Female Food Founders – Interview with Juliet Barratt Co-Founder of Grenade
In the second of our series of Female Food Founders we meet the co-founder of Grenade whose mission is to “inspire people to get more out of life, whatever their fitness goals“. Grenade’s products, including their famous Carb Killa bars, are sold to over 80 countries and have a huge following ranging from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts. Grenade was sold for £72m to Lion Capital in 2017 and is growing strongly. Our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, chatted with Juliet Barratt co-founder of Grenade about trends, tanks and taking a stand.
What was your lightbulb moment for the idea of the Carb Killa bar?
I was already working in the sports nutrition sector back in 2009 and everything was very generic. Everything was in white tubs, everything had very scientific names. People couldn’t remember the products once they walked out of a gym or health store. Myself and my husband realised if we could do something distinctive, it would really disrupt the market. Hence the name Grenade and grenade shaped container. So it wouldn’t matter where you were in the world, you would always know what the product was called by the look and feel of it.
I met you at a Food Season event at The British Library where you were talking about the importance of marketing. Is strong marketing more important than distribution?
You need to do everything. You need to create the demand but you also need good availability. Especially with products that you ingest. Let’s say with the Carb Killa bar. If you want a chocolate bar and it’s not in the shop you’re in , you’re not going to go around trawling all sorts of shops to find it. You’ll just buy something else. We are making a bar that has very, very similar ingredients to other people. But the packaging makes it stand out. We never marketed ourselves as a healthy snacking brand it was “healthier”. We wanted people to enjoy eating the products and and have a sense of fun. You can’t have a brilliant brand if people can’t buy it .
You went into Amazon to sell Grenade products quite early on, why was that?
Our strength has never been e-commerce, so we had a strategic partnership with Amazon and spent a lot on advertising with them. This was when food was just beginning to take off on Amazon. But we got a lot availability across stores like Tesco, and people would buy one bar there, then go onto Amazon to buy in bulk. We also couldn’t match the delivery service that Amazon offer.
How did you make the move into stores like Tesco and Sainsbury’s?
Very early on we were approached by the buyer of Tesco and he said I can’t really ignore you any more. We had worked hard to create a demand and build a team of people who loved Grenade products, so that companies like Tesco felt they were missing out by not stocking us. You have to create a demand and make something that looks different.
What would you see as the changes or trends in the sector you are in?
We have seen food become more fashionable. We never wanted to pigeonhole ourself into any particular bracket. We’re not a vegan brand, we’re not plant based. All of those trends come in and out. We’re a healthier snacking brand. We are here for longevity. Low sugar is really important now. Sugar is now the enemy and you see all of the large snack manufacturers going low sugar now or buying brands in that space.
Which country did you break into first outside of the UK?
We wanted to be a global brand and we didn’t have the budgets of the other brands, so we drove a tank into Body Power, the big health and fitness show at the NEC in May 2010 and that was our booth. We got recognised by the health and wellness buyer at GNC in the US and we launched in the US about a year after that.
How do you come up with ideas like this?
Consumers are bombarded with images daily, we wanted to stand out and we wanted a personality but we are very tongue in cheek rather than rude. The best marketing we do is very guerrilla. So if you have a good personality and use it well you can make a little budget go a long way.
How important is social media to your marketing?
Very. We launched in 2010 which was quite early in social media days. We set out to build an army of ambassadors who loved the products. So we built up that a group of ambassadors but we didn’t pay for influencers. Social media gives people a voice and it is easy to reach a lot of people, it’s instant. But on the other side it does give people a voice to be negative about you too. We want people to either love us or hate us.
What’s your death row meal or the one food group you couldn’t live without?
I’m a bit of a picker and I’ve never been a big eater. So I could quite easily live on fruit. If it was my death row meal it would need to be something massively indulgent and really, really cheese based. Something you didn’t have to feel guilty about eating. My main would be a dirty great big plate of fish and chips and dessert would be comfort food, so something like a crumble with lots of custard and fruit.
Do you feel it’s harder for women to get on in business?
I genuinely don’t feel it should matter what gender you are, whether your old or young or what colour you are. If you have a good product and you work hard you should do well. However, I do think there are a lack of female role models in schools. I am a big advocate of mentoring and getting kids to think about business at an early age. I don’t think our education system supports the entrepreneurial side in children.
Put yourself back into the business when you just started what would you have told yourself back then?
That there is loads of support out there. When you start your own business you do genuinely think you are the only person going through those problems. But actually there are loads of phenomenal support networks out there, organisations and mentoring schemes, so do grab onto those if possible and talk to people who have been there and done that too.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to be in your position?
Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and that you love your product and you’re not just doing it just to make money. The money’s great but it was never the motivating factor. I love the business and I have genuine belief in what we are doing. It’s been a phenomenal journey. There were lows, there were desperate lows, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It all makes you the person that you are.
You can find Grenade Products online and in 80 countries around the world.
Look out for more interviews with female founders of food businesses in the coming weeks. In the meantime you can read our interview with Anishya Kumar the founder of Zinda Foods & the AirWrap.