10th June, 2015 at 6:30pm
Startup Stories: Food & Drink
| YCN Library — £12 / £8 YCN Members

On the 10th of June, we were inspired by three budding food and beverage start-ups — each recognising the significance of creativity as an ingredient for growth.

The food and drink industry is the UK's largest manufacturing sector, and a healthy proportion of that industry is made up of unconventional companies, disruptive brands and startups – providing the British public with the freshest trends and tastes from all corners of the globe. From the market stall to the supermarket shelves, we are now exposed to an ever-growing selection of independent brands – with previous success stories including homegrown butchers The Ginger Pig, honest bread-makers E5 Bakehouse and pioneers in healthy snacking, Propercorn. Such rapid expansion has led to a fiercely competitive marketplace; with new entrants forced to think creatively about their brands, launches and ongoing customer engagement.

On the 10th of June, we welcomed three food and drink startups to the YCN Library, each with a design led approach at their core, and each providing candid stories and insights into pragmatic marketing. The evening featured three punchy presentations, starting with the longest running company (five years old) and ending with the youngest (launching this week!)

Ugly Drinks

The audience in the YCN Library

First to speak was Hugh Duffie, former barista and co-founder of Sandows London — a company specialising in cold brew coffee for the high-end market. He brought with him some freshly brewed – and beautifully designed bottles, which he noted to the audience that they were all still labelled by hand. Next came Pippa Murray, founder of Pip & Nut, who told the story of her all-natural nut butter brand that intends to disrupt the market by cutting out the chemicals and using only ethical ingredients. Pippa was able to grow her business after winning a competition to live rent-free for three months. Using that time wisely, she was able to perfect her product and develop the visual identity of her brand with the help of B&B Studio. Pip & Nut is now stocked at over 170 stores, and has a collaboration with Nike for their 10k running event on the horizon. Hugh Thomas and Joe Benn then excitedly introduced their first product; Ugly Water, a naturally infused 'unsweet' water that has none of the sugar content or artificial flavourings found in similar products on the market. We became the first people in the world to sample the drinks, with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Both Hugh and Joe gained experience at Vita Coco, and developed their brand to highlight the need for transparency in the beverage industry. All speakers are members of Maven, an informal monthly social for food and drink start-ups in London.

Hugh Duffie, Sandows London

The audience in the YCN Library

Things we learned

1. Find your niche.
Each startup began by the founders identifying a gap in the market and gathering research to support their business ideas. It was Pippa's marathon running hobby that encouraged her to seek out a healthy, energy-rich snack that wasn't full of additives or palm oil, and when she realised that the peanut butter market was dominated by large brands she seized the opportunity to develop Pip & Nut.

2. Challenge.
To name your beverage brand 'Ugly' is definitely a bold move, but one that Hugh and Joe stand by and are proud of. With the hope that they initially provoke a 'Marmite' effect, they believe that their brand name is tempered by their tag line 'unsweet water' and will be grabbing the attention of shelf browsers.

Pippa Murray, Pip & Nut

A captive audience in the YCN Library

3. Improvise.
Sometimes things just don't work out. And when they don't, there's no giving up – you have to improvise. Hugh Duffie shared a funny anecdote from a few summers ago, when Sandows had a stall at Lovebox festival. A slight misunderstanding of the market meant that they quickly realised their customers weren't after cold brew coffee, but cold beers! After sadly pouring away their prized Ethiopian coffee, they managed to regain their composure and their investment by selling lemon squash on ice – helped by the fact that it was one of the hottest weekends of the year!

4. Seize the moment.
Many startup founders teeter on the brink of going full time before they take the plunge. Usually there is a defining moment that spurs you into action. For Pippa that moment was when she received the phone call from Escape the City, telling her that she'd won a competition to live rent-free for three months to work on her business, and she'd quit her job within the hour.

Hugh Thomas, Ugly Drinks

Joe Benn, Ugly Drinks

5. Crowd fund.
Both Sandows and Pip & Nut are brands that have been crowd funded by Crowdcube, to great success. Each gave away just under 20% of their business to raise enough capital to invest into developing their initial product range.

6. Absorb ideas from everywhere. 
Hugh and Joe make it their business to seek inspiration from a broad variety of sources, looking to innovative creative companies such as Air B&B, Buffer and Hiut Denim. Hugh talked earnestly about their brand philosophies, to which the duo have given great thought and aspire to uphold for as long as the company remains. One of which is to consider all their touch points – from the design of their invoices to the sound of their doorbell – everything must be given the same careful consideration.

A big thank you to all our speakers and to Sam Bush for photographing the event.

The audience in the YCN Library

Brand in hand

Time for conversation

Event Details
  • Location:
    72 Rivington St,
    London, EC2A 3AY,
    United Kingdom
  • Start:
    10th June, 2015 at 6:30pm
  • End:
    10th June, 2015 at 8:00pm

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