Global food insecurity is an issue deeply rooted in the world and is currently spreading its malignancy even further, with now over 2.37 billion, or, 1 in 3 people affected. By definition, an individual is deemed food insecure when there is no guarantee of a steady, daily supply of food to ensure both a healthy and active life. Why though, in the twenty-first century is the problem worsening? An increase in frequency in natural disasters, like the floods in Pakistan last year, political conflict, such as the Russian-Ukrainian war and socio-economic upheaval’s like in Sri Lanka all have played their part and continue to contribute, and from this gloomy assessment, the future does not look promising as global prices continue to rise, whilst war and political uncertainty place global stability on an uneven keel.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope in the struggle against containing and simultaneously shrinking food shortage problems. It comes in the form of a modest, unassuming looking food bar, aptly named ‘The Phoenix Bar’. This product is a nutrition bar, packed full of macronutrients, micronutrients and calories, all of which hit the human nutritional requirements prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Not only that, but it is fully sustainable and ethically sourced, it has a 2-year shelf life, it is culturally appropriate to be used the world over, as well as being genuinely flavoursome.
Why is this elevator pitch important? Because this is the first “food ration”, set to be given to individuals stricken by food insecurity that actually ticks every single box set out by the WHO. No other rations, or products currently used to tackle this issue fulfil this requirement. None. The Phoenix Bar therefore is a major breakthrough in how NGO’s and governments can confront food poverty and uncertainty. But this is no brainchild of a huge corporation or conglomerate; this is the product of Flaming Phoenix, a brand in its infancy dedicated to toppling food insecurity, whose Managing Director, James Frost, only just graduated from the University of Exeter in 2022 with a degree in economics.
James Frost: Founder and Managing Director of Flaming Phoenix
Photo: Flaming Phoenix
This is no billionaire philanthropist, but a young man who set up Flaming Phoenix in his university accommodation. Inspiring, entrepreneurial, motivational: these are all superlatives that are often overused but in the case of James, they could not be more sincere. Why? Well, it takes these characteristics to attempt to tackle an issue as titanic as food insecurity and emerge with a genuinely life-changing product. But how did he get to this point, and what does the future look like for the inspirational entrepreneur? Well, having had the pleasure to speak to James at length, it is quite the story, so strap in.
Even from a young age, he was entrepreneurial, and as we chat, he makes that quite obvious. ‘I've always had a predilection for entrepreneurship, as well as a strong interest in nutrition from a love of health and fitness. At school I used to go around and sell biltong, and even younger than that I used to sell trading cards in the playground’, he says laughing. It was this entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with his passion for nutrition that first gave him the idea for Flaming Phoenix. A Facebook post by a friend, who was undertaking the ‘Ration Challenge’, led him down the rabbit hole to uncovering the scale of food insecurity, and how the attempts at tackling it have been benign. Evidently moved by what he found, James recalls how he discovered that ‘there are so many people dying globally and there was a space for an innovation that could help many disadvantaged individuals live higher quality and healthier lives.’
"By chance I managed to get in touch with UK Government Director of Food Insecurity, and from there things really began to pick up..."
It was this that catalysed his concept of fashioning a food source that ticked every box of the WHO’s requirements. From making the bars in his kitchen, to supplying local food banks and homeless shelters in Exeter, the initial idea went from strength to strength, which culminated in James securing £50,000 in funding from a number of philanthropists, who have formed the Company’s Steering Committee. These funds financed the next stages of research and development of the Phoenix Bar which was undertaken by a food science and technology company – Reading Scientific Services Limited (RSSL) – which optimised the cost and the weight of the Bar, as well as extending its shelf-life.
As I sit and listen to James narrate his story, I am intrigued by how he made headway in an industry that is so complex and saturated with experts, scientists and policy makers. I knew I had to understand whether he faced a pushback or resistance to his ideas and mission from the industry’s top brass. ‘I was very lucky because my parents were so supportive of my idea, and my dad really pushed me to be entrepreneurial, so that definitely gave me the confidence’, he says reassuringly, but quickly points out there were issues. ‘There were a couple of tricky situations. One was when I stumbled across a potential competitor around two years ago. As you can imagine that was a tad anxiety inducing! Furthermore, the issue that initially cropped up was funding; I think every entrepreneur will tell you it is an uphill battle,’ he says earnestly. The issues have had no major impact on progress though, and as James is quick to point out ‘no concern has been terminal’, and the key message is undoubtedly that ‘perseverance is key, and maybe quite a bit of patience too’.
James being interviewed about Flaming Phoenix
Photo: Flaming Phoenix
James now finds himself with a product that is brutally efficient, a London head office and with a growing sales team, it is only a matter of time before Flaming Phoenix goes global. The signs are already there. His interactions with the NGO’s, charities, such as the United Nations World Food Programme, Save the Children and the Red Cross and governing bodies including the US and UK governments, mean the Phoenix Bar is firmly on the radar of the movers and shakers. ‘All of these entities have confirmed the urgent necessity for a product like the Phoenix Bar.’ However, as I hear about the direction of Flaming Phoenix, I am impressed by how James was actually able to get his product in front of influential organisations in a relatively short space of time. I decide to ask him his tactics, and surprisingly, it is not a fine art. ‘I just used my alumni networks from school and university. I then attempted to grow my following on social media and engage with a number of people in the sector.'
'I now have just under 8,000 LinkedIn followers and try to post content 3 times per week to raise awareness about the massive and worsening problem of hunger, as well as the Phoenix Bar’s potential to be an exciting solution. It was more a case of just moving from contact to contact, and eventually coming across individuals who had direct links to the industry, and by chance I managed to get in touch with UK Government Director of Food Insecurity, and from there things really began to pick up. Flaming Phoenix’s newsletter now has over 850 subscribers, which is astonishing.’ At the core, the overwhelming message from James’ success in gaining access to those at the top is just old school graft. No quick shortcuts, but slowly navigating each social and work circle, and in a world where impatience dictates, James’ story demonstrates the rich rewards that endurance can provide.
'It creates a cycle of dependency, as farmers are losing their income from not needing to provide food, and the result is a domino effect...'
Continuing on, I know it would be naïve of me to not enquire about his wider views on food access, and how he sees methods developing to help finally topple this ever-present issue. For someone who only three years ago was effectively a complete novice, his immeasurable knowledge on the subject is extraordinary. Speaking with complete lucidity and assurance, James believes the future is ‘dependent on helping regions source and manufacture their food locally, as the current system of food rations is not conducive to progress. The reason being is it creates a cycle of dependency, as farmers are losing their income from not needing to provide food, and the result is a domino effect.’
Thus, food sources must start to be easy enough for farmers and local producers to manufacture themselves, and incredibly, that is something that James has ensured with the Phoenix Bar. He then expands on this further, ‘the bar has a substitutable ingredient formula, so it can be manufactured locally in food insecure developing countries, meaning that farmers can get a source of income and by growing these local ingredients, jobs will be created, in turn bolstering the regional economy.’ Flaming Phoenix has managed to cover all bases, and with this proactive approach that looks at both curing and preventing the issue, James and his company are on the cusp of spearheading a radical change.
The Phoenix Bar
Photo: Flaming Phoenix
As we move forward with our discussion, the most striking and unsettling question that is at the forefront of my mind is why no one has already developed a product like the Phoenix Bar. Considering the amount of money, time and effort that is invested into tackling these global issues from huge corporations, NGO’s and charities, how is it that it has taken a young man, with no prior experience in the industry, to create a product that ticks every box of the WHO’s nutritional requirements. It may seem a damning indictment of those at the top, however James believes it is down to other factors. ‘Firstly, I think all innovations are obvious in hindsight and secondly, there has been a lot more research into the problems associated with micronutrient deficiencies, which has helped to create products that fulfil nutritional needs.’
He expands on this further, and states, ‘previously organisations believed that providing people with enough calories and certain micronutrients would be ample and supply them with enough energy. However, the research has shown that micronutrient deficiencies lead to significant long-term health, social and economic costs, with the United Nations estimating that solving undernourishment and hunger by 2030 would save $1.3 trillion in health costs alone, which is startling.’ It is evident that whilst previous approaches fell way below the mark, the future looks bright in helping food insecure countries, with Flaming Phoenix helping to lead this new method.
'The flexibility of the bars means I really want to expand the product line to push the boundaries of what is possible...'
With an already watertight product, the future beckons for James and Flaming Phoenix. Interested to know his ideas, predictions and hopes for the coming months and years, I ask him what he wants Flaming Phoenix to achieve, and what are its possibilities. His eyes seemingly light up, and it is evident that he has big plans. ‘Manufacturing the product locally is definitely a core part and that's something that will take a while for us to do effectively, all the while expanding globally. I definitely want to create a variety of flavours for the Phoenix Bar ranging from savoury to sweet in order to ensure that the long-term consumption of the bar does not become monotonous or tedious. The bar is so multi-faceted, for example it can be used for porridge which allows young children with no teeth to consume it, and as such the flexibility of the bars means I really want to expand the product line to push the boundaries of what is possible. Our mission directly contributes to achieving 12 of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.’
To kickstart Flaming Phoenix’s progress to achieving these future goals, the Company plans to raise a minimum of £150,000 in grant funding from the extensive list of philanthropic and interested supporters of the project. This financing will ensure the next stages of development for the venture, to enable the product to be produced commercially - which includes additional empirical trials, the production of the Phoenix Bar in substantial quantities and future R&D such as a diversification of flavour offerings. James’ thorough mapping of what the future may look like for Flaming Phoenix is a testament to his vision and ambition, and with a product as unique and ground-breaking as the Phoenix Bar, he has every right to be.
The Phoenix and its inventor: James Frost
Photo: Flaming Phoenix
Throughout our entire meeting, what struck me most about James was the complete clarity on his vision, but also the task that he is taking on, regardless of its magnitude. His story is genuinely remarkable, and completely inspiring, and without wanting to sound too cliché, demonstrates that anything is possible; no idea too big, no challenge too large. With an immense passion for helping people living in the most desperate situations, James has built a business that will catalyse a colossal, positive change on the world. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that I am extremely excited to follow both his and Flaming Phoenix’s journey in bringing food security throughout the world. In his own words, ‘something needed to be done’, and boy has he done it.
If you wish to learn more about James’ ground-breaking, humanitarian innovation – the Phoenix Bar – and his Company, Flaming Phoenix, please visit: www.flaming-phoenix.co.uk for more information.