We meet Liliana Bordeianu, founder of Lily’s Granola, Belgian organic artisan granola. The brand sets itself apart with their “From Farm to Granola Bowl” approach. We asked Lilliana to share more about her entrepreneurial journey as well as her tips and favourite spots in Brussels.
Tell us a bit more about yourself?
I’m Liliana, 42 years old. Perpetually in love, and a walking, talking contradiction. Originally from Romania, I moved to Belgium in 2002 following my back then partner. Previously marketing communications manager in the corporate environment, life threw me a curveball and I became a Granola Girl, in every sense.
What is your business about?
In house processing of ingredients, baking healthy & crunchy granola in an artisanal way and hopefully, selling some of it too ☺
In the first place, Lily’s Granola is about offering 6 unique flavours, nutrient dense, low sweetener breakfast cereals. The slogan “Honest food for the conscious consumer” – quite a mouthful and pretentious to some, I know – refers to the lack of additives or any taste enhancing elements. What you see is what you get. If I say that the ZESTY Granola is made with pumpkin, well as the label shows it, it does actually contain 42% of pumpkin. Quick reference to the “On n’est plus des pigeons” tv show. The “conscious consumer“ part revolves around the idea that every purchase you make is a choice, perhaps even a vote. Yes, the food industry can easily offer a plethora of ultra transformed products, I am however a firm believer that in the era of internet you HAVE the freedom, the means and the choice to inform yourself about how certain brands operate and how their products are made. I believe there should be an active effort on the consumer side regarding their food purchasing criteria – be it nutritional or ethical, much like they take a considerable amount of pondering before buying a car or investing in a house.
The choice for high nutrient dense ingredients comes from both personal health issues – for a period of time, I was not able to absorb nutrients because the gut lining was damaged, but also because at global level, nutrient deficiency is a major concern. I go to great lengths to process candied orange peel, by letting it slowly macerate at room temperature for 1 year before it is added to the granola recipe, in order to preserve the flavonoids and the vitamin C.
My vested interest in adding very little sweetener when creating the granola recipes is again related to my personal health issue, an overabundance of Candida Albicans. But also, as an answer to several global health issues due to overconsumption of added sugar, with breakfast cereals being a highly concerned product category, after fizzy drinks.
In the second place, Lily’s Granola is about supporting the local economy and creating direct ties with the farmers. I would like to coin the “From Farm to Granola Bowl” concept, a mélange between “From bean to bar” traceability and sustainability system in the cocoa / chocolate industry, and “De la fourche à la fourchette” which refers to supplying in a close loop, or “circuit court”. Thirdly, but not least Lily’s Granola is about reducing waste in every way possible, from the reusable packaging to the production process. As part of the young generation of Brussels based food entrepreneurs, I believe it is our responsibility to mind our ecological footprint.
In a nutshell, Lily’s Granola is about producing tasty & healthy granola, but always with respect towards Mother Nature. Because there is no Planet B.
How did you come up with the idea?
Back in 2015, my body decided it needed a rest. A 2 year long break, without the energy to work, socialize or much of the day to day life activities. The gp, gastro and neuro-gastro-enterologist that consulted me, gave very little insights, if not for the “it’s all in your head” diagnose which was a bit difficult for me to digest. You see, prior to this physical meltdown episode, I ran a series of half marathons and did hiit, all as base training for badminton tournaments. The standard treatment for SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) is a wide spectrum antibiotic, “and then we’ll see”. It has a 44% relapse rate, and my guess – a high success rate in wiping much of your beneficial gut bacteria with it too.
Following my Toyota training, I took the road less travelled towards Root Cause Analysis. Understanding the Why, changing my lifestyle and most importantly, my diet. I spent months on cooking everything from scratch, learning to read supermarket product labels and testing the low Foodmap, vegan, vegetarian and keto diets. Being so busy with food and around food, I toyed with the idea of a 180° career switch. The first granola recipe came from a cook book, the creative behind the other granola recipes came to me during my 2 am cortisol rush episodes. My buddies tasted the granolas and okayed it. JobYourself provided a safe business testing environment, the Sequoia chain of organic stores was my first big client. The rest is history, as they say.
Tell us more about your plans and hopes?
After testing the Belgian market – in my honest opinion one of the most difficult European markets due to the 2 languages and especially very different consumer behaviour on such a small geographical area, I plan to test the waters abroad. Currently, a fine specialty food company in Germany is prospecting clients such as Galleries Lafayette, there are discussions ongoing with a young Italian distribution company for the healthy premium foods segment, and with the amazing support of hub.brussels I would like to explore and prospect the UK market this summer.
But first things first: the implementation of Lily’s Granola range of 5 lightly sweet and 1 savoury granolas in a 60+ Carrefour stores, as part of their “Local Producers” strategy.
In parallel, I continue my search for an associate – or a co-founder as I would like to see it, a second steam train locomotive together with whom we can deploy a much needed scale up. Lily’s Granola 3.0.
While always on the optimist side, I would like to keep my hopes modest. Having survived the two covid crisis which wiped out 80% of my b2b clients and now the current crisis forcing a substantial number of organic stores to close, all that I allow myself to hope for is a certain level of economic stability for the organic food sector.
Any tips for others starting a business in Brussels & Belgium?
I feel a bit of an impostor, as I am not an entrepreneur in its truest sense. At the very best, I could be an adventure-loving, product and concept creator. But from the 5 years experience with Lily’s Granola so far, I would say – get to know your professional network very well, above and below your core activity.
Very important too – stop everything else you’re doing and take time to celebrate the small successes. Basically what you are doing is taking a snapshot in time, creating a precedent of what success tastes like.
Your favourite things about Brussels? (you can also name spots, favourite bars, restaurants…)
Brussels hasn’t necessarily been a love at first sight. But, much like grafting a tree it grows on you, or you around it if you stick around long enough. What strikes me most about Brussels is the physical proximity of different activities and grand architectural designs such as the KVS, The Royal Flemish Theatre, as one example. What I love the most about Brussels is the easy and affordable access to anything cultural and artsy. Be it “Bastarda” at La Monnaie, John Malkovich’s “The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer” at Bozar or Jan Martens’ “Sweat, baby sweat” at the Kaai Theatre, one can opt for a low income entry fee or go for a premium seat if they wish so.
I’m a movie buff, hence it comes to no surprise I am in love with Cinematek’s retrospectives and their rich program, such as inviting university professors giving lectures on the waltzes used as soundtrack in Kubrick’s films. I have fond memories of Flagey, as it hosts several of my favourite film festivals such as Anima, Brussels Short Film Festival and the Korean Film Festival.
I’ve lived around the Sainte Catherine area for the past 15 years. As a Food Lover I enjoy tremendously to treat myself with freshly grilled fish & glass of bubbles at Mer du Nord, delicious sourdough bread and clafoutis au cerise from Charli bakery, a piece of Simmental de Bavière from Dierendonck and some matcha genmaicha from Santos, brewed to perfection.
My favourite brunch restos are Le Phare du Kanaal with its wooden & crude brick interior, locally sourced food and generous portions, MelKafé for its elegant design and fresh, home-made pastries, and Pardon! In Ixelles for a very original menu and unique flavours for both sweet & savoury waffles.
To learn more about Lily’s Granola, visit their official website.