anthony fletcher quote web

It was an early Christmas present for a lifelong fan like myself to recently be invited to join the panel of The Apprentice: You’re Fired to share my insight on how the candidates performed in their latest task: creating a new health product.

With parts of this task taking place in our Richmond test kitchen, Graze got to witness some of The Apprentice action first-hand, and reminisce about the trials and tribulations of launching a new product.

During my time at Graze, and previously Innocent Drinks, I’ve seen my fair share of ill-fated recipes and flavour combinations. Fennel and caraway seeds stick in the memory as a resounding ‘no’ from our customers. But risk-taking is often required to hit that eureka moment - innovation is what happens when the stars align.

Like the diverse range of Lord Sugar’s candidates, budding entrepreneurs need to bounce ideas off a broad mix of people. Many hats need to be worn throughout the concept process, requiring you to bring together a project manager, a creative, a pragmatist, a dreamer, and someone who can relate to your end consumer. You also need to be inspired by different worlds, and learn from trends emerging in other markets. Graze recognised that technology had barely penetrated the food industry and seized this opportunity.

Prototypes and testing are essential. Petfood companies are known to try their own dogfood, and it’s important to canvas the opinions of not just your target consumer demographic - the more guinea pigs the better. We’ve picked up many insights over the years just from leaving our snacks around the office for employees to taste.

A heavy hand with the oil shouldn’t put you off - mistakes are all part of a business’s evolution! Start-ups learn best from their early failures, not their successes. Be prepared to fail fast and adapt quickly to feedback - be it from your market research, focus groups, initial consumers or retailers you’re pitching to. We receive 15,000 customer reviews an hour for our snacks, and if our customers don’t like it, we don’t reproduce it. It’s as simple as that.

While The Apprentice candidates’ end products may have been woeful, it was by no means over at that point.

Market research is key. You also need to understand exactly where your product will sit on the supermarket shelf, and who its competitors are. Understanding what’s already out there is crucial to identifying your USP.

Also key to marketing a healthy snack is to highlight the nutritional benefits. Someone who is after a more wholesome snack will be looking for some reassurance about what they’re eating and why it’s better for them. All of our punnets come with some nutritional value - be it low calories, high levels of protein - and we put this front and centre so customers can feel confident about their choice. You can have the best product in the world, but if it’s not communicated properly, it simply won’t sell. Today’s companies need to be taking advantage of social media to build their brand and promote their core messages.

But in communicating these messages, you have to sweat the small stuff. In the food industry you have to contend with legislation surrounding what claims you can and can’t make. It’s important to build trust and reputability, so make sure you understand the laws and regulations. It doesn’t have to be daunting. Connect with other entrepreneurs in your area or industry, and learn from their experience. Knowledge sharing is a great way of gleaning real insight and understanding on specific issues, and avoiding well-trodden mistakes.

And, as on The Apprentice, at the end of the day it all boils down to the business plan. The best start-ups will ensure they have a robust and realistic plan mapping out the first three years. There’s no room for short-termism when bringing a product to market - you need long-term vision.

Anthony Fletcher is CEO of Graze