Born in the centre of the Somerset Zodiac, Alex Smith, Alara founder, comes from just outside the mystical city of Glastonbury.
After attending Millfield School in Somerset, he worked as a fisherman for two years before returning to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture. He has the distinction of being the only student to drop out of the course 3 times.
Along with others, Alex was very active in the squatting movement of the 70s and lived for several years in Tolmers Square.
In opposition to property development that lead to properties in Tolmers Square being empty, Alex decided to live without money for almost a year. The nday after he decided to start using money again, Alex found £2 in the street, he used it to start Alara. He spent the money taking a van around New Covent Garden Market to gather fruits and vegetables in which were to go to waste and sold them on in squatting shop. The shop took a profit of £4 on the first day, doubling capital – the most successful business day ever!
Keen to add value to the offer beyond throwaway fruits and vegetables, the first stock item Alex bought was flour. He started baking bread in the gas oven in the back of the squat. The squatting shop became one of the first health shops, selling flakes, fruits, dried fruit, seeds and nuts.
The obvious next step was producing a mix of these ingredients and the first ‘no added sugar’ muesli was created in 1977.
The focus was always on clean, healthy food. Organic, with emphasis on working with nature, seemed a natural development for the business. The Organic Certification Movement was gather strength and in 1988, Alara was audited and licensed by the Soil Association to produce the first Organic certified cereal in the world.
Alongside environmental sustainability, social fairness was also a key consideration. SO, in 1993, Alex started working with Traidcraft to produce the first certified Fair Trade cereals for both Traidcraft and the Alara brand. This long association with Traidcraft, as with many other stakeholders in the company, is a key strength of the business.
With our focus on health, and especially dealing with gluten-containing ingredients, it became clear that for some people, this type of food caused health problems. Wanting to serve those with sensitivity to gluten. in 1996, Alara became the first company to be licensed by the Coeliac Society, under license number 001 to produce gluten free cereals and today this is an important part of their product offering and service.
Running alongside all of these company firsts, was the development of correct governance systems in the form of independent audits. As well as our organic audit, we also have a BRC quality audit, an ISO 14001 environmental audit and our SMETA ethics audit.
As a long-time member of the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), Alex was keen to be at the forefront of concerns in this amazing industry. Food waste and packaging waste have been long term concerns. Working with Southbank University under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Alara developed processes and systems to eliminate all waste, transferring them into other materials. This culminated in 2008 for the Alara factory in King’s Cross. London to become the first Zero Waste food manufacturer on earth.
With this wealth of experience and focus on a company acting as a positive actor in society, the next focus of development was the more general target of sustainability and understanding of the 4 fundamental pillars of sustainability was developed which are Economic, Social, Environmental and Governance which you can further explore in our Sustainability section.