Challenger brands make up 96% of Britain’s total food and drink businesses, contributing £18bn to the UK economy. Here are the 12 brands that are making their mark in the food and drink industry in 2021.
Uncertainty about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and Brexit means that food and beverage companies will face challenges such as export regulatory compliance, pressure on margins, sustainable supply chains and the pressing need to invest in effiicient technologies.
The food and drink sector at a glance
- In 2018, the food industry had sales abroad of over £23 billion, and in the first half of 2019, overseas sales of UK food and drink increased by 5.1% compared to the same period in 2018, according to the Food & Drink Federation.
- Food and drink manufacturing contributes more to the economy than all other manufacturing sectors, including automotive and aerospace. The industry has a turnover of more than £105bn, representing almost 20% of total UK manufacturing. SMEs make up 25% of overall food and drink manufacturing turnover.
- Exports to non-EU markets grew up to four times faster, suggesting an enormous scope for expansion in markets around the world.
- 96% of UK’s 7,400 food and drink manufacturers are SMEs.
- Exports of food and drink exceeded £23bn in over 220 countries (Ireland, the USA and France topping the list).
- During the pandemic, the industry has been operating at full stretch as an essential sector, with increased demand for snacks, confectionery and baked goods.
- The sector is set to offer 400 job placements for young people as part of the government’s £2bn Kickstart scheme.
- A trailblazing new awards programme, Food & Drink Heroes, from the creators of the Great British Entrepreneurship Awards, supports and celebrates the overworked and potentially underappreciated sector.
The power of recognition: The winning challengers in the food and drink sector
The impact of recognition on growing businesses include improved financial performance, greater increase in sales than their competitors, increased access to quality hires, increased staff motivation and reduced staff turnover, higher customer satisfaction, a boost to creativity, and increased market value locally and abroad. This is even more valuable when recognition is awarded by an independent body.
Food & Drink Heroes is a leading independent programme in the sector, launched in October 2020 to celebrate businesses in the sector succeeding amid increasing external pressures and exporting challenges. Today, the initiative announced winners across 12 categories.
Read more: Food & Drink Heroes reveals its 2021 winners
Nearly 100 founders and co-founders of 66 businesses were shortlisted. The winners were determined by a panel of industry experts who assessed their entrepreneurial story, rather than just their balance sheet. Additionally, a People’s Choice Award was chosen by a public vote from the full shortlist.
As part of the prize package, each winner will receive two branded cars from Food & Drink Heroes’ premium partner, Adverttu for a four week period. Adverttu turns heads into customers with its striking on-vehicle advertising, world-first digital capabilities and shadowfencing offering.
”As a first year awards programme, we have been overwhelmed by the quality of entries, including those that weren’t able to make the shortlist,” says Francesca James, founder of Food & Drink Heroes. ”It’s incredibly encouraging to see such a vibrant mix of entrepreneurs and businesses operating in this space and doing so with such creativity and innovation during one of the most difficult years they are ever likely to experience.”
”With entrepreneurs like these, I’m excited for the future of the UK’s food and drink scene with some incredible innovation driven by brilliant leaders.”
Gareth Hobbs, managing director at Visionary Food Solutions
Who are the 2021 Food & Drink Heroes?
|Winner Category||Founder(s)||Business Name||Location|
|Alcoholic Drink Entrepreneur of the Year||Ralph Broadbent||The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co||London|
|Baked Goods Entrepreneur of the Year||Harriet Hastings||Biscuiteers||London|
|Confectionary Entrepreneur of the Year||Helen & Simon Pattinson||Montezuma’s||Other|
|Export Entrepreneur of the Year||Paul Baker||St. Pierre Groupe Ltd.||North West|
|Health Entrepreneur of the Year||Helen Burgess||Little Cook Co||London|
|Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year||John Fisher||Firepot||South West|
|Non-Alcoholic Drink Entrepreneur of the Year||Robyn Simms & Ed Taylor||Square Root||London|
|Restaurant Entrepreneur of the Year||Neil Potts & Rachel Hugh||The Vurger Co||London|
|Service Entrepreneur of the Year||Struan Robertson & Tom Gibson||Provenance Village Butcher||London|
|Start Up Entrepreneur of the Year||Jonathan Petrides||allplants||London|
|Sustainability Entrepreneur of the Year||Pranav Chopra||NEMI Teas||London|
|People’s Choice Award||John Burke & Jon Hulme||Craft Gin Club||London|
Ralph Broadbent is the managing director of The Greater Good providing strategic direction and driving performance across product development, sales and operations. While at university Ralph founded a festival business and graduated with a 1st class degree in Civil and Structural Engineering (MEng) from Manchester University. He continued to run the festival business and built the group to 25 permanent and 300 temporary staff, successfully selling it in June 2016. Fast forward to 2020, Ralph has wing walked on a plane (for work!), jumped out of another plane (not for work), done 2 marathons, an Iron Man, and had 3 children.
Category: Alcoholic Drink Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co
Number of employees: 90
The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co is set to change the way people drink at home. All brewers will agree fresh beer is best, but they haven’t been able to bring this to their customers. The company’s unique patent pending technology delivers premium quality, brewery-fresh drinking for everyone. A 70% reduction in packaging and 50% reduction in CO2. The Pinter is designed, developed and manufactured by The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co.
Harriet Hastings founded Biscuiteers in 2007 with a mission to disrupt the market with a brand new way to gift with unique and thoughtful iced biscuits, delivered straight to the recipient’s door.
Category: Baked Goods Entrepreneur of the Year
Number of employees: 150
Biscuiteers was the first hand-iced biscuit gift company in the UK, disrupting the gifting market by creating a whole new sector alongside flowers and chocolates. It has successfully adapted into a multi-channel business with direct sales and its own shops as well as a thriving corporate and wholesale business. Biscuiteers has successfully demonstrated that you can scale an artisan business while retaining an exceptionally high-quality and unique product for a premium market.
Helen and Simon Pattinson
Having trained as lawyers working in the City, Helen and Simon Pattinson decided that the legal world was not for them and set off to South America. Their encounters with cocoa along the way spurred a love for chocolate and a sparked the idea to set up shop and bring the magic of extraordinary tasting chocolate to the UK.
Category: Confectionary Entrepreneur of the Year
Number of employees: 145
Montezuma’s started from small beginnings in 2000, with only a kitchen sink sized machine, huge enthusiasm, spades of naivety and most importantly, the desire to bring chocolate innovation to, what was then, a pretty boring, staid and conservative British chocolate market. The range is 100% gluten free and over half is vegan, all produced in our their facility in West Sussex. After opening their first shop in Brighton 20 years ago, Montezuma’s now has 6 shops across the UK and is stocked in supermarkets in the UK and internationally.
Paul Baker followed generations of his family into baking. At six years old, he was mixing dough in the early hours of the morning, which led him into a career as a master baker. He graduated with a BSc in Food Science and joined St Pierre Groupe in 2003 and led an MBO in 2004. Challenged by the financial crash of 2008, he sought to protect the business through export. After early success in Malta and Australia, in 2014 he spotted a gap in the US market.
”In a red Dodge Challenger, I drove across eight states visiting retailers with a boot full of brioche! I secured business from retailers who remain customers to this day.”
The US now accounts for 60% of the brand’s volume, making St Pierre Groupe one of the UK’s top bakery exporters to America.
Category: Export Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: St. Pierre Groupe Ltd.
Location: North West
Number of employees: 63
St Pierre Groupe has grown significantly ever since Paul launched the export side of the business, with 77 products listed in 35,000 stores worldwide. They sell more than 200 million bakery products each year, under three brands and are changing what it means to be a successful global bakery business. In recognition of their achievements, St Pierre Groupe was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade and has placed in the Sunday Times International Track 200 for five years running.
Having spent 10 years working in senior strategy roles across Government, including No.10 and Cabinet Office, Helen Burgess decided to retrain in her passion – nutrition – following the birth of her son in 2013. She discovered that parents struggled most to find healthy snacks for their kids. ”From my front room four years ago, to a business making £1m in revenue this year, I am extremely proud of how Little Cooks Co has grown and helped families connect in the kitchen, especuially during these topsy turvy times,” she says.
Category: Health Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: Little Cook Co
Number of employees: 15
”Today’s children are fatter, sicker and unhappier than ever before. We are turning into a screen addicted society where technology is connecting us virtually but disconnecting us in reality.”
Helen started Little Cooks Co recognising how children’s mental health is suffering and time-poor parents are increasingly looking for ways to connect with their children. It is the UK’s first healthy cooking kit for children. Each month, the company sends healthy baking recipes and all the dry organic ingredients to make them for just £8.33 a month. These kits offer an opportunity each month for parents to make memories with their children and teach them a life skill that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.
John Fisher founded Firepot, a family business based near his rural home in Dorset. Firepot provides healthy, flavoursome food made with quality, nutritionally responsible, all-natural, local produce. To break into the market, which is dominated by low quality ingredients and highly industrialised production, John had to develop his own dehydration technology to bring down costs. “Only then would I be able to compete on price while putting much more responsibly sourced ingredients into each meal,” he says. This breakthrough helped him spend more on less environmentally damaging compostable packaging.
Category: Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year
Location: South West
Number of employees: 7
Firepot is the only company in the world to offer meals that have been slow-cooked to deepen the flavours before being dehydrated, rather than being made up of individually freeze-dried ingredients. The company is the first to offer meals that are cooked by hand, with all fresh ingredients coming from a five-mile radius of its Dorset base, meaning you can have the taste of home-cooking wherever you are in the wild. Firepot food is high in protein, carbohydrate and fibre; low in salt, sugar and saturated fat and contains up to four times more meat than its competitors’ meals.
“With innovation and sustainability at our core, we are known for doing things differently from the ‘big’ food industry, from pioneering our own dehydration technology to creating the first fully-compostable packaging available on the market.”
Robyn Simms and Ed Taylor
Robyn Simms and Ed Taylor founded Square Root in 2012, having both made the transition from STEM to the world of craft beer. After starting out selling sodas at local markets on the weekends, Square Root has grown to produce over 3 million bottles of fizzy pop to date.
Category: Non-Alcoholic Drink Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: Square Root
Number of employees: 14
Square Root drinks are in around 800 on-trade venues in the UK, and exported to France and Italy (with expansions into Norway and the USA on the horizon). Square Root sodas made only using whole fresh fruit. The juices are made in-house from seasonal ingredients and zero artificial additives.
Neil Potts and Rachel Hugh
Rachel Hugh and Neil Potts co-founded The Vurger Co in 2016. Neil had been suffering with stomach issues for nearly a decade and realised that going vegan may be a solution. This prompted the two to make vegan fast food accessible, delicious and convenient. The Vurger Co has opened 4 restaurant sites, launched its own mayo’s into retail and most recently a vegan Cheezy sauce to stay true to thier mission of revolutionising fast food through the power of plants since.
Category: Restaurant Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: The Vurger Co
Number of employees: 55
The Vurger Co is here to revolutionise fast food through the power of plants. The company stays true to this mission through restaurants in London and Brighton and retail products in Planet Organic, Wholefoods and many online retailers across the country. The company aims to make vegan fast food better for you, the planet and our communities.
Struan Robertson and Tom Gibson
Struan, Tom Erin and Guy joined forces in 2013 and opened the first Provenance Village Butcher in Notting Hill. While Erin and Guy became silent partners, Struan and Tom became the faces of the business working in the shop every day forging relationships with every customer who walked through the door. They focused on sourcing the best quality free range, grass fed produce from British family farms and providing a welcoming environment with knowledgeable and friendly team of butchers. In the last seven years Struan and Tom have opened three more shops in west London, with a fifth due to open in March, and have launched a successful same day delivery service to most London postcodes, using fully compostable and recyclable packaging and delivered in their refrigerated vans.
Category: Start Up Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: Provenance Village Butcher
Number of employees: 55
Provenance is a modern interpretation of the village butcher. They company is passionate about supporting traditional British farmers and supplying customers with high quality produce that is reared outdoors, with no growth promoters, with high animal welfare.
”Our butcher shops are warm and welcoming with uplifting music in the background and our eyecatching cases which are purpose built to be lower so we can engage with our customers with no obstruction and guide them to the right produce for them.”
Jonathan Petrides is founder of plant-powered food company allplants delivering chef-made meals nationwide. Since launching in early 2017 with his brother Alex, Jonathan has grown the business to deliver over 1 million meals. Jonathan is obsessed with gathering together brilliant people on a mission – previously launching both Africa’s first mobile bank (M-Shwari), and Kenya’s fastest growing retail healthcare chain (Penda).
Category: Start Up Entrepreneur of the Year
Number of employees: 149
”If we can change what we eat, we will change the world. Sounds easy, and it can be. Eating more plants, and less meat, means a huge step down in greenhouse gas emissions, and a healthier crop of humans to lead the world like never before.”
Plant-based meal delivery service allplants is growing fast. In just 3 years, allplants has served over 1 million meal-times. Last year, allplants completed a year-long project building Europe’s largest dedicated plant-based kitchen as its new HQ in London. With over 65,000 subscribers, allplants generates revenue from customers purchasing its plant-based meals on allplants.com. The company projects major growth this year, and are expanding its food range by over 100 products with desserts, breakfasts, smoothies, sides and Feasting dishes.
Pranav Chopra is the founder and CEO of NEMI Teas. He is a passionate social entrepreneur who has been involved in a number of ventures with a social development agenda at their core ranging from empowering refugees by selling specialist tea in the UK to tackling the issue of illiteracy in India through the power of tourism. He has also worked as a management consultant for over 10 years where he advised a diverse portfolio of market-leading clients in a range of industries across different regions.
Category: Sustainability Entrepreneur of the Year
Business: NEMI Teas
Number of employees: 3
NEMI Teas is a London-based tea company and a social-enterprise focused on empowering refugees by providing them with employment and leadership opportunities within its business of manufacturing and distribution of tea across both retail and wholesale channels in the UK and Europe.
NEMI Teas is tackling SDG #10 of Reduced Inequalities by providing job opportunities to refugees living in the UK and help them overcome the barriers they face to enter the UK workforce like the lack of local work experience or having a local referee. So far the company has empowered 18 refugees in to meaningful permanent employment and education and are on track to help lower the unemployment levels amongst the refugee communities from 20% to match the UK national average of 4.9%.
John Burke and Jon Hulme
John Burke and Jon Hulme are business school friends who met while studying in Madrid. They came up with the idea for Craft Gin Club over a couple of G&Ts in a London bar. They appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2016, securing investment from Sarah Willingham, who continues to be on the board today.
Category: People’s Choice Award
Business: Craft Gin Club
Number of employees: 50
Craft Gin Club is the world’s biggest subscription club for gin lovers. Throughout the year, the company scouts the globe and taste on average 500 gins to uncover the most interesting spirits and send them to its 120,000 members in monthly Gin of the Month boxes. Each box contains a full-sized bottle of craft gin, paired with mixers, cocktail ingredients and snacks, as well as an issue of Ginned!, a monthly club magazine. Craft Gin Club helps smaller, craft distillers reach a wider audience.
Adapting to the challenges of Covid-19
In 2019, UK consumers spent £200bn on food and drink, 36% of which was spent in foodservice outlets and 64% in retail. However, according to the IDG Retail Analysis Eating In vs Dining Out 2021 report, the pandemic may change customer behaviour for the long term.
IGD’s report speculates four scenarios using economic recovery as a variable:
- The first scenario: Consumers choose to eat at home even after the lockdown lifts. Safety and hygiene will have a higher value when choosing where to eat or drink.
- The second scenario: The economy will take longer to recover and while demand for eating out will be high, it may not be affordable to many.
- The third scenario: Consumers will continue to see shopping online as the safest option. More food businesses may divert investment from stores and ramp up their digital capabilities.
- The fourth scenario: Global supply chains may face added pressure. Existing supply chains will be rebuilt, with a greater focus on seasonal foods.
How have the 12 winners of the inaugural Food & Drink Heroes kept their businesses in the black during the pandemic?
Sustainable brands win consumer confidence
For The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co’s Ralph Broadbent, the effects of Covid-19 will see customers voting for sustainability with their wallets. It’ll also mean more and more people are likely to swap drinking in the pub for drinking at home. Every beer you have ever had at home has most likely come from a can or a bottle. Over a decade this means billions of cans and bottles are entering our waste stream. This is going to get worse, he warns. “We are going to take billions of cans and bottles out of the waste stream through our innovative technology as people chose to swap canned beer for Fresh Beer. Imagine being the only reusable coffee cup in the UK – we are doing that for beer.”
Knowing when and how to pivot
Covid-19 was also the catalyst for businesses exploring new ways to engage customers. Montezuma’s online business has seen 230% growth during 2020, which allowed the company to explore new opportunities for growth. Biscuiteers also found a niche during the pandemic. “Biscuiteers pivoted its range during this time, creating more letterbox options and DIY Kits to reflect consumer desire,” says founder Harriet Hastings. As a result the company’s sales doubled during the first lockdown.
For Firepot, the first lockdown at the start of 2020 was a turning point. Founder John Fisher says that was when he made the decision to re-focus Firepot’s growth strategy onto export. ”We translated all our packaging and website into Norwegian and launched in March,” he says. In December, Firepot set up a warehouse in Oslo and are using this as a base to launch in Sweden, Denmark and Finland this year.
Staff in focus
Socially, allplants is a Living Wage employer. Despite the Covid-19 spawned economic slump, the company restructured salaries to give staff raises across the kitchen. Allplants has donated over 30,000 of its meals to its partners City Harvest – who then distribute them to those in need across London. 100% of employees, from kitchen porters to chefs and engineers are granted stock options in allplants when they join the company.
Similarly, St Pierre Groupe has invested in its people during the pandemic, more than doubling its headcount in 2020.
One of the reasons for this bold decision for Paul is from observing changing consumer behaviour. ”The way people eat, the times they eat and the sense of occasion around each meal time has changed this year,” he explains. The pandemic has put the weekday lunch back on the menu, for example, which has opened up completely new opportunities for the bakery.
A social change, leads to food change and food change equals opportunity, says Paul Baker. “Make it new, but keep it simple – there’s a recipe for success.”