Two years ago, four friends were sitting around a breakfast table pondering the state of the British cereal industry.
Why was it, they asked themselves, that muesli and porridge were always being promoted on the basis of their health credentials alone? What about the taste and quality?
Unconvinced by existing propositions on the market, they decided to pool their experience and passion for healthy food and do something about it. That morning, cereal company Rude Health was born.
Fast forward two years and the company is in rude health itself - turning over more than £500,000 in its first year alone. Its cereals have been a hit with high-profile foodies, including chef Nigel Slater. Nigella Lawson has even described its Ultimate Muesli as "manna from heaven". And its star is set to rise further still. After two years of establishing itself in more specialist areas of the cereals category, Rude Health is now going mainstream with a six-strong range aimed at a wider market.
Not bad for friends who started out simply wanting to give their children a healthier start to the day.
For MD Nick Barnard, the business proposition was a no-brainer. "It's easy to rush breakfast or skip it when you don't have kids, but once we had them we realised we weren't the only ones that really cared about what we gave them," he says. "My mantra has always been to breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper, but we were tired of giving them sugary cereals."
Rude Health's cereals certainly don't fit into that category. It produces three mueslis and three porridges, and also sells the superfruit goji berries. Where most mueslis contain up to 12 ingredients, the company's Ultimate Muesli has a blend of 25 ingredients, including oats, rye, barley flakes, nuts, seeds and berries. The mueslis are also organic, wheat-free and ingredients are sourced from sustainable, and, where possible, local supplies.
All the Rude Health products have been created to pack in as many nutritional benefits as possible.
"Traditional cereal manufacturers steam the grain, turn it into a pulp, and remove the outer crust," says Barnard. "This strips them of their flavour and means nutrients have to be reintroduced by fortification.
"We simply take the grain, steam it and cut it into natural flakes. It's a painstaking process but we do it this way so we keep in the nutrients and natural flavours. There is no added salt or sugar either."
The company hopes these credentials will encourage consumers to look at what muesli they buy and also part with more cash than normal.
Its mueslis range from £3.35 for a standard pack to £10.95 for a 1kg bag, but Barnard says people are willing to spend this if the product is good.
"Muesli has been driven down in value," he says. "People expect to pay little for oat dust and raisins. Nobody has had the courage to produce muesli that not only tastes good but is nutritionally superior and comes with a premium price tag, until now."
Others would beg to differ (see right) but Barnard is excited about the prospect of taking the brand to a wider market and transforming it into a much bigger brand.
The company has just launched six new cereals including cornflakes, rice puffs and spelt flakes, as well as a new oat flakes product that the company claims is the first of its kind to hit the market. Barnard believes that these will really take the brand into the mainstream.
"We have never seen ourselves as an artisan company. We've got one foot in the health aisle and another in the gourmet aisle. But we are not in the breakfast cereal aisle, which is where we really want to be," he says.
"At the moment we are in the twilight zone of healthy foods. We have built our business on the small independents but we understand that the only way we are going to attract more people is through the multiples."
Rude Health has already secured listings in Tesco and Sainsbury's and will also be stocked in Whole Foods Market when it opens its Kensington store next month. More are expected to follow. But fans of the brand should not be put off by its bid for bigger things, says Barnard.
"It's all about growth but we won't compromise. We will always work to our founding principles."n
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