On the up · 20 August 2018

Young Foodies: An online community for food brands built by former business rivals

Young Foodies co-founders Theadora Alexander and Chris Green

This members-only portal connects early stage food and drink startups with experts and resources to help small businesses tackle day-to-day challenges.

Young Foodies was set up by two former popcorn rivals, Theadora Alexander who worked at Propercorn and Chris Green at Metcalfe’s.

Rather than continue to compete against one another, they decided to put their heads together to launch the Young Foodies community, which core purpose is to make the everyday easier for small fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands.

Business Advice caught up with Alexander to discover how the pair developed the concept and what made the former rivals join forces.

What is your business?

I got my bug for entrepreneurship during my years studying at Cambridge University when I launched my first start-up, a tech business called Study Loop.

After graduating, I trained in equity capital markets, but I really found my passion point when I entered the food and drink industry as the Operations and Strategy Director at Propercorn.

I helped Propercorn grow from 5 people to 50 people, with sales growing from just a couple of pallets to 3 million bags per month across 10 countries.

It was an incredible journey with many lessons gained. But after leaving my role in 2016, and having dealt first-hand with the many challenges involved in building a new food brand, with no-one to turn to for advice and no budget to buy it, I knew I had to do something.

Leveraging my background in business and operations, I identified a unique market opportunity to help nurture and grow young food and drink businesses.

Chris Green, my former popcorn competitor (he worked at Metcalfe’s), and I, put our heads together, saw a glaring opportunity and acted quickly to launch the Young Foodies community, whose core purpose is to make the everyday easier for small FMCG brands.

We knew we were onto something great. More importantly, we shared the same values, approach and commitment to making Young Foodies a one-stop-shop for support, advice, resources and industry access, all at very affordable prices. This is because we were leveraging economies of scale and collective bargaining power from third party suppliers.

Young Foodies champions fair competition for young brands. We have an inclusive approach to fostering a contribution culture, which has meant that over the past year, we have quickly become the trusted go-to champions of the challenger FMCG community.

We already work with an incredible 250 businesses, and we’ve only just celebrated our first year in business. I’m so pleased that we’ve had an unbelievable response from the industry, from retailers and even the media.

Where did the concept come from?

A year ago, the FMCG industry was at fever pitch with breakthrough products, ultra-talented entrepreneurs and some of the most exciting challenger brands driving a staggering 59% of growth in the market.

The UK was rapidly strengthening its position as the ‘one to watch’ for global innovation, consumer wellness and social change in food and drink. We saw this with the likes of Pip&Nut, Propercorn, Seedlip and Fevertree, to name a few.

Within the industry, the hype of challenger brands was palpable and the generosity from retailers offering to list them was unparalleled.

But there were also major obstacles. With more than 50% of founders in FMCG never having worked in the industry before, there was a growing gap of industry expertise and lack of experience to keep them on course through the many operational, logistical and financial realities of achieving success.

Chris and I saw this as an opportunity to help champion small food and drink brands by creating a unique and interdependent set of vertically integrated resources, made accessible and affordable through economies of scale

Launched in May 2017, Young Foodies has grown rapidly within one year to become the largest community of the UK’s fastest growing FMCG brands, providing members with expert knowledge, grassroots experience and first-class industry resource to level the playing field for ambitious challenger brands.

Brand owners are expertly nurtured to boost growth and performance, helping them solve everyday challenges, such as outsourced logistics, talent acquisition, learning and development, and much more.

To make this a sustainable and scalable business, we have been very proactive in seeking out strategic partnerships and commercial alliances that will help to flatten the competitive landscape for young brands.

These unique partnerships will set entirely new industry benchmarks, such as fairer pricing structures for brands of all sizes.

How did you fund your business?

Young Foodies was self-funded for the first year. This year we took on a small amount of investment from a strategic angel investor.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

It was all the things that are the irony of small businesses. When you only have 1-2 people in a team, you have to wear all the hats (even those which you’re not comfortable wearing!).

I struggled with being the marketing and communications person and so our main launch challenges were around that.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

The Christmas Party last year, after just a few months in business, we had 300 people in a brewery in London Fields having a great night. Our brands were all there in force, as well as buyers and suppliers from across the industry – what a night.

We have also been shortlisted for several national business and entrepreneurship awards which we’ll only find out if we’ve won at the end of the year.

I was also humbled and honoured to have been awarded a coveted spot in The Grocer Magazine’s ‘Top New Talent’ ranking last year.

What marketing strategies have you used?

To date, Young Foodies has grown mostly organically through word of mouth because of a genuine need for this kind of community in the industry.

We focus our marketing efforts on thought leadership and strategic partnerships with industry organisations, enterprises, bodies and media.

We leverage our newsletter and other owned media to communicate key opportunities such as special workshops and seminars which are open to non-members, which often leads to new joiners.

We are also forward thinking in that we have a Runway initiative providing free content and advice for small start-ups and early stage brands who are non-paying members. Engaging with these businesses early means they are more likely to join the community when they achieve more traction.

Also, the media has been enamoured with Young Foodies which has been great publicity for us.

Did someone say ‘podcast’? 🤔 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Our co-founder Thea has a lot of great conversations and opinions. That’s why she’s teamed up with entrepreneur and long-time foodie Andy Allen to bring to life the Blue Plaster Podcast. It’s 40 minutes of chatter, industry gossip and (often unfounded) opinions. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In the first episode, they talk about some key news pieces, have a chat to the legend that is Jim Cregan from @jimmiesicedcoffee and have a great conversation with @sydneychasin from @thelilpops. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🎉 Link is in our bio 🎉 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Let us know your thoughts below 💭 Excited is an understatement 😎 #smallbrandsbigthinking

A post shared by Young Foodies (@youngfoodiesuk) on

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Saying that Young Foodies has shifted the retail landscape internationally in the favour of the challenger brands.

Who are your business heroes and why?

My mum – she started a business from nothing the year I was born and has been a superhero mum while also having a flourishing business. She has been a champion of customer service in everything she does and is proud to have built her business upon nothing but word of mouth as a result.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

My main bit of advice – if you’re a food and drink entrepreneur, call us and we’ll do all we can to help (even if it’s just for a pep talk).

My advice to entrepreneurs is always know what you’re getting in for but if you’re ready for hard graft and the occasional heart palpitation, working for yourself can be the best thing you ever do.

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

I’m at my happiest when doing a puzzle – I can, and do, spend hours doing puzzles whenever I want to unwind. Sorry to all my friends that have experienced me in puzzle-mode.

Last series you binge watched?

Billions – love it.

What three things can’t you live without?

Sushi, good quality olive oil, my second computer screen

What app do you use the most?

Citymapper.

What song is always on your playlist?

All I want for Christmas is you (all year round).

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.


 
TAGS:

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

On the up