as scoopable as possible … I'm still a little bit in this experimental phase – I love my recipe, and so do my customers, but still continuing to fine tune and improve it.

What were you doing before you founded your company?

I went to Bristol University and I studied physics. After my degree I took a gap year and saved up for travelling. I backpacked for six months around South America, and that's when I got the idea for Moonji. I was volunteering a lot, staying with local families and eating like a local. We’d take turns to cook, and every time I cooked I would always cook Indian food. I was born in London, but my heritage is Indian, so I really began to find this new love of cooking with spices and Indian food and sharing it with people, and that's where the inspiration for Moonji came from. I wanted to find a unique way of expressing this part of me, and using Indian spices was a way of doing that.

 How did your background in physics influence your product?

Some people may think that these are completely different, that there’s no way physics could help, but actually that isn’t true. Like any other university degree, you learn so many transferrable skills. In terms of even just understanding how the ice machine works, and the mechanics behind that. When you make artisan gelato, it can get quite technical, so it was good to have that foundation in science to support the more technical aspects. Studying physics was also a very practical subject which has helped during all the experiments with my recipe, the only difference is that I have swapped the lab for my kitchen!

Also, halfway through my physics degree, I honestly did not think I would even graduate. I was finding it really challenging. But I got through it and ended up really loving my final year.  So now I say to myself, ‘If you got through that, you can get through anything’. When you start a business, there are so many challenges that you have to overcome, sometimes on a daily basis.  Having gone through my degree I learnt not to give up and thats given me a bit more perspective. I’ve realised that I can approach challenges differently, in a healthier and more resilient way which hugely helps with coping with stress.

So what is next for you and your business?

Expansion. I really would love to find a way of distributing the tubs. I want to start with getting them into more independent shops and cafés, then into mainstream supermarkets.

What is your top tips for women developing new products?

To believe in themselves and to be resilient! I think it's important to have faith and trust that everything works out when it should. Sometimes we can get quite hung up on feeling like things have to happen within a certain time frame. I believe that things will work out the way that they’re meant to, when they’re meant to, when you're ready and when you truly believe in yourself. It's also important to find a mentor who can support you on your journey.

How would you describe your experience as a woman in business?

I really appreciate the freedom that women have these days compared to my grandmothers generation. My experience is that more and more women are starting to run their own businesses and this is so encouraging and I've really felt supported in my journey.
I have also found whenever there's been a situation where I haven't known what to do, there is always someone that's willing to have a chat and offer their support. I have an amazing mentor who has always been very supportive and helpful. It's amazing what can be achieved with the right people behind you and I think it's important to always take a positive angle on things. Act consciously and be focused on why you are doing what you are doing. It’s all learning opportunities!

What do you think is currently the most important issue facing small food businesses?

The most important issue is the difficulty and lack of support for small businesses to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. From my experience, it's almost impossible. It's also quite tough – for me, because it’s one of my strong values and I want to hold high ethical standards for Moonji, but it feels like all the odds are stacked against you. As a small business, you still need to make sure you’re making money. Being sustainable requires more money, more investment, so when you're a small business you have to ensure it stays as a top priority that you are always working towards.

How do you think universities can help further gender equality in business?

Just making sure there’s always equal opportunities – for me personally, I was never really that competitive. Even at school, I was interested but I never really found anything that I was passionate about. I think that when I found my love of food and my passion for sharing that, it really bought out this business-part of me that I didn’t know existed. Encouraging everyone to do what inspires them is really important.

How do you imagine innovation helping women?

Supportive networks and creating community of people encouraging each other with new ideas is really important. Allowing space for all types of innovation and valuing them equally – whether it’s something that’s creative, or something that is more tech-based, would help equal opportunity as well.

Which woman living or dead would you invite to dinner?

I watched an interview with Sarah Blakely recently, the founder of Spanx, and she was really inspiring. I’ve obviously heard of Spanx, but I didn’t know who the owner was. I found out that she was the first youngest self-made billionaire. I find her story really interesting because she emphasised how so much of her success came from her incredible mindset, and she has always actively worked on overcoming her fear of failure so that it would never get in the way of her ambitions.

Follow Moonji's journey by connecting with them on Instagram.