Interviews

Why Rebekah Hall gave up a well-paid city job to launch a cold-press juice brand

10 min read

25 September 2017

Former editor

Since deciding to abandon her corporate finance career in 2014, Rebekah Hall’s cold-press juice business Botanic Lab reached the 500 stockist mark and is approaching the illusive £1m turnover mark.

It’s a temptation many have, but few follow through on. Despite carving out a successful career in the city over the course of a decade, a yearning for self-employment saw Hall give it all up and enter an increasingly-competitive market. Real Business sat down with the cold-press juice entrepreneur to find out more.

What were the main reasons you wanted to leave your city career behind?

I always wanted to work for myself – to create something rather than just advising someone else. When I looked at my career trajectory and where it was going I just didn’t see myself being satisfied by the partner job in the glass office.

Cold-press juice brand Botanic Lab in numbers

  • 500,000 products produced a year
  • 500 stockists – up from 50 in 2016
  • Sold in more than 200 Waitrose locations
  • Production up 1,000 per cent in last year
  • 15 members of staff

What do you think holds more people back from leaving this sector?

I think the financial security that a career in the city provides is very hard to give up, particularly if you have a family that depend on you. Being an entrepreneur requires a very different mindset and attitude towards working life that took me some time to transition in to. It wasn’t about hard work, as both are in different ways, but more about my attitude to risk/security and my appetite to take risk.

How did you get started with your business – what was the first barrier?

Botanic Lab Founder

Botanic Lab now has 15 members of staff

The fist and largest barrier was in my head. I questioned whether I was good good enough – could I make it work,survive financially and have the right skills.

As time has progressed my attitude and confidence has changed dramatically, so I no longer see those things as issues. At the time I may have felt that finding customers or building a manufacturing site were hurdles, but these are just challenges that you attack systematically and overcome them.

What did the cold-press juice market look like back then – and how has it changed?

It looked very different, to the point where it didn’t really exist. Cold pressed was a term commonly used in the US, but not in the UK.

[pullquote]The challenge is always to convince a retailer that as a small company you are always able to delivery a consistent product on time.[/pullquote]

The health food market in general was on the rise and interest in healthy products increasing, but at that stage the drinks sector was still lagging behind with shelves filled with offerings produced by the same few mass producers. We are one of the brands that has helped to build and shape this sector in the UK, always operating at the sharp end of the innovation scale.

How did you go about building out your supply chain – what were the biggest challenges here and how did you address them?

Cold-press juice

Production of the cold-press juice is up 1,000 per cent in the last year

Part of the uniqueness of Botanic Lab is the complexity of our products and the ingredients that we use. This means our sourcing is complex and challenging.

As we have grown, this has become easier as we have more purchasing power, but we have spent a long time building relationships with supplier in every corner of the globe.

Chilled products are, by nature, a challenge to work with due to the short shelf life and the cost of delivery to customer. We have invested in technologies such as HPP (a cold pressure technology that kills bacteria but maintains the nutritional value of the produce) in order to make sure our products of the highest quality possible, whilst also providing us with a product that has a shelf life that is viable for wholesale distribution. Building this expertise and supply chain has taken time and financial investment.

Which was the first big retailer to stock your products and how did you convince them to do this?

We work with big retailers and we work with famous retailers. I suppose our first iconic retailer was Harrods, and that felt like a real landmark moment for us.

A world-renowned store that is famous for stocking the highest-quality products and then believes in your brand is a great feeling.

Growth always throws up new challenges, which is part of the reason I love this job.

The challenge is always to convince a retailer that as a small company you are always able to delivery a consistent product on time. We pride ourselves in being a small brand that always delivers. We don’t let our customers down and that is why we are able to work with big retailers like Waitrose.

How has your technique for getting listings changed as you’ve gone on – what advice can you provide on this front?

In the early stages of the company getting listings is purely about grit, tenacity and determination.  Get knock back ten times, stand up 11! That process has changed as we have proved that our brand and product is successful.

It is easier to secure a meeting now with bigger retailers, but the product still has to be good and you need to be able to deliver what you promise. My advice to new brands going on this journey would be to do your research and approach it in a systematic way.


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How significant will it be to reach the £1m turnover mark and did you think you’d do it this fast? 

We will reach that target this year and I think it’s hugely significant, although I have a habit of not giving recognition to those milestones when they occur as I’m already on to the next one at that point.

I always want to have done things faster, better, bigger. However, it is significant, in that it is a validation of our cold-press juice business, its place in the market and the my future ambition for it.

What challenges are you anticipating in the next year that you’ve not had to deal with so far?

The business has evolved rapidly this year. I think of the current stage in the business as Botanic Lab “growing up”. We aren’t in a startup phase any more, and as such we are having to focus more on areas that have in the past not been a consideration (processes, route to market, talent acquisition etc).

Growth always throws up new challenges, which is part of the reason I love this job. It is always changing and always pushing me out of my comfort zone into a new area. We have started to produce a Tetra Pack products this year which places different demands on the business, both financially and practically.

Rising prices, in the face of Brexit, are putting pressure on our margins whilst at the same time we are striving continually to provide a product that is affordable to a larger audience.

Who are the business leaders you look to for inspiration, and why?

I have been incredibly lucky to have guidance, mentorship and financial backing from Simon Bamber and Mervyn Davies. They have been very generous with their time, contacts and experience.

I have known both Simon and Mervyn for many years after meeting them professionally in the early stages of my career. Having watched them both operate over the years, I think the way I do business has been moulded somewhat by their influence.