Despite inflation and supply disruption, the Fast 50 report reveals unprecedented growth rates, with a record number of women-led businesses

Raging inflation, a squeeze on consumer spending and supply chain disruption – it’s been a brutal year in fmcg.

But that has been no barrier to the fastest-growing businesses in food and drink, with the Alantra Fast 50 this week revealing unprecedented growth despite the headwinds.

Topping the list, CBD drinks brand Trip achieved two-year compound annual sales growth (CAGR) of 389% – the highest ever registered in the 15-year history of the Fast 50 and ahead of This’s winning 246% last year.

Across all 50 companies, average annualised sales growth in the two most recent years of trading totalled 34%, “a remarkable achievement” amid the volatility, says Charles Lanceley, Alantra’s head of UK food & beverage.

The five fastest-growing brands (Trip, Rheal, Vegetarian Express, Tŷ Nant and Misfits) registered CAGRs above 100%. In fact, the top six, including Bio&Me, all achieved higher growth rates than Gousto when it topped the list two years ago with 95% growth.


The average CAGR for the top five hit 184%, with combined revenues of £64.4m – a record for the Fast 50 and up on last year’s already impressive 167%, which itself beat the previous high of 110% set pre-pandemic.

It was also harder to make the grade than ever before, with a CAGR of 20% needed to be ranked in the top 50, up from 17% last year. With such a high bar, new entrants were down on previous years, with 23 companies appearing for the first time. Fourteen appear for a second year in a row, with two (Gousto and Protein Works) in for the past three years and four (Huel, Lintbells, Wenzels the Bakers and Brothers Drinks) boasting four consecutive appearances.

So, what is behind this stellar performance and what themes have emerged from the report?

The Fast 50 measures privately owned fmcg businesses that have published accounts documenting at least three years trading to reveal a two-year CAGR.

Access to capital

Lanceley points out the high-flying growth is not simply a case of small businesses with lots of room to soar from a low base. As well as challenger brands that in themselves have already clocked up impressive revenues to date, the list contains a number of more mature businesses such as Vegetarian Express, Village Bakery, Around Noon, Bright Blue Foods and Gousto.

Total revenues for the 50 businesses increased 14% year on year to £2.5bn, with the average size of company up from £44m to £49.1m. The average size of the top five also climbed, from £8.8m to £12.9m.

Lanceley highlights the variety in the top five and says while no single trend is driving the success, a greater focus on health in the wake of covid has led consumers to be more careful in what they eat and drink.

Amy Moring Hunter and Gather

Amy Moring is co-founder of Hunter & Gather

“That is benefiting a broad range of companies, from gut health specialists such as Bio&Me through to nutritional supplement manufacturers such as Rheal, Protein Works and Absolute Collagen,” he adds. “Trip is also a beneficiary of the increased consumer interest in wellness, with its promise of ‘calm amid the chaos’ part of the value proposition that has delivered such phenomenal growth.”

Bio&Me co-founder Dr Megan Rossi says she is “incredibly proud” to see the brand leading the way on gut health.

“We created Bio&Me to bridge the gap between what I was discovering in the lab, and what was actually available in supermarkets. Our success though has been driven by consumer’s and retailer’s becoming ever more knowledgeable about gut health, and looking for credibility in a confused space – and the fact that Bio&Me tastes so good.”

A healthy bottom line is another common feature this year, with the top performers heavily prioritising profitability.

“In previous years, the make-up of some of these businesses has not always had that same focus,” Lanceley says.

“More businesses are more disciplined and have managed to weather the storm a bit better. There’s been a survival of the fittest element, where some of the competition gets left by the wayside and these guys are able to push on.

Moju drinks

Moju is one of the companies featuring for a second consecutive year, climbing from 21st to 16th

“You can’t quite rely on just buying growth in the way you could in the past. There’s definitely been a change of mindset. And these businesses are emerging as the winners as a consequence of the business environment changing around them.”

Moju co-founder and CEO Rich Goldsmith says his business has taken “a measured view on growth” since launching in 2016, being mindful not to overcapitalise ahead of the functional shots category’s development, which has taken off in the past couple of years.

Moju is one of the companies featuring for a second consecutive year, climbing from 21st to 16th with growth accelerating from 34% last time to 55%.


Read more:


Access to capital has become significantly more challenging as interest rates have climbed, with funding going to only the strongest challengers.

“Over the last 18 months, a lot of people have failed in that task and then hit the buffers,” adds Lanceley.

But deals have still been possible, with 17 companies supported by private equity backers. Plant-based wholesale supplier Vegetarian Express bounced back into the rankings after struggling during the pandemic and in February changed hands as Bridges Fund Management handed control to NVM in a £15m deal, while Butternut Box secured a bumper £280m from General Atlantic in a deal valuing it at more than £500m.

Lanceley says there is an acceptance among founders and managers that in a tough market environment, additional financial support provides opportunities to grow more quickly and to strengthen reserves.

He also notes that many of the deals have been for capital injections rather than outright sales, which provides extra cash to go after growth and also access to top board level talent in the form of experienced chairs and NEDs.

“You can incentivise good people by offering them options because there’s an exit on the horizon with PE that’s often a lot harder to do in a private company where there’s often not a defined exit.”

Family-run remained the biggest ownership category, however, with 20 companies. “The ability of these businesses to focus on a long-term view – potentially across generations – can offer an antidote to some of the short-term pressures the sector currently faces,” Lanceley adds.

Dr Megan Rossi co-founded Bio & Me

More women-led brands

Encouragingly, the number of women-founded or led businesses in the rankings continued to increase this year and was one of the “standout themes”.

Eight businesses in the Fast 50 are female-led, including the two fastest-growing brands, with Trip run by Olivia Ferdi and Rheal by Charlotte Bailey. It is in marked contrast with just one business in 2019 and up from five last year.

“There is still progress to be made, but female founders are over-represented in this cohort of businesses compared to high-growth companies across the UK as a whole,” Lanceley adds.

Rossi – a scientist, practicing dietitian and a founder – is keen to act as a role model across different fields, especially with her elevated public profile, which includes a regular slot on ITV’s This Morning. “Young women often want to pursue careers in science, but they worry it’s a male-dominated space,” she says. “The same is true in business, so we have to find ways to encourage everyone to follow their ambition.”

Amy Moring of Hunter & Gather – 17th in the Fast 50 with growth of 52% thanks to the brand’s mission to stand for ‘real food products’ amid the debate on UPFs – agrees on the importance of role models being showcased in the education system. Moring worked at Lily’s Kitchen for Henrietta Morrison before founding Hunter & Gather. “Henrietta was so inspiring, and she gave me a huge amount of support when I was launching my business.”

She adds there are more and more support networks cropping up for female founders and that retailers are starting to support more diversity in their supplier base. “It would also be great for there to be more support for female angel investors as they are more likely to back female businesses.”

Piccolo founder Cat Gazzoli agrees: “With more and more interest to back independent female founder-led businesses from UK retailers, and the work of collectives like ‘Buy Women Built’, which we are part of, it’s no surprise to see more inclusion in the Fast 50. Innovation, agility and turning around consumer insights and trends into real product ranges on shelf are why we female founders continue to gain momentum.”

As well as leading the charge of fastest-growing females, Trip co-founder Olivia Ferdi also represents the strongest-ever showing for the beverage sector in the Fast 50. Drinks gained significant ground this year, making up 15 places on the table, compared with eight previously. There was also a marked increase in PE-backed beverage companies – up from just one to five.

Lanceley says a lack of innovation hampered the sector in past years compared with the likes of pet, snacking and ambient more generally.

Top 20 brands Trip, Dash and Moju have all worked hard to change that in different spaces of the category.

Cat Gazzoli Piccolo

Cat Gazzoli’s Piccolo ranked 19th

Demonstrating value

Ferdi says Trip has introduced tens of millions of consumers to functional drinking, showing that “uniquely delicious and authentically functional products can shift consumer behaviour”.

Goldsmith agrees innovation in health and wellbeing is coming through more strongly in drinks and recognises that energy drinks are “having a moment”, creating momentum for insurgent brands.

“Moju’s growth has accelerated as the functional shots category has continued to establish itself as the most significant innovation in the wider juices and smoothies category over the last decade,” he says.

“Where you would typically see trade down – which has been a serious headwind for the wider J&S category – Moju has been a bright spot. Our commitment to quality and exceptional loyalty, and the low substitutability, has meant we’ve driven growth for the brand and functional shot category despite external pressures.

“We have also invested in brand awareness, spending ahead of the category, including the biggest legacy brands. At a time when marketing budgets were being reduced and plans scaled back, we were doubling down and investing behind growth.”

Dash CEO and co-founder Alex Wright notes that despite the squeeze on consumer spending, the brand has seen considerable rate of sale and distribution gains over the past year with shoppers switching from traditional sugar and sweetener-filled soft drinks for seltzers – a rapidly growing subcategory of beverages.

“It’s no wonder there are a number of fantastic beverage brands in the Fast 50 as consumers are flocking to better-for-you beverages off the back of the World Health Organisation’s guidance in May 2023 against using sweeteners as a sugar replacement in drinks,” he says. “And, of course, the war on sugar is still raging.”

This year’s Fast 50 also highlights the continuing evolution in not just what top-performing food and drinks companies sell but how they sell it, with the DTC model becoming an established way to build and sustain a business in the sector.

Dash Water OR_Spritz_Colour_Fruit

Dash has capitalised on shoppers switching from traditional sugar and sweetener-filled soft drinks to seltzers

Despite well-published challenges for DTC following the pandemic boom, 11 DTC players made it into the rankings this year, up from nine in 2021 and just one (Bulk Powders) pre-Covid.

Private equity is also increasingly attracted to DTC sales models, says Lanceley, as they can provide “far greater scaling, higher margins and insight into the end customer”. There were seven DTC business backed by PE in 2022 versus two in 2019.

Trip – which now boasts enviable retail listings – and Rheal both started out as online sellers and can attribute a significant part of the growth that bagged them the top two spots to DTC.

“It’s a channel where people can grow very quickly,” Lanceley adds. “In the early days, quite often we see as businesses start DTC and then branch out into omnichannel.”

Huel CEO James McMaster says its growth – which has seen it feature for a remarkable four years in a row – was helped by starting as an ecommerce business. The brand’s products are daily use and so justify the larger basket sizes needed to make DTC work.

He adds Huel, which is now omnichannel, is also “flying” in retail.

Future deal potential

M&A activity may have slumped in 2022, but Lanceley still expects the Fast 50 ranking to provide a lucrative pool from which to pick for global food and drink players.

Overall, in the past three years, 23 businesses that appeared in the Fast 50 have been snapped up by trade, including St Pierre, Strong Roots, Lily’s Kitchen, Grenade and Jimmy’s Iced Coffee.

“We’ve seen a pretty clear trend over the years of a high ratio of entrants in the report who then go on and get acquired by big corporate,” Lanceley says. “I don’t see any difference for brands like Trip, Rheal, Misfits, Bio&Me, Dash and Moju if they keep doing what they’re doing.”