Nurture Brands founder Ben Arbib is thinking big. After a recent spate of acquisitions, he’s plotting an IPO that could mount a challenge to the big guns

Ben Arbib isn’t your typical City boy. With a mop of curly hair, soft voice, and relaxed aura, he seems more likely to crop up on a beach with a surfboard than to be part of London’s suit-wearing banking scene. But the City is exactly where he spent a decade of his life, travelling the well-worn route of a fast and furious 20s before burning out in his early 30s.

Now 42, speaking in his  Mayfair office, Arbib recalls how this period of his life really turned him on to food – first as part of his recovery, then as a whole new career entirely. “I started to get a little bit analytical, reading ingredients more and more… and what I was finding was that many of the products on the shelves in those days were formulated many decades ago, when the awareness of health and science just wasn’t there,” he says.

Whole Foods Market quickly became Arbib’s Mecca. But even there, he noticed it was largely individual brands doing small bits and pieces. He started to think bigger.

By the time Arbib launched alt milk and coconut water brand Rebel Kitchen in 2013, he was already plotting to become an “overarching health food brand”. Ten years later, and that’s exactly what he’s got. Arbib now sits at the head of Nurture Brands, a holding of nine healthy snacking and drinks brands that grew last year with the acquisition of four vegan operations: coconut water brand Jax Coco, chocolatiers Doisy & Dam, pretzel manufacturer Indie Bay Snacks,and seaweed snacks supplier Abakus Foods.

Revenue is surging as a result. So it’s perhaps no surprise Nurture is catching the eye of investors. The business raised £2.5m last year to aid its international expansion and is now aiming to treble revenues to £30m, with an eye to floating on the UK stock market within the next five years.

Not to say this “house of brands” approach isn’t baffling a few investors, says Arbib. “They don’t understand that I’m not doing this to try and sell it to Coke or Pepsi.”

Name: Ben Arbib

Age: 42

Potted CV: After 10 years in the finance industry, I was burnt out and started to focus on my health and wellness as a result. I co-founded Rebel Kitchen in 2013 and launched Nurture Brands in 2019.

Place of birth: Reading

Family: Married with five children and two dogs

Lives: Between Hampshire and London

Career highlight: Growing Nurture Brands throughout Covid-19

Best business advice been given: Hire great people and get out the way

Hobbies: Surfing & golf

Favourite book: Conversations with God

Favourite film: The Usual Suspects

Favourite meal: Sushi

Vision: To become an ethical version of PepsiCo

Instead, Arbib’s vision is to build Nurture Brands into an ethical rival to the conglomerates. “I genuinely believe we can come alongside the big food companies with a new-age version of what they do,” he says.

Arbib stresses each of Nurture’s acquisitions has been carefully considered. The brands in the portfolio “have got to make sense. We’re not just going to go on an acquisition spree for the sake of it.

“They’ve got to talk the same language, they’ve got to be plant-based. We do our own check on the ingredients, supply chain and level of transparency,” he says.

For brands that don’t already have a B Corp certification, working towards one is a priority. A quartet of brands within its portfolio – Rebel Kitchen, Emily, Primal Pantry, and Doisy & Dam – are already certified, in addition to Nurture Brands itself.

Additionally, each brand is linked to an individual charity. Rebel, for example, has an initiative in Cebu in the Philippines (where it sources a lot of coconuts for its coconut water) that helps farmers work in a more efficient and sustainable manner.

Nurture Brands may have been in acquisition mode lately, but it hasn’t forgotten about innovation. Here, the focus is on developing healthier takes on traditionally unhealthy snacks, to appeal to what he refers to as a “mass-tige” (mass-prestige) consumer base.

The Grocer Ben_ 2

’The grand vision is to be as big as someone like Unilever and play in multiple different categories’

Emily Veg Thins, for example, are “a bit like Doritos”, made with peas, lentils and beans. Doisy & Dam has launched its own plant-based take on M&M’s: D&Ds. And Rebel Kitchen’s reformulated dairy-free milkshakes are aiming to be remarkably similar to those at a certain fast food chain.

“They’re all that kind of McDonald’s classic milkshake flavour profile,” says Arbib. “The difference is ours are not loaded with dairy and sugar.”

Arbib refers to these products as “stepping stones” for consumers interested in healthy eating. “You’re never going lead a consumer who is used to eating Doritos to a bowl of houmous and carrots.” Through the likes of Emily Veg Thins, he aims to offer an alternative with all of the pleasure and less of the health downsides.

However, taking on the giants has its challenges. Nurture’s healthier snacks inevitably face comparisons with traditional offerings on taste and price. Due to its commitments to a transparent supply chain and high-quality ingredients, “we’re never going to be anywhere near the cheapest”, says Arbib.

“But what we try and do is make sure we’re going to be able to get into the major retailers. If we don’t genuinely believe we’ll be able to get into Tesco and Sainsbury’s, we won’t formulate it.”

Plus, Arbib argues consumers’ appetite for sugar is waning – which helps justify the premium. Based on “general health principles… I think people are going to gravitate away from the sweeter stuff over time”.

So his acquisition spree will continue on that winning formula. Next on the hit list is a sparkling soft drinks brand. “We’ve got the coconut water, we’ve got the milkshakes as our ready-to-drink play, so adding a low-calorie option would probably make sense.”

He insists, however, the booming low & no-alcohol sector is “outside our remit”. For now, “we need to focus on what we know”. By building a strong portfolio of brands, he’s “finding it’s easier to have more meaningful conversations with the trade”.

“We want to be a choice supplier that has a great reputation for delivering on time and delivering great-tasting products and NPD.”

Ultimately, Arbib’s mission is to provide healthier and more sustainable choices for the “consumers of tomorrow”, including his five children.

“The grand vision is to be as big as someone like Unilever and play in multiple different categories, maybe even beyond food and drink.” Serious ambitions indeed.