Drawing on his background in marketing and trying out ideas on his own children, Dean Dempsey is on a mission to make healthy after-school snacking easier for kids and parents. Business Advice spoke to him about the challenges and highlights of his business journey so far.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Dean Dempsey, founder of Naturelly – a three-person family business on a mission to inspire parents to help their kids be healthy and reduce childhood obesity. I work with my wife and brother, and our jelly juices are a combination of a drink and a snack and combine no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners – just fruit juice, gellan gum and natural flavourings.
(2) How long have you been around for?
We launched in September 2015. Before I founded the company I had run my own marketing agency for many years, then sold it and worked for a bigger agency on brands including Heinz and A.G Barr.
The idea for Naturelly came because I had worked on a product for Tetley which targeted cyclists and contained green tea as well as a gel – it didn’t quite work for them but stuck in my mind. Then I became a parent and struggled to find healthy foods that my children would like.
(3) How do you make money?
We’ve secured wholesalers including leading health food wholesale distributor Tree of Life. We’re also stocked in Spinneys supermarkets in Dubai and are about to go live on Ocado. We also sell directly to customers online, but that makes up quite a small proportion.
What I think people often don’t realise is that even if you get stocked by wholesalers, they don’t market your product for you. I always use this line that you’re selling what you’ve already sold – a distributor might take a pallet, but you have to make retailers want to buy it. Cotswold Fayre, for example, look after 1,200 different independent farm shops, so we have to communicate with them through telesales, email marketing and sending physical samples out – we also go to lots of trade and consumer shows.
Since last month, we’ve also been stocked in 300 Boots stores. I sent them some samples in September and then had to meet with their product and legal teams, so it’s been a time-consuming process but I feel like it’s a bug success for us.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
Gellan gum is a natural dietary fibre which comes from lily plants. Because it’s a geletine-free jelly, Naturelly products are suitable for vegans and vegetarians as well as those with religious restrictions on what they can eat. The jelly juices only have 36 calories in each pouch, so they’re brilliant for kids after school – they’re filling but still leave room for dinner.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
My kids are the product taste testers – we started with them, then their friends. After a small production run we got feedback from parents that they wanted something low in sugar, and adapted the jelly juices based on that.
Recently, we’ve had a bit of fun with the popularity of Pokémon GO in order to let customers know that we’re in Boots – by chance, each of the coloured teams (red, blue and yellow) in the game represents one of our flavours, and the outdoor play element is related to our core healthy mission. This week we asked our followers social media if to get in touch if they were part of the red team – those who did got sent a voucher to use in Boots.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
We have recently announced that a percentage of profits will go to Hope for Children, an international charity – I’m really pleased to be partnering up with them.
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
Working with your wife is challenge – though I think she probably finds it hard working with me too! And the big difference between running your own business and normal work is that when you’re working for someone else you can give it 75 per cent of your energy, but you have to give it your whole self when it’s your own company – seven days a week and lots of late nights. It’s brilliant that we work from home so I can be here when the kids get home from school, but sometimes they are noisy when you’re on the phone and you have to try and get them to be quiet. Weekends can also be hard because we do sampling in stores or at events and take them with us.
(8) In five years’ time, I will be…
We’d like to be a leading healthy kids snacking company with a whole portfolio of products available all over the world in more flavours and different serving sizes. We get a lot of parents saying they buy the juice jellies themselves, so although we want to be a children’s snack business, we might bring some adult flavours out too.
(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
One thing I’ve realised is more important than anything else is to be open minded. I’ve heard it described as: “Always be in beta” – you have to constantly learn and improve.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
I was really inspired by some Business Connections events organised by the Evening Standard with speeches from Innocent Drinks founder Richard Reed, Cobra beer founder Lord Bilimoria and Thea Green, who started Nails Inc. You hear so much about successes, but listening to them talk about their failures and the fact they almost didn’t succeed made it feel real.
We caught up with Lord Bilimoria last year – you can read the interview here.
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