I set up Gü Puds in 2003. It was a start-up business, and we had to go through all the palaver any new food business goes though: raising money, shareholder agreements, new bank accounts, organising office space, sorting out technical accreditation, developing the branding and products, selling into supermarkets, and then all the paperwork becoming a new supplier entails. And that was all before making our first dessert! I remember at the time thinking how tough it was.
It’s 10 years on and I may be a glutton for punishment doing it all again, but I’ll tell you, it’s a lot tougher now. I think I’ve got a better concept this time with The Coconut Collaborative yoghurt, made with coconut milk. Coconut is incredibly good for you; our yogs taste great and have no sugar in them. And the market’s taking off. But believe me, it isn’t easy.
I have a product with an incredible rate of sale in the stores we sell in, but getting new distribution is still very difficult. Large suppliers seem to have done a very good job tying up “business development plans” with their customers, clogging up the shelves with less popular products on the back of long-term over riders.
Most supermarket customers have extended payment terms and some have introduced fines for shorting or late deliveries. Finally, it’s a lot tougher than before to be ranged just for London stores (where most premium food trends start in this country).
All these measures just end up favouring the large incumbent suppliers who use it as a barrier to entry. The loser, in my view, is innovation.
Most of the best innovations in food and drink over the past two decades have come from start-up businesses. Companies run by people with real passion and something totally new. They improve the customer experience - whether it’s with fresh soup, smoothies, organic chocolate, gourmet desserts or coconut milk yoghurt. They add value to markets and everyone in the chain benefits.
So do us a favour messrs Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, Morrisons and The Co-op Group - please treat small companies differently. In the long run it will be good for you, too.