GENESIS Nutritional Products’ name pops up regularly when there is a humanitarian need to assist in the aftermath of a disaster, an emergency or any other situation where relief is needed. Whether it be partnering with companies like OUTsurance in supplying GENESIS meals to a host of charities, or working with Gift of the Givers in getting its products to those in urgent need of food assistance in Yemen, or offering rapid support with the devastating Cape Town fires in April by making sure that fire fighters, first respondents and those that were forced to flee their homes are getting a nutritional meal, GENESIS will be there.
Michelle Bristow, founder and CEO of GENESIS Nutritional Products, has not only built up a successful company over the last five years, but has also made it her mission to play an integral part in helping where there is a need in supplying healthy, balanced nutritional meals. This has come with hard work and 22 years of international and local experience both in the public and private sector.
We sat down with Michelle to get some insight into her life, her years of doing business in the field of functional foods, her personal life and what the future holds.
What has your journey in business been to where you are now?
I am a registered dietitian with a BSc. Diet (Hons) degree from the University of Stellenbosch. My career spans over 20 years starting off in 1999 with John Radcliffe Hospital in the UK where I served as a junior and senior dietitian in a number of different clinical areas. This followed a 5-year spell from 2002 as head of department at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban where I oversaw a big team of dietitians.
My move into the private sector started with Nutricia in 2007 as a sales representative. In 2010, I joined FutureLife where I helped drive the sales from a small business to a business that turned in excess of R100 million. My main role was to give the brand a credible voice, drive sales and to assist and lead in new product development. We took a brand new product from nothing to becoming a household brand. I founded Genesis in 2013 and Kairos Nutrition, a manufacturer and supplier of highly specialized ready to use infant formula, in 2011. Amongst others, Kairos has held the national tender with the department of health supplying government hospitals with their infant formula.
What motivated you to get involved with functional foods?
I have a passion to see South Africa developing into a healthy country. I have seen too many people, especially in impoverished communities, being fed empty calories. I wanted to create a food that was nutritionally superior so that the CEO’s of multinationals would eat it, but that was also affordable enough for the man on the street to eat it as well. I believe good nutrition can change a nation. It does not have to be expensive. By giving the school-going child good balanced nutrition, you can change their life. It can make the difference between completing school or dropping out. This is all due to a few key micronutrients that help support brain development as well as your immune system.
Why did you choose to primarily supply the relief/charity industry instead of selling your product into mainstream retail?
My heart is in all of South Africa. I had worked in the corporate environment for over a decade and wanted to give something back to our communities where the incentive was not just “the bottom line”. It was important to me to contribute to the fight against hunger in South Africa. Although making money is imperative for growing a business, it was important to me to do this in a responsible manner that combines doing good and serving humanity. I think with GENESIS we have struck the perfect balance. There has to be a bigger purpose to what you do with your time at work. It cannot only be about making money. I am passionate about feeding people with healthy nutritionally balanced food that meets all the macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.
What do you enjoy most of your job and running GENESIS ?
I love the entrepreneurship involved in starting a new business from scratch and breathing life into it. I love being the underdog and taking on the big corporates. I have a passion for public health and finding
nutritional solutions for our continent which I believe GENESIS has succeeded in doing. I enjoy doing things differently and not having to follow the norm as often is the case with corporates. I love serving our nation and its amazing people and the fact that a balanced nutritional meal can make all the difference in people’s lives.
You are a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman for whom family is everything. What do you ascribe your success to?
The key to me is balance – finding the balance between work, play, family and exercise. I read something on the definition of success a few years back that has stuck with me. It defined success as a balance between financial earning, strong family relationships and friendships, a healthy body and mind and a strong spiritual connection. And that is what I set out to achieve. What is the point in being wealthy, yet not having good relationships, or having all the money in the world but not being physically healthy? I am also fortunate in having the support of my family and friends, which has been amazing. There is an old African Proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone, however if you want to go far go, go together.” So, teamwork is crucial. I am not self-made at all; I have had incredible people in my life who have guided me and supported me throughout the years to bring me to where I am today.
Tell us more about your personal life, your family, your interests and hobbies and how you spend your free time?
I am a family women, the mom of two very busy teenagers that do all kinds of sports, and you’ll often find me sitting on the side of some sports field over the weekends. I love the outdoors, especially the mountains. I try to get into the mountains at least twice a week. I love spending my spare time with my family and friends. I also enjoy travelling in my free time both locally and overseas, and having new experiences. I am very fond of food and trying out different cuisines. As for outdoor activities, I used to do long distance triathlons such as the ironman half- and full and also long distance running such as marathons. I still get out a lot and keep fit by doing trail running.
What would you still like to achieve with GENESIS and personally in your life?
One of my dreams is to see corporate South Africa join hands with us and help us feed hungry people. This is such a simple gesture, but it can have a massive impact in making a difference in the lives of all South Africans. I would like to see our business assisting in getting good, healthy, balanced food to all in South Africa. I would also like to help address the huge unemployment crisis by getting many people to assist in selling GENESIS into their communities, to taxi drivers, kids going to school, workers travelling long distances and many more. It is essential that GENESIS keeps on being seen as a credible and transparent business. I would like to see the brand become a household name. This would see us expanding our presence by setting up new factories in South Africa and in numerous African countries which would see us feed as many people as possible on our beautiful continent.