Graze launched its subscription box service for healthy snacks in the UK a decade ago. As much a tech company as a food maker, three years later the group had already attracted 100,000 ‘grazers’ (as it calls its subscribers).
Expansion continued apace. In 2013-14 Graze entered the US and by 2015 it was being approached by UK retailers looking for healthier snacking options to carry at the checkout. The group is now in over 30,000 distribution points and is carried by Sainsbury’s, WH Smiths, Tesco and Boots.
Category development manager Penny Mackintosh reflected that the group’s online presence supported its transition into bricks-and-mortar retail. “Our online platform has driven awareness of the brand,” she said at the TasteWales conference this week. “By the time we entered UK retail, 80% of UK consumers were already aware of the brand.”
Moving from digital to traditional retail channels was an important step for Graze. With 80% of snack category spending occurring in take-home-retail, it was an opportunity too big to ignore. The company’s sales are now split 60-40 between the two, Mackintosh revealed.
Insight and innovation support transition
Graze’s tech-based approach to data and insight has been crucial to its development and supported its transition from clicks to bricks.
The company asks its ‘grazers’ for feedback and reviews of the snacks they receive in their subscription boxes – helping to inform Graze’s understanding of the category and predict future trends.
“We sit on a database of over one billion ratings of snacks globally. That gives us an amazing insight into the snacks market,” Mackintosh noted. “Innovation is the life-blood of the Graze business… [On average] a new product is launched every two days.”
This speed to market is “one of the big things” that sets Graze apart.
Data – and the insight it provides – boost the company's agility and speedy product development pipeline. Graze's innovation team is able to spot trends early, Mackintosh claimed, pointing to a six-month lead time between Graze identifying the “veggie protein trend” in the US and creating a range of snacking bags that bring protein into that area in the UK.
Fail fast, fix fast
The company utilises data and consumption ratings as a launch model for innovation. Quick feedback on products also enables Graze to de-risk the innovation process.
“Failing fast on its own is not enough – it is about fixing fast,” Mackintosh explained.
For example, the group rolled out a triple pack of protein cereal bars that did not perform as well as anticipated. “Within six months of launch we had completely changed and relaunched the brand [as protein bites],” she continued. This response was so fast that Graze actually had to keep manufacturing the under performing SKU until Sainsbury's was ready to update its stock list: "We had to wait for Sainsbury's to be ready."
This nimbleness is an important competitive advantage when compared to larger food manufacturers, Mackintosh – who has previously worked at giants such as KraftHeinz – observed. Big brands follow an often complex and convoluted innovation process to bring new products to market. “The lack of speed in that process means you are missing the trend,” Mackintosh warned.
This fresh approach to innovation was likely an appealing characteristic for Unilever, which outbid the likes of Kellogg and PepsiCo to take control of Graze for a reported £150m earlier this year.
Announcing the deal last month, Nitin Paranjpe, president of Unilever’s Food & Refreshment business, said Unilever will utilise Graze’s technology for other parts of its e-commerce portfolio.
“Graze is the leading healthy snacking brand in the UK – delivering consumers fabulously tasty snacking options, delivered in beautiful packaging. A truly multichannel brand, Graze offers personalization, convenience and great nutrition, brilliantly meeting the needs of millennial consumers," Paranjpe said at the time.
Mackintosh said that the companies will operate on a stand-alone basis. “This will be a platform for us to expand our growth,” she predicted.