28 Feb 2020
Native Peruvian Erick Vera set up Little Inca in November 2018. Little Inca is a smart food brand that incorporates plant-based ingredients like quinoa - which is scientifically proven to support gut health for babies – and other ingredients that improve the gut-brain connection which is important for normal brain development and building a strong immune system into adulthood to help prevent allergies and other diseases. The Little Inca formulas are backed by cutting-edge research and a respected science team that supports and validates the formulas and use bio-based pouches and renewable energy in the production process for a low carbon footprint.
Erick’s family in Peru have been eating quinoa for generations. Erick was brought up on the ancient grain so he was aware of its taste benefits but on researching further into the quinoa market he discovered the grain has many health benefits, too. Scientifically proven to be a healthy option for babies and to combat malnutrition, Quinoa contains several prebiotics which promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and support gut health, and it is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Tracking the consistent growth of the quinoa market since 2011 plus the support from his father Guillermo and Uncle Leo who co-owned a farm in the south of Peru, led to Erick growing his first crop of Quinoa in 2013. In a stroke of well-timed luck, The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the "International Year of Quinoa”, boosting the health market and raw material prices. Erick realised then that the market for quinoa was about to go global.
Their first harvest was in 2014, just as the market was bourgeoning, so Erick began developing a range of health-focused products using quinoa as the main ingredient. His research into the Peruvian baby food market uncovered a lack of innovation so Erick created test batches of baby food in his parents’ kitchen and took the products to events and exhibitions in Lima. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Buoyed by this early success, Erick applied for and was awarded an entrepreneurship scholarship at the Masood Enterprise Centre within the Alliance Manchester Business School in 2016, leaving behind his successful career in insurance to build his business in the UK.
Research into UK baby food brands and ingredients revealed limited choices and health benefits. Armed with his knowledge and findings, Erick successfully pitched his business to the Alliance Manchester Business School and was offered an Entrepreneurship Visa to continue developing the business.
He entered the business school’s Venture Further 2018 competition and placed second, which led to a growing network of mentors and industry peers that supported and guided Erick to raise critical funds for the business.
By the end of 2018, after pitching to several investors, Little Inca attracted investment from a Peruvian investor – a leading figure in the sports betting industry - who loved the idea and saw the potential to develop the project in the food industry. Funds were used to build the brand, formulas and manufacturing processes, but quickly more investment was needed. Erick again successfully attracted the founder of an award-winning food company listed in the Top 100 fastest growing companies in the UK for two consecutive years, to invest in Little Inca. By late 2019, Little Inca had established a permanent production partner, a factory in Europe that was able to create the product to his exact formulations.
Little Inca now has an established distribution network nationwide and launched on Amazon UK, plus organic online channels Super Food Market and Good Club in February 2020. The brand will exhibit at the Natural Organic Trade Show in London in April 2020 and has so far the brand garnered interest from several organic and independent stores in the UK, Spain, Germany and Peru.
Erick credits much of his success so far to the Masood Enterpreneurship Centre, the MBA programme, and his course tutors. “The Masood Enterpreneurship Centre fully supported my idea from the beginning. My course tutor Martin Henery was a great source of resources, advice, direction and focus, and I was put in touch with business events happening in the region and in London.
“The UK is a great place to do business. People in the UK are looking for new opportunities and I was able to build a support network that pushed me to develop my idea into a reality.
“However, Little Inca started life on the MBA Programme in the Masood Enterpreneurship Centre. The guidance and mentoring I received, the visa support, the input from my fellow students who helped me with marketing, promotions and research, and being surrounded by others that are as passionate about business creation has been critical in the making of Little Inca.”