UK consumers are snacking more. According to data from Statista, revenue in the country’s snack food segment totals US$4.55bn and the market is expected to grow annually by 2.1% through to 2023.
Snack entrepreneur Dan Featherstone, founder of Made for Drink, believes that we are ‘absolutely’ witnessing something of a renaissance in the snack category, as innovation focused on healthier options and stand-out flavours appeals to ‘foodie’ shoppers.
“There are some amazing businesses out there creating their own niche and doing some amazing things. Snack businesses like Boundless, Prime Bar and Can-D Foods are all businesses that I see doing something unique and at the beginnings of a much bigger movement which they have created,” he told FoodNavigator.
“What’s more, they all play an important role in creating diversity and choice in our food industry which to me all supports a healthier balanced lifestyle.”
But standing out in a crowded space is no easy task. This is underlined by Kantar Worldpanel’s research into snacking, which noted a 21% jump in the number of ‘unique’ flavour combinations in savoury snacks.
“Consumer interest in food trends, and media coverage of street food and health, have eventually trickled down into the category,” Kantar’s Benjy Owusu-Daaku commented.
Made for Drink believes it has found the recipe to distinguish itself on shelf – or more accurately bar – by championing ‘best in class gourmet snacks’ that are ‘paired perfectly’ with the nation’s most popular tipples.
Perfectly paired partnerships
Made for Drink produces three core SKUs inspired by food and beverage combinations from around Europe: Duck Fritons + IPA, Chorizo Thins + Rjoca & Mangalitza Salami Chips + Fruity Pilsners.
It has also taken on a ‘snacking councillor’ role to develop snacks that pair with well known drinks brands. These partnerships include a tie-up with high-end wine producer Laurent Perrier that sees lotus root crisps with a Tongarashi-Sishimi style seasoning paired with Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose.
Made for Drinks has also worked with Molson Coors. Here, the directive was an appropriate snack that could sit side by side with their growing Colorado beer brand, Blue Moon. The ‘torch paper moment’ was linking the region’s rock climbing and food culture to create what the company describes as ‘quite possibly the world’s most decadent trail mix ever’. The recipe consists of: roasted almonds, candied orange peel, toasted coriander seeds, crispy confit duck and cured kampot pepper berries.
‘Where it all began’: Heston’s The Crown pub in Bray
Made for Drink was founded back in May 2016. For Featherstone, the business started life as a ‘purely personal project’.
“I wanted to see if I could design a product and brand to meet a gap in the market. I wrote myself a brief and designed products at home in my kitchen that would meet that brief. It was only as this project really took hold of me and I was spending every spare hour working on this project, did I think, perhaps I could give it a go in a real pub. Really see if it could work. And if I was to put it into one pub, what was the best pub I could think of?”
That one pub was Heston Blumenthal’s pub The Crown in Bray.
“I managed to get a meeting with the general manager and head chef. It was and still is the best meeting I’ve ever had because they liked the products, thought there was an opportunity and if I could make it and package it properly and legally they would trial it.”
Launching into such a prestigious venue has had a profound influence on the ethos of the Made for Drink business.
“We take all of our employees out for lunch at The Crown in Bray within the first couple of weeks of starting to not only experience where it all began, but to most importantly, realise that the food we make is served in some of the world’s most exceptional food and drink establishments. Sometimes when you are cleaning under a fridge you can forget the real reasons why you are doing those things.”
Three years on and Made for Drink is a business that employs eight people full-time and produces all its own products in purpose-built commercial kitchens in Maidenhead. Its snacks are available in 600 outlets across the UK. Excitingly, Featherstone told us, the company is ‘at the beginnings’ of launching a joint venture in the US.
Establishing a start-up is ‘incredibly hard'
“The joy of serving food to others is such a wonderful thing. It genuinely stirs something deep within me… It is pretty much this reason why I run my business, why we run our own production and why our brand, Made For Drink, stands as a mark for the products we make.”
But if Featherstone makes setting up shop sound easy, that isn’t his intention. He believes the biggest obstacles for any founder are ‘always the same’: self-doubt, cash flow, making and selling products.
“Don’t get me wrong. Establishing, running and scaling up your own production is incredibly hard and it takes money and a consistent effort from the whole team to make it succeed. But whatever situation we find ourselves in I always think that we are in charge of our destiny,” he elaborated.
Are we healthy? Absolutely not
Consumers are growing ever more health conscious and the desire to indulge in a premium snacking experience often collides with this concern.
Featherstone revealed that the question he is most commonly asked when he is sampling is ‘are they healthy? “My stock answer is always: Absolutely not. We are all about Friday night.”
But, he continued, honesty is proving the best policy and consumers are far from put off by his response.
“Consumers are wising up to brands pushing these so-called health messages – because ‘health’ is actually such a personal thing and there is a place for everything as long as it’s in balance and a part of a genuinely healthy lifestyle. And a healthy lifestyle absolutely means enjoying yourself.
“Things that are simply made to be delicious, like our Duck Fritons, just shouldn’t be eaten every day. Keep them for the weekend when good company and drink deserves something exceptional to accompany them.”
Taking on the snack giants: 'We are streets ahead'
Made for Drink might be a premium offering but Featherstone said that he views all mainstream snack makers as competition and he does not shy away from the idea that he will be coming up against the giants of the snacking world, from PepsiCo to Mars.
“Our competitive set is anybody taking a pound that could have been spent on us – depending on the channel or customer this could actually be anyone, ranging from Walkers crisps to Mars or even McCain.”
Featherstone stressed that there is space in the massive snack sector to ‘find a niche’ and develop ‘small business’. This might sound humble at first – until you realise he is actually talking about ultimately carving out a whole new snacking category. “If you can find a niche and develop it you can build quite a nice small business that makes a difference to you and others. And in some cases, it starts to build a new movement and even a new category.”
Made for Drinks is already witnessing mainstream retail success. In a trial the company recently ran with Sainsbury’s not only did the group ‘exceed the average rate of sale for the category’ – it did so at a £1.06 premium to the average category retail price. “We did this by bringing in new customers to the snacks category, who otherwise previously were not buying into it,” Featherstone believes.
And this plucky challenger brand is not afraid of making waves.
“I see others all the time, getting in on either our pairing positioning, trying to mimic our products and we were even blocked from a major sports stadium contract by a scale competitor recently who had bought the rights which then excluded us. But I always think, if someone is watching you that much and trying to copy your every move then the best they will ever be is the wake that you have left behind. We are already streets ahead.”