Renée Elliott

Source: Renée Elliott

Planet Organic founder Renée Elliott, who stepped in to rescue the business last month

Planet Organic founder Renée Elliott has committed to the retailer’s grocery and food-to-go offer as she looks to reset the values of the business following a surprise, last-ditch rescue from administration last month.

In an interview with The Grocer, Elliott discussed the new management team’s vision for the business, rebuilding supplier trust and how she pulled off the deal.

Elliott said when she found out the company was heading for administration she was “really shocked and surprised”.

What followed was “an intense rollercoaster ride”.

“Even though I lost a lot of money, and I had to call all my friends and family and tell them they lost their money, my first thought was ‘how can I rescue Planet?’,” Elliott added.

She called former CEO Peter Marsh and ex-buying director Al Overton to gauge their interest.

“They both said they would do anything for Planet, so I knew I had a team. Now I needed a buyer,” Elliott said.

“I couldn’t find one, or an investor, and then someone said to me ‘why aren’t you buying it?’. I’m a mentor and coach now and have been out of the business for a long time, and I don’t have the money. But then we switched gears. My husband and I talked and agreed to do it together as we had in the past. Then we raised the money very quickly and easily.”

The main initial priority was due diligence to ensure a rescued Planet could survive in the long term.

“We crawled all over the numbers with a team and decided on the working capital we would need and feel confident with,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t have risked the bit of money that we have put in for a strategy that wasn’t capitalised. I’ve just taken a big financial hit and can’t take another.”

The first job for the new team is to transition the business “back to stability and core values, and then see how we go forward”.

Elliott was keen to highlight a commitment to the grocery offer after details of a rescue plan by former owner Inverleith revealed a potential new focus on health and beauty.

“Planet is an organic and healthy grocery store,” she said. “We are very committed to that. Health and bodycare is very important but that is not what draws people into Planet stores – it’s the juice bar, it’s the food to go, and then they shop the rest of the store. But it is really about grocery. I love supplementation as a way to enhance your diet and deal with deficiencies, but I’m a foodie.”

The new Planet has also returned to the old model of using third-party wholesalers to supply the business.

Planet had brought distribution in-house following an agreement with Howard Tenens Logistics in May 2022 that saw it open a warehouse in Sunbury-on-Thames. However, it added to a high cost burden on the company and contributed to its financial difficulties.

Elliott confirmed the warehouse would close and the new business was working with CLF, Wholegood and Langridge Organic to fulfil orders.

“They have all been brilliant in helping us get product back on shelves,” she added.

Elliott was also open about wanting to rebuild supplier trust following the collapse that left hundreds owed thousands of pounds.

“This industry is based on relationships. It would be good if everyone understands that we didn’t buy the company, we bought the assets from the administrator,” she added.

“The debts were left behind.

“We were faced with a decision: we could do nothing, or we could try and rescue Planet. And my goal was to rescue. There were [other] bids for just the brand on the table and if that had happened, all the stores would have closed and that would have been a disaster for a lot of people.

“We bought the assets from Interpath to save the future and secure the trading future of the business.”

Elliott highlighted that many suppliers had traded with Planet “happily and successfully” for decades, with the retailer also acting as a food innovation hub for fmcg startups.

“Some brands have built their reputations through our stores,” she said. “We’ve promoted small business and brands from the beginning. For those who can see that and are willing to trade with us, we have a future now because we were successful with our bid, and we can trade together in building success again together.

“We are so grateful for the support of our suppliers, helping us filling the shelves with beautiful products. The mission of Planet is to promote health in the community and support the earth’s biodiversity. And we need suppliers to come with us on that journey.

“It is a new beginning. What happened [with the administration] wasn’t us. It never should have happened and I wish it hadn’t. We’ve come in to rescue Planet and take it forward with our vision. This is a rebirth.”

Elliott said she was disappointed with the strategy put in place at Planet in recent years that led to the business falling into administration.

“It’s the oldest story in the book where you have entrepreneurs who are value-led and bigger business comes in with pound signs in their eyes, but they don’t understand heart-led business.

“They don’t understand the entrepreneurial journey. Someone has birthed an idea with passion and vision and purpose.

“When I started Planet it was all about values, and it is about going back to those values.”

She added: “We can draw a line in the sand. That was a different management team and a different vision. This is back to the original vision – but refreshed.”

Marsh is broadly in charge of operations, Overton is handling buying, while Elliott’s interest starts with “values, culture, team, training, brand and product” she said.

“We haven’t agreed traditional titles yet; we’re calling ourselves the transition team because our immediate job is to transition the business back to stability and core values, and then see how we go forward,” she said.

Read details of the administration here in The Grocer exclusive reporting on the report by administrators, including details of how much creditors are owed and how much was paid in the rescue deal.