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Food for thought - How to enjoy the taste of success

Community Manager ‎14-07-2017 01:34 PM
‎14-07-2017 01:34 PM

Mail order snacks and on-demand farm produce might not sound like business ideas destined for triumph – but then life is full of surprises.

 

Graze and Farmdrop are two innovative companies going down a treat with foodies in the UK and further afield. VOOM Pioneers asked senior execs at both firms for their advice to others attempting to break the food sector.

 

Crack the market

You could say Anthony Fletcher has an eye for food business potential, having moved from the national success of the Innocent drinks company, to little-known startup Graze in 2009.

 

Asked for an example of how Graze does things differently, Anthony is quick to mention the firm’s snack boxes, painstakingly designed to stand out from the rest:

 

“In the early days we folded boxes by hand. You could buy a machine, but then they’d end up looking like cereal packets and you’d blend in. Eventually an engineer spent a year building a robot that could bend cardboard in 16 ways. Our unique box required a unique solution to keep it.”

 

Growing with demand

Graze began with a subscription mail-order model. They’ve since expanded into supermarkets, online and supplying offices, and even moved into the American market last year.

 

“We created a reduced US site and flew British products through international airmail,” says Anthony. “This was economically unviable, but we did it to learn about our customers and gather data.”

  

Every day, Anthony has Graze’s values ringing in his ears: Be pioneering, curious, commercial, resilient and helpful. After eight years at one of the UK’s most successful food startups, he reckons there are two additional things required for success in the sector: “Be pivotal and be agile,” he says.

 

From farm to fork

Untitled design (23).pngBen Pugh founded Farmdrop with similarly admirable intentions to “Fix the food chain”.

 

For Ben that means doing away with the vast waste from shops and supermarkets. He believes Farmdrop’s ‘Click to Harvest’ model provides the ideal solution because food is only harvested or bread baked when a customer orders it.

 

Despite the great idea, Ben admits to making one crucial mistake early on, in getting customers to collect their groceries at designated pick-up points:

 

“I thought I could ask customers a favour. It was ‘Hey, we’re trying to do a really good thing, so incur a lot of inconvenience going to pick up the food.’”

 

This aspect of Farmdrop was dropped like a hot, organically grown potato and Ben changed from ‘Click and Collect’ to home delivery. Farmdrop now has a fleet of leased, eco-friendly electric vehicles designed to look like cows, chickens and pigs. Known as ‘Vanimals’, they chime with Ben’s intention to “bring the farm into the city”.

 

Big ideas, big challenges

Ben soon realised independent producers were struggling to find outlets for their goods. He committed to paying a fair price and also pledged to make sustainable food more affordable. There’s a long way to go, but Farmdrop is now in a position to pay farmers, bakers and producers 75% of the product price rather than the 25 to 50% they’d receive from supermarkets.

 

Ben says, “Making expensive food for very wealthy people doesn’t get me out of bed. I’m aiming for the convenience of Ocado with supermarket pricing and farmers’ market food.”

 

When it comes to other firms with a corporate conscience, Ben has some important advice:

 

“Be curious about your customers, willing to change, and get brilliant people on board who share the mission. Then get out of their way.”

 

A Pioneer's perspective

Untitled design (24).pngJack Farmer is co-founder of LettUs Grow, an urban farming company growing plants and salads indoors without soil. Jack, who is also a proud VOOM Pioneer, admits he’s been inspired by both Graze and Farmdrop.

 

He says: “They are fantastic examples of companies shaking up the food supply chain. Like LettUs Grow, Farmdrop is a champion of the vertical farming industry, which means food is grown vertically indoors without soil. This process involves hydroponics, the pumping of water and nutrients. It’s great that Farmdrop are using two big vertical farms as suppliers in London. As for fixing the food chain, that’s something we also feel strongly about – the future of farming and sustainability is at the centre of what we do.”

 

This is a selection of highlights from our Voom podcast. Listen to the full podcast for more advice and start-up chat, including Graze’s worst ever flavour!

 

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