Taking on the establishment can be risky – but, when successful, it can pay huge dividends. Just ask Alan and Juliet Barratt, founders of the Grenade range. Billed as sports nutrition, the brand is taking on the big boys of the traditional confectionery sector, a market the Barratts believe hasn’t evolved in the past 100 years.
Grenade was an idea that had been brewing for some time. Before co-founding the company, Alan was working for a business that distributed sports nutrition products to the UK from the US. Juliet joined the same firm in 2003 and, together, they began forming what would eventually evolve into a business with an annual turnover of £29m in 2017. However, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
Alan claims the sports nutrition category in 2006, when they first started coming up with the Grenade proposition, wasn’t quite fit for purpose – and consumers were losing out. “It was hard for consumers to differentiate between good and bad products on the market, especially due to the high number of protein powder SKUs [stock-keeping units] available,” he says.
Although Grenade didn’t go live as a business until 2010, the duo came up with the brand’s weight loss formula much earlier, but sat on it until they were ready to go to market. “We didn’t launch until the trademarks were secured to protect the brand,” explains Alan. “We didn’t want to put our product in any old branding – we wanted to have the best, so we developed the grenade shape, which also helped to protect it from copycat brands.”
‘Red Bull of sports nutrition’
In the early days, Grenade had just the one product – as Alan and Juliet wanted it to be what they call the “Red Bull of sports nutrition”. However, as successful as the product was, they realised that the future of the business lay down a different path. “Around 2015, we decided the future of Grenade was mass-market, as we realised the barriers to our growth were cost and accessibility,” says Juliet. “The weight loss powder was expensive for the average consumer and was only available in specialist shops.
“So, we took the learnings from our experience in sports nutrition and came up with the protein bar idea. Suddenly, it went from niche to mainstream.”
Once the product line was perfected, the duo really began brand-building and it soon became a way of life for them and their team.
“The brand was really important to us and we wanted to stand out. The one thing we’ve never been afraid to do is disrupt – and we’ve disrupted sports nutrition, not only with the look and feel of the product, but also in the way we’ve changed the face of the sector in the UK. We’ve moved it away from an extreme to mainstream, going from big muscle men in small pants to the Men’s Health six-pack look, and got people to buy into our brand.”
Nine years on, are they still the disruptive upstart changing the industry?
True to ideals
Juliet says that it’s harder to be a cheeky new business when you’re more established, but it’s vital to stay true to your brand ideals. “Everything we do contains the Grenade DNA, even our staff conference where we drove tanks instead of going to a hotel on an A-road. It reinforces the brand among the staff.”
Alan says that while they’ve retained the brand’s original ethos, as the business has scaled up, the stakes have become higher. “We can move quickly and embrace the potential for failure. The difference, though, is that when you’re small, a batch might be 50,000 bars and, if that’s spoiled, it’s not the end of the world. But now, a batch might be a million bars and a mistake on a batch of that size would hurt a lot more.”
Despite the massive sales they have accumulated since launching, they’re still treated as the new kids on the block by some of the other brands, a badge that Alan and Juliet wear with pride. “We’re referred to as ‘ankle-biters’ or an annoyance in the food industry, which we take as a major compliment,” says Alan.
“We see ourselves as a sports nutrition company, rather than a food company, so to be competing with the likes of Cadbury, Mars and Kellogg’s is impressive.”
As well as holding its own with some of the traditional confectionery companies, targets for the brand include international expansion – something Alan says is already happening at a pace that is typical for the business. “We want more locations in the UK, and that includes having the best location in-store for the brand, as well as the number of sites.
“However, overseas is definitely a priority for us. We’re in 80 countries already, with different models depending on the market. We’ve been going for the path of least resistance, so focusing on areas where we have like-minded consumers to those in the UK, such as Australia and mainland Europe.”
Operating in as many countries as they do, are there concerns in Grenade about Brexit? “While it’s hard to plan beyond it, Brexit doesn’t bother us, but we [the UK] have made it 10 times worse by reacting badly. It doesn’t matter to us [as a business] whether we’re in or we’re out, but we need to stick to a decision.
“The currency fluctuations worry us a little bit, as we trade in lots of different countries, but there’s not much we can do about that. At least everyone’s in the same boat and it’s important to remember that where there is adversity, there is opportunity.”
They add that there’s still some misconceptions about Grenade. “People think that just because they eat our product, they’ll become musclebound, but that’s not the case at all. There’s a lot of educating to be done around protein and snacking among the public.”
As very hands-on founders, even they are not sure how big the business can become. “Nobody has ever done this before,” says Alan. “Every time people think we’ve hit the ceiling in terms of quality, distribution or formats, we raise the bar again. We’re looking at new formats, such as healthier biscuits and we’ve got plenty of ammunition left.”
Name: Alan and Juliet Barratt
Job Title: Founders
Countries it exports to: 80
Tenure at the company: Nine years
Number of employees: 25
Turnover: £29m in 2017, up 76% on 2016