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James Averdieck Of Bon Dévil: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand

Create a sensory experience. Create something that tastes good, that looks good, that makes people feel good. Appeal to all the senses.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Averdieck.

Born in Yorkshire in 1965, James was educated at Uppingham School before studying Economics at Durham University. Following university, James joined the graduate program at strategy consultants Arthur D. Little, where he learned about the key drivers to a successful business, this sparked a fire within him to learn more. James spent 9 years in the food industry working for Safeway and St Ivel and learned about sales, marketing and running businesses. With St Ivel he moved to Belgium and became a convert to Belgian gastronomy and, as he says, ‘went native on the chocolate front’.

It was in Brussels that the seed was sown for his UK chocolate venture. James saw the opportunity of marrying high-quality chocolate patisserie with efficient UK supermarket distribution. Spotting a gap in the market, James saw that consumers wanted artisanal products and there was a backlash forming against mass produced big brands. He wanted to deliver high-quality products using the best raw materials. Gü, the brand, is about chocolate extremism — evoking nostalgic memories and magical smells of baking with chocolate.

The brand was embraced with love by the supermarkets, launching first in Sainsburys and Waitrose with the others following apace. James has turned his attentions to a healthier brand, The Coconut Collaborative , a non-dairy based brand. James Averdieck is the man who built and sold Gü. James is a foodie entrepreneur who realized his dream, harnessed his strengths and pioneered a leading brand, his bumpy journey offers invaluable lessons to impart.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I am an identical twin, British and I love America. I graduated in Economics at Durham University and my first job was at an American consulting company in Boston. I was always a bit of a hustler, and I was always doing businesses on the side during university — selling shoes and shirts — it was in my blood. My father had his own business, my grandfather had his own business. My family wanted to me to become a chaste accountant, as it was a safe gig, but I had no intention of doing that. There needs to be more fun in life than that.

I had an American girlfriend at university, and I used to go to Williamsburg a lot, and familiarized myself with American culture quite a bit. I love the country and people. I then got into the food industry in the 90’s. My first big break was in my mid-30’s when I was working for a chilled foods business selling yogurt and margarine. It didn’t capture my attention for a long time — and I craved something more interesting. I used to go to a patisserie by the office to think, and they sold delicious chocolates with an amazing sensory experience. As I worked to dream up my next venture, I would think about desserts and chocolates. Good chocolate is a whole sensory experience, and that excited me. I decided then that I wanted to wrap that love for chocolate into my first brand, which I did.

I wanted to wrap that up in a product of my own, where I built Gü. I built it in 2003 and sold it in 2010. It’s grown to approximately $50m today. After selling, I took a bit of a break and I realized that I didn’t want to “take off” the rest of my life, I enjoyed working and I needed to find a new mission. I went to Mt. Everest on a basecamp expedition. I did a TV show in the UK helping budding entrepreneurs. I met all sorts of interesting people… but I didn’t want to be a TV personality, or an explorer or a golfer. I wanted to start businesses. So, I started the Coconut Collaborative in 2014 creating vegan yogurts and desserts. It’s a premium, clean brand in the UK that I still work on. We created desserts that were indulgent and healthier, they’re plant-based and tasty.

Fast forward to today, we’ve launched Bon Dévil, a totally new brand of plant-based ganache’s. The yogurts in the US were not innovative enough. The US leads the world in lots of things, but the Brits and the French lead in desserts, which is why we stuck to what we know. We now have a US team that launched the brand in March of 2022. We won the VegNews best New Product award at Expo West and it was a big win for the brand. We’re planning to take the American dessert market by storm, helping American consumers renew their faith in truly indulgent desserts that aren’t bad for you. We’re desserts only, so we’re doubling down on creating really tasty desserts. It’s what we know.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food or beverage brand you are leading?

My “ah ha” moment was really at that patisserie on my lunch break. I realized, while indulging in all my senses, that I wanted to create a combined sensory experience. The look, the smell, the taste and becoming completely immersed in dessert. It’s incredibly important to me that my product ignites an exciting sensory experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we rebranded to Bon Dévil, we briefed our UK agency (who have created really successful brands) that it’s got to be indulgent, it’s got to look a million dollars. Not a week before the presentation from the agency, my twin brother called me and said, “Jim I’ve just heard from this guy I used to work with in the states and he saw something come across his desk and it looks a lot like what you’re up to.” He sent me a link to brand called Bon Dévil and I thought oh no, someone has beaten us to it. I thought “we’re dead”, as it was exactly what I was looking for. It was a brilliant brand.

Just when we were about to throw in the towel but we went along with the meeting anyway. Then all my negativity shifted, they showed me the Bon Dévil website and said, “it’s all yours, we just wanted to wind you up!” They had spoofed me and It was a clever way of selling me the brand and it helped me to realize what I wanted, and to affirm that this was it.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I would say, I’m a brands guy, so the mistake people make with brands is that people are too literal. They’re too functional with the brands. A good brand serves a function, but it has a personality. A look and a feel. I always say that the brands you create should have as much personality so that they can be both functionally good but appealing to the senses.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Firstly, is it scalable? Or is this like a “hobby” business? If it is scalable, take action. It took me two years after my idea in the patisserie to take an action.

Secondly, develop the product in a way that it’s a little bit better than anything else on the market. All successful brands need some sort of advantage in the market. Not a lot, but, say, 5–10% better.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

I would say that not everyone is suited to start their own business, in fact most people are not suited for it. You’ve got to have some unique qualities to make a success of a business. You need to be incredibly resilient, and you’ve got to stay optimistic — You just keep on trying.

All successful entrepreneurs are resilient and optimistic. If you have doubts, maybe it’s not your bag, but if you feel like you’ve got this entrepreneurial edge and that’s your destiny, then consult other people about your idea and build your team. Is it scalable? Are you the right person to do it? Do you have the knowledge, the skills, the potential to raise money? Then take action. Don’t pontificate about it forever, take the first step.

I always think that the first step is to know the market. Go into something that you know. Normally, entrepreneurs have some sort of experience in the category they know the market and the consumer at some level. And, if you know the business and you’re certain about the opportunities, discuss it with other people you respect and trust. Having to sell the idea to someone else helps you to refine the idea through the selling process.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

A consultant, in my opinion, is not an absolute necessity. We all have family and friends that we trust and who are intelligent — and they’re free. When you are going to spend money, save it for developing the actual idea. In my case, I spent the money on creating the brand, to create a movement around the brand.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

If you’re starting from scratch and you haven’t launched anything, you’re probably not going to go to a VC. There’s a sequence of how these things work. So, your seed capital would likely start from friends and family. Once your (consumer-facing) concept is selling well, you might approach a VC. You must have proof of concept — it has to be on the market, and then once you have a proof that it scales, you have a product that is worth investing in.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

In terms of a consumer business, you need to prove to the patent examiner that you have something unique and clever. A patent is not impossible in the food business, but it’s quite difficult in the early stage. In the food business and in product development, you need to find a co-packer or manufacturer to make your product. You need to develop your product, and in the parallel do the branding and packaging work. Once you have a product that “works”, you can then talk with retailers and distributors.

To launch something from scratch and to launch into any market takes time — anything from 6 months to 12 months and beyond. In the US you have a complicated route to market. You need a distributor (like KeHE or UNFI) to route your product out, and supply chain logistics to figure through. I wouldn’t recommend launching a food business if you have no experience in the food industry, but if you are entering this category I would recommend:

  • Know your market VERY well. Under the iceberg there’s so much more going on and if you know the food industry well, you have more insight into your own brand what you need to do.
  • Be prepared to move quickly. The one, and probably only advantage of being an entrepreneur in this sector is that you can move quickly. Use your speed to your advantage and run.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

First and foremost, when you make a quality product, you’re making a promise. If someone is passing your product and wants to pick it up, there is a promise made that it’s going to taste good.

To create a successful food or beverage brand, you need to:

  1. Make a promise and keep a promise on product quality. This is the premise of consumer loyalty.
  2. This promise then drives sales.
  3. It helps you build your route to market.
  4. It leads you to build proper branding and messaging around your product.
  5. Eventually, you will scale your quality product because you kept that promise.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Create a sensory experience. Create something that tastes good, that looks good, that makes people feel good. Appeal to all the senses.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My business now is all plant-based, so everything we do, and the bigger we get, the more good we do from a sustainability point of view. The more people go from eating dairy to eating plant-based foods, the more we approach a sustainable world.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The plant-based movement is one of the many things that is going to save the planet. From CO2’s and carbon footprint to overall health — it all matters. I’m involved in a movement that makes a great deal of difference. And this is where we’ll continue.

Where can we learn more about Bon Dévil?

Learn more at https://bon-devil.com/ and follow us on social media @thebondevil. Find us in retailers like Fresh Thyme, Meijer and Wegmans.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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