Julianne Ponan is 31 and lives in Surrey with her fiancé Matt and they love food. She cooks, she creates and she plans her food daily – however this is also a lifelong challenge and necessity because she has anaphylaxis.
When she was a toddler at nursery, Julianne collapsed and was rushed to hospital. She’d had an allergic reaction, her breathing was restricted and tests showed she has ‘super allergies’ –all nuts, chickpeas, sesame seeds and much more alongside certain perfumes and aftershaves and also many skin care products.
During her childhood, Julianne often felt isolated by her allergies which had unexpected and hidden consequences. She had to often eat on her own, isolated from her peers for free of contamination of foods and she suffered bullying.
Even in her adult life, she has experienced many humiliating episodes where she has been unable to eat in a restaurant because staff don’t know what ingredients are in their meals, been refused access to flights on certain airlines who won’t take passengers who are allergic to nuts and been told off when she’s asked flight teams to ask fellow passengers not to eat nuts on a flight. She was once told by flight staff while on board she was interfering with the human rights of the other passengers.
This life-long anxiety yet love of food has unexpectedly become her superpower. At the age of 22, while working in Beijing in her first banking role, Julianne’s father John asked her look at the books of a small company he’d invested in. He was worried that Creative Nature wasn’t thriving.
Julianne had been used to figures and sums throughout her childhood, with John running his own mechanics’ business and her mum Yvette encouraging her to work hard at school and go into higher education. Armed with her knowledge, Julianne found that the company was losing money.
Yet she saw an opportunity, Creative Nature could become a brand for people like her – those for whom food, eating out and eating on the go is an obsession. She went on to create a free-from snack brand which is now at around £2m turnover and growing.
“I wanted to create a brand which was safe to eat, contains less sugar and where the products were delicious,” Julianne said. “I was also fed up of not being able to grab something and go, always having to cook from scratch, always having to read the label, never trusting any food in case it set off a life-threatening anaphylaxis attack.”
Today Creative Nature supplies raw super foods, snacks and food mixes which are free from the top 14 allergens. The products are suitable for those who are nutrition conscious, vegetarians, vegans and of course for those who live with food allergy or intolerance. They are stocked in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, they are exported overseas and are sold online.