Having spent 14 years at Innocent Drinks, Paul Brown decided to pursue his own aim in starting up a food business when the brand decided to take a step back from its healthy ready meal products. It seemed the opportune moment to take that idea further, and so marked the creation of BOL Foods. Brown met Business Advice to discuss getting investment from the Innocent Drinks founders, capitalising on current consumption trends and the company’s quick progress after setting up just a few months ago.
Brown was disappointed when the crop of ready meal offerings Innocent Drinks had been offering was put on the back burner, and felt there was “unfinished business” and a chance to pursue his own passion for food. Starting with his just his savings, Brown admitted his plight to bring “globally inspired, healthy food” to the ready meal market, without looking towards other potential support networks or business incubators, was fairly risky.
“I had always wanted to start my own business, and with the experience I had with Innocent, I felt if we created the right product with the right brand and believed in it, we should just go for it,” he said. “We’re only a few months in, so we’re definitely not out the new startup woods, but I think for us, there’s enough experience and belief and backing there, to just go for it.”
This backing has also taken the form of investment from Innocent Drinks founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, as well as nutritionist Ian Marber, who set-up The Food Doctor. “We’ve got an investor pool that’s always on the end of the phone, and they’re pretty experienced business people,” Brown said. “The approach we took with fundraising was just to go to people we really respect in the industry and ask them for investment – we didn’t have to do any institutional investment.”
The personal approach has also meant BOL benefits from having these investors on hand as advisors should Brown need them. “We don’t need them on a day-to-day basis, but it’s that feeling of having a big brother in the playground – it’s comforting to know as a startup that we can just get on the phone to someone who can give us that advice,” he explained.
Commercial finance director Ed Duguid also mentioned the value in being able to find a partner to help out on the day-to-day business matters. “There’s only five of us in the core team and we work with lots of different businesses and consultants, and it’s important you get the best out of those relationships,” he said. “When that works, we can focus on the strategy and delivering the add value things.”
BOL has been working with the KPMG Small Business Accounting team, and Duguid feels this has enabled the team to redistribute their time more effectively and productively. “KPMG has taken a huge amount of the heat out of the operations of finances, so we’re left to try and focus on growing the business,” he added.
This is already a key focus – the business may only be a few months in, but it has delivered over £1m in retail sales, and is performing around five per cent above targets. “For our full year aspirations, we would like to think we can deliver over £10m,” Brown said.
BOL Foods’ products are already offered in Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado, but Brown wants to reach a wider range of places. “There’s an opportunity outside of grocery within delicatessens, sandwich bars, travel places. We’ve already had interest from the continent [Europe] and as far away as Australia,” he explained. The latter currently is a sticking point, as the range only has a seven day shelf life – “we make them exactly as you would at home, so I guess we’re restricted in how far we can go” – and may mean exporting further afar will be tricky.
With the demand there though, and consumers becoming increasingly health conscious, which trends will BOL Foods hope to tap into in the foreseeable future?
“We believe that flexitarianism is going to be a huge trend moving forward – many people are reducing their meat intake and mainly eating a plant-based diet, whether that’s for social, economic or health reasons,” Brown explained. “So, at BOL, we’re mainly going to offer plant-based food, but there will be a balance, which is why we’re moving into incorporating British chicken into some of our recipes.”
His current favourite dish is the super-roasted beetroot, which features in BOL Foods’ superfoods range hosting “really nutritionally dense products” and tastes “a bit more indulgent than it is”.
The new chicken offerings will be similar in format to the rest of the globally-inspired range, and high in protein. “We’ve got an amazing Korean chicken kimchi, Jamaican jerk and a Kansas BBQ chicken and they’ll be launching in supermarkets hopefully September and October time, so we have lots of innovation in the pipeline,” he added.
“Anything that’s remotely successful – the one certainty you’re going to have is that you’re going to be copied, and it’s about making sure our core range just keeps getting better and better, and we keep innovating to stay ahead of the competition.”
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