Olympic rower George Bridgewater directs a health food company

George Bridgewater spends about 30 hours a week training for his competitive rowing career. That’s not including travel time, meal preparations and other admin.

Then in his spare time the Cambridge-based athlete co-directs The Pure Food Co, an enterprise he started with his brother Sam Bridgewater and business partner Maia Royal.

The company makes food for people who have trouble chewing, swallowing and digesting.

It’s essentially pureed food that tastes good, has nutritional value and is cheap. It’s aimed at people that have recently undergone surgery, or have conditions that prevent them from eating normal food.

The company launched in October last year, and it’s very hands-on in the early stages. The demand on Bridgewater’s time and energy is significant.

“I struggle a lot, to be honest. I struggle for time,” he says, but if anything it makes both Bridgewater and the organisation more efficient.

He has to choose carefully what he spends time on, and so do the other directors. Bridgewater says that’s probably a good thing.

“I think you do that when you become time poor.”

And luckily, Bridgewater’s business partners are understanding of his needs. He says they each spend between 70 and 80 hours a week at the Pure Food Company.

“There are times like, for example, I go to Europe on the 12th of June for three months.”

He’ll still be involved with the strategy, connected by phone and internet, but distance and time difference will make things difficult.

It’s an uphill battle, but through a strategy of connecting with a lot of nutritionists and speech and language therapists, The Pure Food Co is starting to make some commercial headway.

“The signs are promising, and that gives you a lot of confidence.”

No salaries have been paid yet, and Bridgewater doesn’t expect to see anything significant for a while.

“You’re not going to be able to go start your own company and start earning cash right away.”

But he says he’s got the passion to stick it out, and particularly enjoys seeing the difference the products make to people’s lives.

“We’re all really excited about what we’re doing, and that really helps with the drive and the motivation.”

Bridgewater has personal experience of the need for good “soft food”. His stepfather was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw five years ago and became unable to eat normal food.

Market research showed the business partners that there were tens of thousands of New Zealanders who needed soft food.

Bridgewater says they are aware that the health market is populated with vulnerable consumers, and want to make sure they aren’t taking advantage.

“There’s certainly more than one way to do it, but we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it properly.”

The company has a few goals, and Bridgewater says if it hits them all it will be doing the right thing by default.

The products have to be nutritional. Each meal comes with three pouches: a protein option, carbohydrates, and vegetables. They need to be healthy and should prevent people losing weight when they can’t eat solid food.

They also need to be effortless to prepare and eat. Many people who need soft food can’t safely prepare meals. Pure Food Co meals are prepared by microwaving or adding water. Bridgewater says making soft meals is “surprisingly complex”. Processing meat is particularly difficult.

If they don’t taste good, they don’t fit the bill. The company works with chefs, and the directors experiment in their own kitchens to make food that is actually edible.

Finally, it needs to be affordable. Bridgewater says “our goal is to make it more cost effective than if you do it yourself”.