Food start-up uses pandemic to strengthen brand identity

17 August 2020, 08:20 AM
  • OLLY’S saw the coronavirus as an opportunity to transition to a healthy snack brand and increase its online presence
Food start-up uses pandemic to strengthen brand identity

London-based start-up OLLY’S has transitioned to a healthy snack brand by pivoting towards e-commerce amidst the coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, OLLY’S exported its unpasteurised olive snack pouches to nine countries with over 8,000 global stocking points, as well as supplying major airlines, and supermarkets and pubs across the UK. When lockdown hit, the company lost 40% of its monthly revenue virtually overnight, after flights and rail services were cancelled and hospitality outlets closed their doors. What’s more, founder and director Olly Hiscocks was ready to expand his range to include nuts and pretzels when the pandemic hit.

Keen to carry on with his vision, Olly turned his focus to e-commerce, a familiar strategy for many food retailers and brands throughout lockdown. Aside from giving him a new route to market, it provided him with the perfect opportunity to transition to OLLY’S as a brand, releasing more products under the brand.

“We had used ecommerce before, but as soon as the coronavirus hit, we saw a huge opportunity with people going online more to buy products,” Olly told us. “We put all of our product catalogue – which we were selling to places like pubs, theatres and cinemas – online, including our bags of 1kg nuts, the sales of which absolutely sky-rocketed. Before the pandemic, ecommerce sales made up 5% of our total business – now it’s up to 35%.”

By adapting to meet new trends and tap into customer behaviour, OLLY’S has not only managed to stay afloat, but has strengthened its brand image and positioning, whilst enjoying more control over its sales.

“The online side has a simpler set-up because you don’t have a buyer you need to go through; you can just upload your products to your online shop or through Amazon and you’re good to go. You can manage your own promotions and marketing, too, so it just gives you more control. Second to that, you have full accessibility to all of the UK, rather than just being placed into 200 stores.”

Looking to the future, Olly noted that whilst the digital market will continue to grow, the uplift won’t be on the same level as we’ve seen recently, as stores reopen and people begin going back to their offices. But even as the on-the-go and impulse markets return, ecommerce will remain a key focus for the start-up.

The company is also continuing its work with the Department for International Trade to maximise online sales and tap into new markets. With overseas sales accounting for 20% of the company’s annual turnover, this could grow as OLLY’S secures contracts with additional distributors in the GCC, and eyes up further contracts in Australia and the US.

Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart, said: “The fantastic success that OLLY’S has enjoyed is a great example of the power of e-commerce and what can be achieved by overcoming barriers and exporting to new markets.
“More trade is essential to our economic recovery from coronavirus, and that’s why we are negotiating a number of free trade agreements that provide exporters with greater opportunities overseas.”
So how can other independent brands also use the pandemic and changing consumer behaviours to their advantage?
“You need to utilise the online world, because it’s the one place where there isn’t a barrier to entry as such, and in this environment, every step is pivotal,” Olly said. “If you’ve set up a business with a vision, that vision shouldn’t have changed; you’ve just got to see this as a slow down, and hopefully you’ll come out of it stronger.
“In a strange way, this is one of the best things that has happened to us – the slight slowdown in sales and channels allowed us to focus on and fast-track other products, and we’ve come out of this stronger.”

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