Nicole Compen is a shopkeeper currently without a store. When The Grocer meets the 29-year-old founder of Raye, she’s hitting up her network of estate agents in search for the site of her next, and sixth, pop-up store.

Compen describes London-based Raye as a “discovery space for new and emerging brands”, but it’s perhaps best explained as part-consultancy, rather than straight-up store. She aims to act as a bridge for emerging food, drink, health and beauty brands to help them eventually get listed in the likes of Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic and Harrods.

In return for a listing fee and the 20% commission Raye takes on any in-store sales, founders get to test how their products resonate on the shelves, often for the first time. Compen also offers to arrange anonymous feedback sessions with customers, host extended sampling sessions or rent the space for press or exclusive events. 

Although there is no formal arrangement, the bigger players are listening. Raye previously hosted a pitch morning for Whole Foods, and buyers from the Amazon-owned grocer have previously asked Compen to help connect them with brand owners. Buyers from Selfridges have also met brands at Raye stores.

There have been five ‘Editions’ of Raye, since the first store opened in London’s Spitalfields market in June 2021. The latest, on high-end Regent Street, closed just before Christmas. Compen rents them all on short-term leases anywhere between four weeks to three months, which partly explains why she says the search for her next store has been so “tricky”.

Each Edition stocks a rotating range of 70 to 100 brands, which tend to run three lines each.

Raye has an emphasis on health and wellness brands, and has strict ingredient requirements. Products cannot include any palm oil, added refined sugars or artificial colours or flavourings. Compen also predominantly stocks UK-based brands.

“What we’ve tried to do is just strengthen UK-based companies and make sure they get the attention that they deserve,” Compen says. 

Generally, the product mix will be 90% UK, with the remaining 10% being brands from Germany, Norway and Compen’s native Netherlands. Past Raye listings include Milliways plastic-free gum, which is now stocked in coffee chain Pret a Manger, and water brand OHMG, which is now stocked in Whole Foods.

Compen is hoping to have found her next store by spring, but insists the location and timing must be right.

“We’ll focus on more residential-heavy areas, meaning that anyone who comes in, the majority are based in or around London, so when people discover products and approaches that they can then continue to purchase from brands directly,” Compen says.

She notes that Edition No.3, located in the heart of Covent Garden, was one of Raye’s busiest stores, but while lots of tourists may come in to browse or for a grab and go purchase, they’re unlikely to become repeat customers.

Eventually she hopes to establish a permanent Raye store, which will showcase seasonal ranges of rotating stock. She’s less keen, however, on expanding Raye’s online presence much beyond the current format – which hosts a directory of the brands stocked in previous Editions, with links to their websites.

“I don’t want to become another marketplace,” Compen says. Raye is a “live advertising space”, about experience, she insists.

“I don’t see the products, I see the people and the story behind them.”