On the up · 6 August 2015

Barenaked Foods: From Dragons’ Den success to supermarket staple

Ross Mendham hopes sales will be big for his new rice product
Ross Mendham hopes sales will be big for his new rice product

When Barenaked Foods founder Ross Mendham went on BBC investment show Dragons’ Den in 2013 to pitch his business it had been in operation for two years. Set up to provide low carbohydrate and gluten-free products, goods have now reached the shelves of major supermarket Morrisons.

With the help of Peter Jones, who provided £60,000 for a 50 per cent stake in Barenaked Foods, Mendham has launched Barenaked Rice – which has only 16 calories per 100g. This product joins Barenaked Noodles and Barenaked Protein Noodles in a growing roster of sought-after products.

To find out more, Business Advice caught up with Mendham and asked him how Jones has contributed and what his tips for dealing with supermarkets are.

(1) What inspired you to start your company?

After struggling with “always being on a diet”, I wanted to make it easier for people in a similar situation to lose weight without missing out on the food they like and love. There was a gap in the market and I thought I would be able to launch my new product and food brand.

(2) Did you have any experience in the space?

I had no experience in the food sector, apart from being a foodie at home. Since my company’s incorporation, and with the help of the Peter Jones’ team, I have learnt so much about this industry.

(3) What were the early challenges?

Loads! The biggest was lack of working capital to help my business grow. Banks weren’t willing to help and so I knew I had to seek outside investment. When you want something so badly you will do anything to not give up and to make your business a success.

(4) What is the size of the business now?

We have a turnover of £600,000 as of June 2015, a 110 per cent increase on the previous year. With our extended distribution, turnover for the next year will hit £1m. I started off by importing 3,000 units of product, and now we import 80,000 units every six weeks.

Getting your goods into a big supermarket can be transformational
Getting your goods into a big supermarket can be transformational

(5) What made you want to take part in Dragons’ Den?

I needed investment and exposure to help my business grow. Dragons’ Den is an amazing platform to help people with great ideas turn them into reality. All of the Dragons are extremely clever people with a wealth of experience. The hard work really starts when you get the investment. The biggest tip I have for people is to learn.

(6) What has investment allowed you to do?

Help with cash flow, to give the business the financial boost it needed to help market my new product and brand. The biggest contribution though is the knowledge and experience they offer. But you do have to have the drive and self belief, as it gets harder the bigger you get. You have to be able to climb any obstacle that you come up against.

(7) What is your advice to dealing with supermarkets such as Morrisons?

Morrisons have been amazing to deal with, as have Holland & Barrett. Morrisons saw my vision and passion for my brand and gave me the opportunity I needed to break into the big six. You do need to be extremely professional at all times, be willing to learn quickly and make sure you think of any potential problems along the way – i.e. damages in transit and making sure you put measures in place to stop anything from happening. Mistakes do happen but its how you deal with them.

(8) Where would you like to take the brand in the future?

We have distribution in Dubai, Malta and recently South Africa. I would like to not only become an established healthy, gluten-free food brand in the UK but also internationally. The sky is the limit.

I’m a big advocate of never give up. After myself and my wife’s third miscarriage just before Dragons’ Den I knew I had to battle on as one day everything would fall into place. Three months after the show, she fell pregnant and in January 2014 we celebrated the birth of our son. Life throws a curve ball at you every now and then, its how you deal with your problems in your private life and business which determines your success in the future.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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