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Interview: Amy Moring & Jeff Webster from Hunter and Gather

Amy and Jeff are co-founders of Hunter & Gather, a dynamic food brand that creates optimal health products free of refined sugar, grain, and seed oil. A diet that they believe is the key to our good health.

Interview by Susan Davies

Amy Moring & Jeff Webster from Hunter and Gather

Hunter & Gather products include Avocado mayonnaise, MCT, extra virgin avocado oil and collagen! In the UK, they are at the forefront of paleo and keto products. They are also passionate about sharing their knowledge of ancestral-based diets: ketogenic, paleo, and carnivore.

How did your company, Hunter & Gather begin?

AMY It's been a lifelong journey really, I was diagnosed coeliac at 18 months old; back then, there wasn't even a gluten-free aisle or bold allergen labelling. Jeff and I met as young teenagers, and I explained to him about coeliac.

JEFF I was quite sick as a teenager; I had eczema, asthma, cystic acne; something wasn't quite right and seeing Amy and how a particular food substance had such an effect on her health; sparked something within me.

Then In 2012 when I injured myself running. I saw a physio who asked what I was eating. I explained I was eating potatoes, pasta, rice, carbohydrates to fuel myself. He told me to check a video out by Gary Taubes called 'Why We Get Fat?' And it was a turning point. A 45-minute video made so much sense and was the catalyst to learning more.

It was the turning point for me, and I saw unbelievable changes in my health. During my final year at university, I embarked on a low carb paleo philosophy, and I remember removing all these foods from my diet and immediately feeling better. I wasn't in pain anymore.

AMY There's a big link between the gut and brain and your cognitive function in general, and if you have issues with your gut, it can impact everything. I understood about a no-grain diet, and Jeff understood about no refined sugars. Then, the seed oil came on the radar through Jeff's extra reading about good quality fats.

JEFF In fairness, I became obsessed for four years. I was militantly obsessed with health optimisation to understand how food interfaced with health. Looking back, it was almost an apprenticeship and eventually became my purpose.

What is your company's ethos?

Jeff: We say that our products are a vehicle for the greater message. Even though we are a food and supplements business, we talk about sunlight, rest and relaxation, movement, sleep; there are many pillars to good health.

Whereas people can get so myopically focused on food and think that's the panacea. There are so many different aspects, and we try to champion them. On our Instagram page, we do talk about our products, but we also talk about other lifestyle aspects. We have a different topic each month. We might focus on seed oils, dealing with hormetic stresses and how you can do things such as a sauna and cold water therapy.

What is your company setting out to provide to its customers?

JEFF We thought, how could we have the most significant impact? We had no platform or perceived credibility, but we both had entrepreneurial spirits. Amy knew about the food industry and routes to market. I was a quantity surveyor, so I understood supply chains. In November 2016, I professionally hit rock bottom; lacking purpose, my career wasn't of interest; I had this burning desire to give back, as cliche as that sounds.

AMY That's when we knew a brand was the right way, and we could use it as a tool to educate. That is why at Hunter & Gather, we rarely talk about the products; we talk about the lifestyle and the education. What we make is very secondary, to support that. We were already making food from home for these lifestyles: paleo, keto etc., so we decided to try!

What was the first product you developed?

AMY We developed our first product in October 2017. Our first product was our Avocado Mayonnaise. It's our 'Poster Child', and what most people know us for. In the search for the ingredients, we came across extra virgin avocado oil, our next product.

Jeff created a website, and I shared it on a Paleo Facebook page. It took off!

Why do you advocate using seed-free oils?

AMY We've done quite a lot of education on why we are using avocado oil. We believe in seed-free oils, which is more nuanced and newer in terms of people understanding. These oils were not in our lifestyles generations ago. We have an e-book on this subject if people would like to know more.

How have you seen your business grow?

AMY Rapid! It's been an absolute explosion. We have gone from both of us putting in a bit of time; initially, I still had a full-time job to an office team of nine. From a website, we built ourselves to a complete re-brand. We've grown our product base and retail space. It's been an exciting journey. We’ve won Great Taste Awards, and this year we were named Ocado’s ‘Best of British’ Rising Star.

JEFF: It's fantastic we got in Forbes Under 30 recently and Young Entrepreneur of the year. All we are doing is producing some awesome products. It's not without its challenges; in the real world of business, without no margin, you have no mission, so a business has to make sense.

AMY Although we've grown fast, we have stuck to those core values, which we set out quite early on paper. We don't sway from that, and it is embedded in the team culture here; everyone is clear on the direction.

How do you educate people about new products such as collagen?

JEFF Experts within the food industry and mentors asked 'why have you got collagen from a supplement category and mayonnaise from a condiment category? You need to focus on one category well'.

We went 'No!' {Both Amy and Jeff laugh at this moment}.

AMY Like we said, it's about a lifestyle and our core values; it's focused on an ancestral based diet, whether it's paleo or keto or carnivore. We're not just one. They all have the same fundamentals, no grains, no sugars, no inflammatory seed oils, and utilise nose to tail nutrition.

So for the collagen, most people in the UK don't eat nose to tail. There is a massive lack of protein in many people's lifestyles, especially those that are slightly older. Optimal health, which we are trying to encourage people to pursue, increases the protein with a clean, allergen-free option. We offer our collagen products instead of taking whey protein or protein shakes with added chemicals and preservatives.

JEFF Collagen has unique properties, and we're advocates of an animal-based diet because that's where the highest nutrients and availability are. We eat oxtail, cartilage; those that do eat meat have been swayed away from it, and we are trying to say this is where the nutrients are.

AMY interestingly, we have a few vegetarian customers; on paper, they would say they don't eat meat; however, they strategically use collagen. Their minds cant digest eating steak or chicken. They have a mental barrier, but they want to introduce the amino acids and their benefits, and as it's a scoop of powder, they feel they can do that. We've had a few customers like that who have seen such big improvements.

Your website is much more than a shopfront, with recipes and a wealth of information, is that an important aspect of your brand?

Jeff We don't just want to hard sell. For example, we have a recipe to make your own mayonnaise on the website if you want to. We are fulfilling a need that our customers have essentially, and our website is there to enable them to become better versions of themselves. We give our customers the tools to thrive. That may be through mayonnaise, an MCT oil, collagen, recipes, educational information or community, for instance. That is central to what we do.

How can the industry help ease the overwhelm of dietary advice and information out there?

AMY It is hard to have a broad-brush approach because there are a lot of people who have specific intolerances and allergies. For me, dairy isn't great, and grains aren't great. The old government food pyramid or Eat Well guideline doesn't work for me. There is no one size fits all, but we think improvements need to be made.

How important is a work-life balance to you?

AMY We've always been cautious of that. Having an entrepreneurial spirit, you have to be actively conscious of stepping away. It's important to remember that you're not at your best if you're grinding from 6am to 10pm at night. We've purposely not done that. Jeff's passionate; he helps pull me up on this.

JEFF That's on record now, jokes Jeff.

AMY: I've got two horses. I ride 5-6 times a week out in the countryside, which gets me away. We love sleep as well.

JEFF: To be frank, there is a trade-off, and there is a cost to have such a mission. It isn't just rainbows and sunshine, and it's bloody hard. It's being aware and trying to re-calibrate at certain times and saying we need some downtime now. Time for ourselves. We have a five month puppy too. We've been for a walk this morning.

AMY We don't take on too much. We are focused on what we do. We want the business to be bigger than us, and we don't want it to hold us back and vice versa. Hunter & Gather should be able to self run. That's the stage we want to get to.

Finally, where do you think the industry will be in 10 years time? What positive changes would you like to see?

AMY There is a lot of uncertainty. When we visit New Zealand, they have whole keto and paleo ends in their supermarkets, based on these lifestyles, and there is much more awareness in the US.

Potentially I think England could go this way too. We have health and wellbeing bays in the major supermarkets, when previously gluten-free and 'free from'. But evolving now into lifestyle and wellbeing, we have helped to spearhead that.

JEFF When people start feeling better and feeling well, the world is such a better place to be. It has so many costs beyond monetary. It's not winning at all costs for us. I think we are pushing new boundaries. When we first set up, people asked. 'How can we sell a jar of mayonnaise for £6? Now with Ocado we sell our big jar, launched just last week for £15, it's not because we earn lots of profits from it, it's because of the costs and the integrity of the ingredients. We are literally changing categories and are trailblazers in that. It was quite a nice win last week!

Find out more about Hunter and Gather

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Chatting Food Contributor: Susan Davies

I re-trained as a chef in my forties, it was tough, but I love cooking. I studied at Westminster College and worked at Food by John Lawson; both were amazing experiences. Now I run a monthly supper club local to where I live in Leigh on Sea and more recently set up Eat Well Together, to post recipes that anyone can cook. I love growing my own vegetables and if I’m not in the kitchen, I’m in the garden.

During the lockdown, I wanted to share stories of those thriving at this challenging time.

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