Want to launch a new food brand? Prepare to be stubborn.

How did we get here? From cricket farms to the rediscovery of raw cacao, the past few years have seen the doom and loom of the food revolution in the UK. With a harsh market seeing #foodstartups closing everyday, how are some entrepreneurs successfully walking to the beat of their own drum?

Demand creation is an expensive business. And the traditional approach of ‘be first, be better, be different’ doesn’t seem to explain how a hanful of companies succeed at gathering loyalty. How can you create demand for a product that no one imagined, let alone ever existed before? And how do you even manage something like an insect supply chain?

For the first installment of the #foodmob event series, we were joined by four founders of multiple different food start ups in London — not the easiest place to break through the ceiling. We heard from Neil, the founder of Eat Grub — the man who successfully put crickets on the dietary map, we heard from Andrew from Aduna — the man who took a life saving trip, discovered Baobab, and indoctrinated it into London life through the #MakeBaobabFamous hashtag, we heard from the found of Sandows, Hugh — the man who saw a gap in the market for epic cold brew coffee, and capitalised on it, & we heard from the founder of Ombar, Richard — who made turned chocolate on it’s head & made it raw… That’s right — totally guilt free indulgence.

?What If!’s Maddi Riddell asked four food business founders how they created both new products, and new markets. What does success look like? How much do you involve consumers in development of new products — how much are you listening and how much are you telling?

All four founders share a common vision of turning the status quo on its head, from introducing new products (baobab and cold brew) to changing how we perceive the familiar (insects and chocolate). But when it came to “aha” moments, each had their own story: a barista recognising there is only so many flat whites you can drink, a strong belief that there is more to chocolate than simply indulgence, a suspicion that crickets are not just reserved for the next insect #pop-up, and a personal journey through Africa that resulted in Baobab. What unites demand creators is not just their ability to see there is the difference between what people do consume and what they will consume, but their determination to stick to a few principles; it is essential to be stubborn.

So how do you get started? When it came to the execution Neil from Eat Grub! and Andrew from Aduna researched, analysed, and tested (Andrew for an entire year!), while Hugh from Sandows and Richard from Ombar relied more on instinct and intuition. Either they live and breathe their market (be your own customer) or they became an expert in the market they were pursuing. As for listening to customers, they all made a note to listen with a grain of salt… But still listen. For example, @SandowsLondon increased profit and made a better product after receiving just one customer’s email. It’s a hilarious story — so make sure to tweet Hugh next time you need advice.

Common challenges they all faced included dealing with big retailers who expect you to spend big on marketing, and deciding when to scale. Furthermore, what’s worth investing in? People? Machines? As Ombar mentioned, automate what you can once you have enough sales (not before) and keep yourself surrounded by people who believe in your mission. Use some lateral thinking when investing in educating the market — @Adunaworld’s volunteers were instrumental in its success! Building trust with your team, authenticity and spreading passion all reflect in your brand and product.

One thing all founders were clear about was how they relied on family, friends and other founders for funding, advice and general moral support. Creating a new product means taking a few punches. To succeed, you will learn the good and the bad pretty damn fast. We are thrilled that London has such a collaborative food and drink scene — did you know the @PROPERCorn has helped @eatgrubofficial along the way? And that @SandowsLondon swapped beers and banter with @uglydrinks rather than products?

3 Key takeaways:

  1. Brand Building is essential — When it comes to launching new food products, MVPs seem to fall short. Aesthetics, message, feel and story are all critical to capturing your customer’s emotion.
  2. Mobilise your customers — You’re not selling to everyone. Who are those people you can create an emotional connection with? What are their pain points? Will they be falling in love with your story? Will they be falling in love with the quality of the product? What tickles their fancy? Remember, everyone is pretty lazy. Customers only really go out of their way to buy if you’re solving a pressing need or if there is a story to believe in. If no, you might find mum is the only one buying your product of the shelf…
  3. Build a well oiled machine — Good companies implode all the time. Very good isn’t always enough. Make sure you are obsessing about the people, the product and the process. You’re probably going to start by creating the product in your own kitchen, and if you’re lucky you will have a co-founder who will feel more like a husband/wife. Fights will happen, you’ll make mistakes, and you’ll build trust. Get the product right and then seek efficiency. You will need to be relentless in the search for your vision. The devil is in the details.

4 things we are looking forward to:

  • Seeing insect flour emerge as the new chia seed and cricket tacos served in Wahaca!
  • Seeing Sandows fly of the shelves of your local M&S and soon into other high street retailers. After all, cold brew is the best way to get your daily dose of coffee without having to overdo the milk intake.
  • Demanding more from our chocolate — if it can be as healthy and as tasty as Ombar, why would we even consider eating anything less? After all, raw cacao nibs are like rocket fuel!
  • Seeing Aduna prove that there doesn’t need to be tradeoff between profit and impact. After all… Baobab can be worth $1Bn to rural Africa! Say what?!

1 Recommended Read:

Recommended by Andrew Hunt of Aduna: Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s 50 Greatest Companies

Top quotes from the evening:

“You’ve gotta be stubborn when you’re selling insects” — Grub
“Don’t bother to even think about it unless you’re passionate and relentless” — Aduna
“When you’re trying to create something from nothing, you have to establish yourself as the authority.” — Sandows
“Authenticity is massively important and you have to bring this to the business so that it genuinely does good, is healthy, and does what it says on the packet; If we were just cutting costs it would be a different product.” — Ombar

Keep up to date with them on Twitter: Aduna, Eat Grub!, Sandows London & Ombar

For more info on their journies or to buy their products (a little promotional info doesn’t kill anyone) follow: