At Radio Alice on 19th September, we were served up learnings from those behind thriving food and drink ventures.
On Tuesday 19th September, building on the success of our first event in the space, we returned to pizzeria Radio Alice’s Hoxton Square restaurant, welcoming a fresh trio of seasoned panellists. They discussed their experiences of launching focused propositions into the super-competitive food and drink market — and the things they've learned in the process.
Joining us was Alex Petrides, co-founder of allplants. Part of the original PROPERCORN team, Alex has moved his attention from popcorn to plants, launching allplants with his brother last year. From creamy coconut béchamel to spicy jerk jackfruit, allplants prepares and delivers hand-made, 100% plant-based meals to its customers’ doors.
Alongside him was Joe Benn, co-founder of Ugly Drinks. After working as part of the core team of Vita Coco coconut water, Joe launched Ugly Drinks as an unsweetened, naturally infused water range with no preservatives — ugly because it has nothing to hide. Coming in four flavours, the bold message the drinks promote — no unobtainable lifestyles or youth-giving properties — is proving successful.
To complement the foodie founders' perspectives of Alex and Joe, we heard from Charlie Smith, founder of the eponymous design studio. Charlie and her team have worked alongside various food and drinks entrepreneurs, including the teams behind Byron, Foxlow and indeed Radio Alice itself.
Here’s what we learnt.
Discussing the recent identity work for Radio Alice, Charlie Smith talked about how, for new companies launching, the key is to first tease out what the business’s USP is, in order to become recognisable and grow. Radio Alice is a very Italian brand, with roots in Bologna and ingredients sourced from small-scale Italian suppliers, and so the challenge was to try and make it ‘uniquely Italian’. This led to specific designs that brought out the company’s unique points – for example its name, which derives from the pirate radio station born out of the Bologna student protests in 1970.
Similarly Joe from Ugly Drinks discussed how a strong brand message positioned them apart from competitors. “If you’re marketing to everyone then you’re not disrupting enough”, he said in regards to their punchy branding as ‘Ugly’ seeming counter-intuitive. The point is not to try and cater to everyone, whilst still listening to feedback. In the early stages after a product recall, Ugly took responses on board to make it sparkling, and to use cans instead of bottles. Changes and mistakes are to be expected, and Joe emphasised being open with stakeholders at every stage of development.
Alex and his brother JP listened carefully to customers about what they wanted in the early stages of launching allplants, positioning the company as very community driven. With a genuine motive to add fuel to the vegan movement, rather than just make profit, Alex said the business has had an organic growth with a focus on building a culture. With 50% of customers actually sending their recyclable packaging back to headquarters to be reused, building a level of trust and understanding has helped allplants work and move forward.
The added benefit of Alex being able to completely design the customer experience — as the product isn’t on store shelves — has also allowed for personal and unique consumer engagement. For Joe the natural desire for Ugly Water came from people genuinely wanting to replace their Diet Coke habits, and responding to tongue-and-cheek copy that didn’t emphasise any health benefits. Without pushing the product's message down people’s throats, Joe mentioned that with a disruptive brand it’s important to use your own people to run in-store sampling rather than outsourcing companies, so they really ‘get’ the product.
Charlie discussed using different ways to market the pizzeria, for example using pizza making masterclasses and, introducing the new business on more ‘nerdy’ platforms where people are naturally in tune with new developments in – in this case – pizza, with links to sustainable farming and ethical production. This then gave direction to how printed materials might look, such as the menu which is smaller and focused on doing fewer things very well.
Together Is Better
Joe recommended starting up with a co-founder, two heads ultimately driving the company forward faster. Coming from Vita Coco, he said in hindsight he would have told his former boss and colleagues that he was working on a competitor venture because openness is key, with support often coming from unlikely places.
Although allplants started out initially self-funded in the testing stages, it now has nineteen investors, with no majority stakeholder. Alex explained that this also plays into their community driven ethos, helping them find investors who were drawn to the socially driven aspect and the company's pending B Corp status. In the current time, the benefit of launching a small business means they're in a place to start immediately building a social and ethical transparency, one which the general public are naturally looking for.
Location:16 Hoxton Square,
London, N1 6NT,
Start:19th September, 2017 at 6:00pm
End:19th September, 2017 at 8:30pm