Business Advice chatted to Strong Roots CEO, Samuel Dennigan, about the new partnerships his healthy frozen food brand has agreed with Amazon Fresh and Ocado.
No longer seen as a low-quality alternative to chilled or fresh food, frozen food is in the midst of a UK revival. The food category is now worth more than £6bn a year to UK economy, and is one of the fastest-growing in UK supermarket aisles.
A wave of celebrities, including the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams, continue to invest in new “premium” frozen food brands.
One new brand tapping into the trend is Strong Roots. Launched in Ireland in 2015, the business currently boasts 1,200 per cent year-on-year growth, with turnover projected to increase by £7m in the next 12 months.
With a range including oven baked sweet potato fries, kale and quinoa burgers, ripened avocado halves and beetroot and bean burgers, Strong Roots has its sights set on the UK after securing mass distribution to the majority of Irish supermarkets.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Samuel Dennigan, founder and CEO of Strong Roots, an innovative, healthy frozen food brand, revolutionising frozen food aisles. We pride ourselves on working with the best producers in the world to source the finest vegetables and all our products are fresh, tasty and bursting with goodness.
(2) How long have you been around for?
In April 2015, Strong Roots was accepted into SuperValu’s Food Academy, which is the largest food brand accelerator programme in Ireland. By October that year, we had launched our first product into Irish supermarkets.
We launched in the UK in 2016 into Whole Foods, quickly followed by Waitrose in March 2017 and Amazon Fresh and Ocado most recently, with a delicious and nutritious range of vegetables and veggie meals.
(3) Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have grown up working in the fresh food sector have become increasingly frustrated with the limited shelf life fresh food has to offer, and the amount of waste there is as a result.
I decided to look to frozen alternatives. I could see a gap in the market and a demand for vegetables in a cost effective convenient format, and thought frozen vegetables and vegetable-based meals could be the answer.
Not many people realise that there are usually higher nutritional values in frozen vegetables compared to fresh vegetables. Our products can stay fresh for up to two years as a result of freezing, and the nutritional qualities remain the same.
The product is a great convenient option for families wanting to eat healthier and most importantly it means we are helping to reduce food waste.
(4) What was key in terms of getting started?
SuperValu’s Food Academy, which Strong Roots were a part of, works with and nurtures small businesses through their journey, from startup to getting their products on shelves.
Our inclusion in the program provided us with supermarket shelf space opportunities, ultimately resulting in our products being available in every corner of the country within a very short space of time.
(5) Any major setbacks along the way?
In 2009, I tried to do a version of the Strong Roots brand we have now but for children, in the chilled food space. The product was too expensive and it was simply not going to work.
I made a bit of a mistake and retailers ran a mile from any suggestion of doing what we were talking about. It meant we had to give it some time, go back to the drawing board and change our strategy.
(6) How do you make social media work for your business? Which platforms do you use?
Social media is extremely important for all aspects of our business, and as a result we’re active on all major platforms.
Social platforms offer us the opportunity to engage directly with our customers in real time. As a brand, you need to add value to consumers’ lives by what you push out across your social channels. And as a food brand, we lean heavily on recipe content to inspire followers and assist their hectic lives.
We also take a personable approach and manage all social channels in-house, so that we’re getting as close as possible to the customer.
(7) What’s been the key in pitching to buyers?
Each new product developed is entirely derived from customer feedback, need states and trends. Therefore, we can assure our retail partners that the appetite will be there for our products when they hit the shelves, because they are grounded in a significant amount of research and us having listened to customers.
(8) What one tip would you give to new brands starting out?
Never let your business get off the ground. Treat every day like day one. If you don’t someone else will. It’s really hard work, you make tonnes of sacrifices in your personal life, but it should be challenging every day.
(9) In five years’ time, I will be…?
Taking a trip to the US to see our products in-store and catching up with our team on the ground there. Our goal is to begin trading in the US in that timeframe, and we’re already working on that in the background of our day-to-day work.
(10) Who do you admire in business and why?
My Dad – Joe, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs. The reasons for admiring Branson and Jobs may be pretty obvious. As for my Dad, it’s mainly his unrivalled tenacity to make sure to strive for perfection in everything he does.
He has been key to my success so far and always has my back, even when we don’t agree. He has managed to build one of Ireland’s most successful food businesses, and I hope for half as much success as his.
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