Trendy cereal brand Surreal posted on LinkedIn last week to celebrate a new Sainsbury’s listing. The post, showing founder Kit Gammell standing proudly in front of a billboard bearing his face, quickly went viral. 

“Hi Dad, remember how I quit my job to start that ‘stupid’ cereal company?’,” the billboard said. “Well we just launched in Sainsbury’s. Who’s the disappointment now? Kit. P.S. Please can I borrow a tenner?”

It was the kind of post-Innocent stunt (Surreal employs Innocent’s former social media manager John Thornton as its creative lead) that has made brands like Surreal so popular with younger gen Z consumers.

Cereal brand Surreal’s advertising

Alcohol-free beer brand Days, whose co-founder Mike Gammell happens to be Kit’s brother, then got in on the action, posting a billboard of its own. The Days ad proclaimed its “non-alc beers launched in Sainsbury’s ages ago”, with Mike adding in his P.S. note to Kit that “no one missed you at Christmas”.

So far, so funny. The two posts resonated as they represented a bit of fourth-wall breaking ‘branter’ (that’s brand banter) between two companies seeking to dismantle the hegemony enjoyed by multinational brands in cereal and alcohol-free beer. It felt authentic, relatable, and like pretty harmless fun.

But there’s a little more to the story. Kit and Mike happen to be the sons of millionaire former Scotland rugby player and oil baron Sir Bill Gammell, who went to school with former prime minister Tony Blair, and counted George Bush among the guests at his wedding. His estimated worth is just shy of £40m.

This insight puts a somewhat different complexion on the billboard stunts of Surreal and Days. Kit’s cheeky request for a tenner doesn’t look quite so innocent. 

It would of course be wrong to suggest the success of Surreal and Days is only down to the bank of (mum and) dad. For all we know Sir Bill was so incensed at the ‘stupid’ plans that he played no part in helping to get the ventures off the ground.

Surreal counts big fmcg names as investors

But as the adage goes: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” 

Surreal counts Proper founder Ryan Kohn, former Sir Kensington’s CEO Mark Ramadan and entrepreneur Mervyn Davies among its backers. Kohn and Mindful Chef founder Giles Humphries are also investors in Days.

These are not the only challenger brands where rich friends and family have dipped their hands in their pockets to support a fledgling business. And perhaps the most important concern here is not the grating request for a tenner, but the (relative) lack of working class startups in food and drink. 

The UK’s first African-owned coffee brand Blue Turaco, whose founder Wycliffe Sande grew up picking coffee beans in Uganda to fund his own education, is a great example. 

But you can count on one hand the number of entrepreneurs from humble upbringings who are starting businesses right now. People who’ve put everything on the line and had to fight much harder for opportunities that might lead to a big break such as a supermarket listing for their business.

Perhaps none of this matters and all entrepreneurial success stories in fmcg should be celebrated, regardless of the founder’s background. Even with strong backing it still takes skills and guts to challenge the status quo, to persuade the supermarkets to back you and outmanouvre the multinationals, whose budgets are, let’s face it, scarily big. 

Yet Surreal’s and Days’ campaigns presenting Kit and Mike as plucky underdogs going up against giants (Days’ recent ad campaign railing against the likes of Madri and BrewDog is another example) and succeeding despite all the odds somehow irk. Isn’t it all just a little bit disingenuous?