That marketing method has been the case for protein-packed breakfast business Fuel 10K, which comes with black branding and an eerie staring eye as the logo. In fact, founder Barney Mauleverer told Real Business his own mother’s response to the food and drinks brand’s design was “oh my God!”
“When you enter a breakfast aisle, it’s all yellows and blues to represent morning sunshine. We went for black with an eye on the pack and people, including my mum, went ‘oh my God, that’s too different!’,” said Mauleverer. “But look at other industries and it’s not that different from what kids are looking at. It could have failed straight away, but we were quietly confident it was something that worked for us.”
Mauleverer should know what works, having led global strategy at Innocent Drinks in its early days. But with an entrepreneurial fire burning within, he left to start food export outfit Fresh Marketing. Launched a decade ago, Fresh helps UK brands such as Eat Natural tap into export markets.
Fresh granted him observation of emerging trends in areas such as the US, witnessing brands and products in early phases of success to determine export markets early.
“Coconut water, flavoured popcorn, cereal bars – there’s a constant flow where you can look into the future by looking into the States,” Mauleverer explained.
Fresh started producing a range of products four years ago and sought to carve an SME-level niche, which is where Fuel 10K came in. It was built on the basis of an ongoing sugar debate around breakfast foods, a meal Mauleverer said has lost millennials and MAMLs (middle-aged men in lycra) who avoid bowls of generic cereal.
“These people are time-short and demand convenience. Breakfast brands don’t talk to them like computer games, iPhones and fashion – it’s Weetabix and Nestle promoting ploughed fields,” Mauleverer said.
“We came up with a brand for the modern consumer with an inspirational message that the more hours you put in [10,000], the better you can become. What better time to get that mentality going than in the morning?
“We also saw the protein trend becoming big and decided to own protein in breakfast, so developed a protein brand and removed the sugar, trying to clean up issues that lay in the category.”
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Being self-funded, he admitted “walking around the ankles of giants,” adding a need to “think differently to make our own luck.”
And as luck would have it, serendipitous encounters saw supermarkets stock Fuel. The Tesco buyer wanted a new brand that wasn’t a big name, while the Asda buyer was a jogging enthusiast who understood the concept immediately.
But perhaps the most jarring thing about Fuel’s flagship product is that it’s liquid. When people are programmed to think breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it could have been tricky to win consumers with drinks ahead of jam on toast.
Mauleverer highlighted benefits of drinking protein; supporting bone, muscle growth, sustenance and weight management, not to mention convenience. He said the influence came from Australia, where liquid breakfasts are hugely popular.
From a business perspective, meanwhile, supermarkets can earn more from customers, who buy three-five £1.50 Fuel cartons a time, versus a box of Kellogg’s – which lasts longer – at £2.50.
On competition, Mauleverer recalled: “Weetabix came out with on-the-go drinks a year after we did. We had a lot of hoo-ha as they dropped £3m-£4m as a large brand would.”
It turns out the Weetabix launch worked in Fuel’s favour, however. “We’ve risen with their explanation of what these drinks are. We don’t have that sort of cash, so it’s quite welcoming now – although we thought we would be pushed out at the time. Helpfully, it taught buyers we can co-exist.”
The brand thus grew beyond drinks and into porridge pots, flakes and granola, all of which are protein-packed, receiving further growth with the emergence of adventure races.
Experiential marketing was the answer grow past early adopters as Fuel became official breakfast of Tough Mudder, which has a 200,000-strong blend of male and female runners annually. Ultimately, Fuel is for the “person that wants to do stuff and be active,” he said, insisting products are gender-neutral.
“Lots of people haven’t run 12 miles of being electrocuted, ice-dunked and spat out on the other side. To deliver samples during the feeling of elation after achieving something difficult was phenomenal,” he detailed.
Fuel is also out to shake up tinned beans and soups, believing the sector has remained old fashioned since the 1920s with Heinz and Batchelors dominating. Additionally, it will tackle soft cheese product quark – big in Scandinavia, but yet to secure the same traction in the UK.
“When it comes to buyers, they are saying ‘this is innovation – you’re bringing this new stuff with a consumer-driven focus rather than innovation for the sake of it’. That makes us tick,” Mauleverer opined.
Siddi Mehta, the founder of Rhythm108, also has had a strange start to her distinct food business too. For a start, she’s a qualified engineer. “I tried a few jobs before developing a food business – ranging all the way from working at a copper refinery to working in management consultancy,” she said.
“My passion for food coupled with the fact that the food industry is one of the few still standing that needs real disruption, led me to develop a food business. Luckily, many of the skills learnt on my previous array of jobs have been useful in starting a company.”
What makes Rhythm108’s concept unconventional is its ambition to make indulgent treats healthy, nutritious and widespread. Of course, if people want to tuck into sugary delights, they’re not necessarily going to analyse the nutritional packaging, they just want that sweet fix – Mehta is confident she can change that.
“Our products range from Good-for-You Dessert bars, a snack bar brownie made from whole, clean ingredients and which you can warm up for extra indulgence to vegan and gluten-free biscuits made with coconut oil,” she said.
“We source and make everything ourselves in a small cave in the Swiss Alps, bustling with Yogi-Patissiers, and we hope to through our products, we can make our customers’ lives happier and easier.”
The philosophy of “Yogi” cookery is to produce natural, simple, soulful foods that provide energy – and taste. The brand launched in Switzerland first and has reached 600 stockists, having started off with sales at a Sunday farmers’ market. Growth from there saw adoption from independent organic shops, corporate cafeterias, premium stores and large retailers in year one of launch.
To convince customers treats are balanced nutritionally, which Mehta said is the trickiest part of the business, she avoided the customary approach of hiding ingredients on the back of packets.
“Once customers taste the products, they are surprised by the great taste and usually take a second look at the ingredients to make sure that there really aren’t any added sugars or any other strange fillers,” said Mehta. “It’s why we always list our ingredients upfront on the packaging, so people can clearly see we have nothing to hide.”
Rhythm108 has sales in 150 independent stores across the UK. Discussing how to get the distinct Yogi mantra of products to Brits, Mehta revealed social media is the key in the UK, whereas the Swiss prefer face-to-face marketing.
“We have so many good things we do – like working directly with farmers to source some of our key ingredients, which we’d like to communicate to more people,” she said.
Mehta said the right time to strike is whenever you feel you can truly improve and change things within an industry for the better.
She said: “There is always space for a new player. All industries are competitive, but that’s the fun of it. We think the UK is a great market, because the health movement has been picking up quickly with consumers – and the UK has always been a leader in setting new trends and being open to change. If we can be a part of this through what we do, that’s a privilege. Other than the quality of our products, our strength is that we have a fun and playful brand in the health space.”
The Rhythm 108 team have been spreading the word with the help of foodie-centric events such as Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival, collaboration with sportswear brands including Lululemon and Active Instyle, as well as team-ups with running and yoga clubs.
“We’re targeting the customer who is well-read and conscious about their own and their family’s health. We’re a premium product, in the sense that we use quality organic ingredients, but we are still priced affordably, and that allows for our brand to be accessible to a lot of people,” said Mehta.
“Our target customers already shop regularly at the stockists we work with, and that has been the easiest way to reach them so far. As we go into more mainstream retail in the UK, we’ll be adding more events like our own yoga workshops, collaborations with other brands, and press and social media – but for now, its really important to reach the communities that already have an interest in what we represent.”
In keeping with Mehta’s comments about the UK’s rising health movement, employers have been slammed by workers for directly contributing to obesity.