Entreprenuer Giles Brook: “There’s been a lot of fun along the way”

“A serial entrepreneur who repeatedly spots opportunities and creates compelling brands,” according to one of the judges, the “highly visible” and “energetic” Giles Brook has his finger firmly on the pulse of the grocery market.

But whether it’s dressing up as a Bear to promote his healthy snacks, or spotting a gap in the market, and “really driving it”, Brook’s “brilliant demonstration of entrepreneurial instinct” has been developed from a working life spent entirely in the food and drink industry.

Brook joined United Biscuits from university before moving to Coca-Cola Enterprises. But it was at Innocent where his flair was most obviously helped, playing an instrumental role as it grew by almost £90m in his four years.

Branching out on his own in 2009, he runs two businesses under his All Market Europe umbrella, which each sit in vibrant and expanding parts of today’s fmcg market - healthy snacking and coconut water.

In four years, fruit snack brand Bear has grown to around £18m in retail sales and is stocked in 14,000 sites across the UK. This year a major focus will be on taking Bear overseas. Brook has also helped relaunch existing brand Urban Fruit.

“We’ve taken some risks and been prepared to make mistakes”

Giles Brook

Sales of coconut water brand Vita Coca, meanwhile, have doubled each year for four years and have now reached £35m. A pioneer of the booming category, Vita Coco holds a 91% share of the UK market, says Brook, who has also taken the brand into 11 European markets. “It’s a niche market that’s exploding,” said one of the judges, “but Vita Coco has been responsible for that.”

While few start-ups can claim to be profitable from day one, Bear and Vita Coco have delivered positive EBITDA-level profits since inception.

The success of both businesses has been about seeing macro trends and meeting untapped consumer needs, says Brook.

“We have taken some risks and been prepared to make mistakes, but had a little luck. And there’s been a lot of fun along the way - which is critical to success.

“There are also a lot more people behind the success of the businesses than this award suggests,” he adds. “It is very humbling to be recognised by the Oscars of the food and drink industry.”

And despite running two businesses, Brook takes at least two hours a week out to mentor up-and-coming businesses, as well as playing a role in many industry talks and discussion panels. A firm believer that entrepreneurship is about nurture as well as nature, he would like to see it added to educational curriculums across the counter to ensure the future success of the UK economy.

As to the future of his business, Brook still has ambitious plans. “We’ve created a category from scratch that is contributing strongly to the overall non-alcoholic beverages market.”

And just as Vita Coca is helping to redefine the soft drinks category, Bear and Urban Fruit are playing similar roles in the healthy snacking market.

“We’re trying to become the family’s favourite trusted food brand, as demonstrated through our recent Paws fruit snacks and Alphabites crunchy cereal letters,” says Brook.

In the meantime, his wife has just given birth to his second child. Looks like Brook will have his hands full. But you get the feeling he rather likes it that way.