In four years Balance Foods has built up a portfolio of organic, Fairtrade and licensed goods set to top £10m in sales. And it's still hungry, writes Nick Hughes

Much has been said about the contrasting fortunes of Fairtrade and organic in the recession, but Mike Slegg is better placed than most to pass comment.

He marketed the first Fairtrade bananas to the UK during his time with Geest Bananas and now straddles both markets as commercial director at Surrey-based Balance Foods - a fledgling company that produces Fairtrade and organic lines and sells Marmite snack products under licence from Unilever.

Slegg believes organic has suffered in the downturn because of its failure to appeal to a broad demographic.

"People in the organic market are saying the business is in downturn. If you look at organic, demographically it's very much ABC1. You look at Fairtrade and it spans all age groups and all social demographics. It's not reliant on one end of the market."

Despite his concerns, Slegg is confident the organic side of Balance's business - a range of Antony Worrall Thompson-branded soups and stocks - will continue to defy the downturn.

"There are still opportunities within the organic market to do something unique and different. We've all seen the growth of organic chicken because of concerns about welfare. We launched our soups and stock cubes with organic free-range chicken so we're adding value to that sector."

Balance's big growth, however, is coming in Fairtrade.

"The marketing of Fairtrade has been exceedingly well managed by the Fairtrade Foundation," says Slegg. "Despite the economy, it has worked hard to keep the conscience of the UK alive."

Last year Balance purchased Fairtrade rice crackers and rice milk brand Sherriffs and has doubled sales since taking it from a predominantly regional brand into all the major multiples.

"The multiples have supported us well," says Slegg, who joined Balance three years ago shortly after it was formed. "Most have gone out of their way to help us establish a new company."

Balance is the brainchild of former Kallo Foods MD Chris Lane, who founded the company in 2005. Four years later, and the business is hoping to top the £10m sales mark in the current financial year. Much of its optimism is pinned on its rapidly growing range of Marmite snacks, which is neither Fairtrade nor organic.

"This year we've launched Marmite Cashew Nuts and Marmite Crisps, which was a major achievement bearing in mind the size of Balance Foods," says Slegg.

He promises more innovation from Balance, particularly within the Sherriffs brand, where a move into savoury and sweet biscuits is imminent. Meanwhile, the company is keen to bring more businesses under the Balance umbrella.

"We have experience in licensing brands, we have experience in purchasing brands, so we're looking at anything that fits into our portfolio. We're happy to buy a brand, we're happy to buy a company and we're happy to go into a licensing agreement if that is what the business requires. We're not committed to one particular route."

All-in-all, it sounds like a well-balanced business plan.