Applying an agile approach, usually reserved for tech companies, to a health drinks startup led it to turning over £3m in its second year.
Businessman Oliver Dickinson had no experience in FMCG when he set up health drinks brand, WOW, in 2014 but he was determined to bring his products to market as quickly as possible, just like the technology industry.
The 26-year-old started his first business, a software company that connected students to employers, whilst he was at university. After moving on from this, Oliver began to think of ways he could apply the speed of the market mentality to a drinks start up. He moved back home to Lowestoft and made an office out of his bedroom to brainstorm ideas for his ‘dream’ product.
Oliver said: “I wanted to create something that truly had a purpose and solved a problem for consumers. I had a friend in the Royal Marines who told me about how he ditched sugary energy drinks for a mixture of chia seeds and water. He described feeling less tired and more spritely as a result so I gave it a go. It was a winning combination, and it became my new hangover cure in a matter of weeks! But I knew there was nothing ready made on the market like it, let alone one that tasted good.”
Once the idea of a chia seed drink was planted in his head Oliver, along with his co-founder and university pal, Rory Paterson, set to work registering their invention for Food Standard Authority (FSA) approval, which took 17 months.
Oliver continued: “Whilst it was worth it, waiting for the FSA approval was frustrating for me coming from the fast-paced environment of tech. I wanted to get our chia seed drink out to market as quickly as possible, so once we gained approval in September 2015, we worked tirelessly and our first version of the product was on the shelves just two months later.”
The pair had no background in food and drink and attribute half of their success to the steep learning curve they experienced during the development of the WOW chia seed drink.
Oliver said: “It was somewhat of a baptism of fire during product development but I feel strongly that every entrepreneur needs to make mistakes, learn from them and adapt. Nothing will teach you quicker about the importance of pasteurisation than 30 bottles of your product exploding inside a potential investor’s car!
“Our test and learn approach to our product development reflects who we are as a company. We don’t shy away from errors and we are honest. If something isn’t going to work, we move on swiftly.”
The result was Europe’s first chia seed based drink, combining a cold pressed juice with 11g of the ‘superfood’, which claims to boost your immune system and suppress your appetite. The functional drink packs an impressive punch of 7.25g of protein and a 250ml bottle will provide one of your five-a-day. It also contains 33% less sugar than other fruit juices.
Available in four flavours, watermelon & pomegranate; orange, mango & carrot; apple, spinach & kiwi and blueberry, pear & lemon, the wellness beverage is proving popular with both consumers, stockists and investors alike.
Now in its second year of trading and with the support and advice from a board of investors, WOW is listed across UK, France, Germany, Austria and Netherlands. Oliver cites one his biggest moments as business owner was securing reorders from their listing in French hypermarket, Carrefour.
“We launched into the large chain in October 2016, which was a huge achievement but for me, like every entrepreneur, I felt the fear of ‘will people actually buy this?’ Fortunately it turned out to be a big success. Since then our rate of sale has strengthened and we have gone from being in 200 to 3,000 stores across the country in the space of a year with a distribution increase of 500%.”
WOW will have turned over £3m this year and forecasts £10m in 2018. In the UK, the chia seed drinks are stocked in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-Op, Wholefoods and many others. For WOW, the mission is always to keep the price of its products affordable, so to combat the smaller margins, distribution has widened.
The effect of this has been demonstrated by the pull of the European markets. WOW has recently launched its probiotic water, Lively, into France which will be closely followed by the UK in January 2018, along with several other innovative products.
Speed is of the essence for Oliver, who believes that food companies need to be two steps ahead of today’s consumer, much like tech companies are.
He continues: “The average customer now has an incredible amount of knowledge of what is healthy compared to five years ago. They know natural ingredients deliver on functionality and that they don’t need to rely on synthetics. This means that we need to be the trusted brand for delivering products everyone wishes was on the shelf at an affordable price.
“It’s important to us that we never create a product which is an amalgamation of several products already out there, but instead something which is truly unique. We never rest on our laurels and are always thinking ahead of how we can make a functional drink even better for the consumer.”
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