Celebrating Black Entrepreneurship: Meet Natasha Pencil of Taino

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Mariam Katamadze
September 30, 2021

Food and drink entrepreneurs that are passionate and hardworking can be found in plenty in London's dining scene. It's progressed to the point that there's a not-so-new debate that London is the best city in the world for dining out.

The UK Food Industry

Manufacturing of food and beverages contributes more to the UK economy than any other industry, including automotive and aerospace. Food and beverage producers directly employ nearly 440,000 people across the UK, in every region and nation. Over the last decade, employment in the sector has increased by 19%. Our industry generates more than £104.4 billion in revenue, accounting for nearly 20% of all manufacturing in the UK.

The Rise of Free-From Foods in the UK

The events of 2020 caused a fundamental reset in human behaviour and healthier diets are the best solution for a lot of Brits, who are trying to change their lifestyle.

The Free-From industry has seen enormous growth over the last five years, thanks to a shift in buying preferences and a deeper focus on human health, the purported benefits of plant-based diets, and increasingly regular celebrity endorsement - fantastic news for anyone living with a food intolerance. With the growing popularity of Free From alternatives for common foods, producers are under pressure to create more innovative alternatives that improve on taste, texture, and variety.

In 2020 free-from foods market accelerated with value sales increasing by 16.9% year on year to surpass the £1 billion milestone. People were compelled to change their spending patterns and buy alternatives to their typical meals as the restaurant industry closed during pandemics and stock shortages resulted from panic-buying. Currently sales in the specific free-from market increased to £652 million.

About Taino

Taino was launched by Natasha Pencil, who had trouble finding “free-from” Caribbean food products in London. By experimenting, and trying different recipes she created Taino. Taino condiments are vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free, making them adaptable to unique dietary demands, making snacking and mealtimes enjoyable for everyone. They include no artificial additives or preservatives and are manufactured entirely of natural components.

The company is named after the indigenous Taino people, who were the first to settle on numerous Caribbean islands and cultivate the fruits and vegetables that we now enjoy. Taino's mission is to celebrate the Caribbean's heritage, culture, liveliness, and flavours with every taste.

While working with our LAFIC programme, Taino received:

  • The opportunity to host a food stall at Borough Market;
  • Access to a range of workshops to help Natasha learn key food business skills;
  • A HAACP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) review, and;
  • Help launching a new product for the business.

For the Black History Month, we spoke to Natasha Pencil, Founder of Taino, to discuss her product and her experience as a Black woman in the Food industry.

Hello Natasha, please tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Natasha Pencil, I am a food entrepreneur and I also work in the philanthropic sector as a grants officer.

Natasha Pencil, Founder of TAINO

Describe your innovation in a sentence?

Condiments based on Caribbean recipes - hot sauces, sweet spreads, chutney and pepper jams - that are vegan and free from nuts, gluten and artificial ingredients.

How did you discover the issue that your innovation addresses?

I lived with my cousin who has many allergies and we struggled to find flavoursome condiments in the supermarkets that we could enjoy together.

What stage are you at in product development?

I am working on ascertaining the shelf life of each product and changing the labelling information.

What’s next for you and your business?

I now want to scale up and see my condiments sold in shops, I currently sell them myself at markets, events and online.

What is your top tip for other People of Colour developing new products?

Be brave, take a leap of faith and just do it! Also, ask for help, build networks of support and help the next person coming up.

How would you describe your experience as a person of colour who is launching a business or developing new tech products?

It has been difficult, I have often found myself in spaces where no one else looks like me. In addition to being black I am female and look a lot younger than I am. I have also felt the effects of coming from a community that does not have the same levels of cultural and financial capital in relation to business so I’ve had to work that bit harder to find support and investment.

What do you think is the most important issue that tech entrepreneurs should be addressing?

I don’t think that there is one, so many social issues need tech solutions but maybe focusing a lens on discrimination and how tech can be used to create equality of opportunities.

Finally, which person, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?

Bob Marley, he died long before I was born but I love his music and how calming and zen he came across in interviews.

Want to try Taino's delicious free-from and vegan condiments for yourself? Check out their website at ThisisTaino.com.

If you're looking to create, test and launch a new-to-market or new-to-firm Food or Beverage product, LAFIC can help. Find out more on our Home Page.