Miguel Rodrigues - Photo: Paulo Côrte-Real.

«I’m Nat» food brand innovates Algarve market with nut-based products

Based in Bela Salema, «I’m Nat» produces protein, gluten-free, vegan health products made with almonds and other nut and plant-based ingredients.

«I’m Nat» started with a passion for well-being and healthy food. Miguel Rodrigues, a young health fanatic from Faro who trained in Aeronautical Engineering, decided to quit his job at the Tires Airfield (Cascais), where he repaired planes, to set up his own food company in 2016.

“I started as a self-taught producer, led by a set of consequences, trying to have a more regulated, more controlled diet”, recalls Miguel. “At the time, nut-based product consumption was growing in Europe. There was an increase in demand for healthy food products. At that time, I realised I didn’t want to continue in the aviation business. I registered a brand and started producing and developing more recipes.” The first was crunchy Algarve almond butter, and another with figs and cinnamon.

Success was immediate. “Yes, nut butter was also appearing. There were many curious consumers, many supporters of the Paleo, vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free diet. There was a lot of demand and little supply”.

All this innovation happened in the basement of a house following the completion of the licensing process for small-scale artisanal production.

Miguel was already thinking about the next step, scaling production. The «I’m Nat» brand was born and moved to a warehouse in Bela Salema, north of Faro, refurbished for the larger operation.

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Photo: Paulo Côrte-Real.

The entrepreneur also applied for the PDR2020, worth €180,000, receiving a 45 per cent contribution for being located in a disadvantaged area. Now, his team has three people who will soon need more hands.

“Two years ago, we started producing private label products for third parties. It’s an easier way to generate volume, and it’s interesting because even when producing for others, we manage to differentiate our products. Subcontracting is increasingly a done thing in the food industry. Customers want us to develop recipes based on references until they reach a certain specificity”. A recent example is pistachio paste.

“The hotel industry is also starting to ask for different types of products. For example, the 125-gram package of Algarve almonds with fleur de sel” is already being produced for reference units such as the Hotel Belavista or the Vila Vita Parc resort.

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Photo: Paulo Côrte-Real.

Now, “we have created a range called fruit servisse, with 50 products for ice cream parlours and hotels. We also work with oat flakes, carob flour, and cocoa powder. We package honey; we have orange, rosemary and medronho honey from the Algarve. Things that can quickly lead to new products”. In terms of production capacity, “I would say that we managed to make around 500 kg of nut butter per day”.

However, production is not constant. It is scheduled according to stock management and orders. The company (Wildnut) supplies retail companies throughout the country and already exports to destinations such as the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany and the United States.

“Ice cream parlours are another huge market because eight to ten per cent of ice cream composition must be dried fruit paste. We are very interested in diversifying in terms of product and customer so that we can achieve stability in terms of sales, which, incidentally, have been growing”, says Miguel Rodrigues.

During the pandemic, “it was difficult. It was only in 2022 that everything started to go back to normal. Therefore, our market is still very young. But still, we managed to survive. People don’t stop eating, especially those who consider our products indispensable”. However, the gourmet grocery channel was never the same again, not least because the online channel changed consumers’ behaviour.

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Photo: Paulo Côrte-Real.

And is this type of product expensive? “Of course, it depends on the economic possibility of each one. But in my opinion, the price practised is in accordance with the origin of the raw materials and the composition. I think it’s a fair price”.

Regarding the near future, Rodrigues says that the objective “is to have more focused and targeted communication for the various sales channels. And we also welcome private-label production. We also want to invest in other packaging formats for the hotel industry”, which is a niche “easier to enter, compared to a distribution chain”.