30 May 2018, 14:00 PM
  • There’s never been a better time for ‘disruptor’ brands to ruffle the feathers of establishment companies, explains Ian Hills, founder of Purple Pilchard
Has there ever been a better time for disruptor brands?

Not so long ago, ‘disruptor’ brands were usually launched by well-to-do, former ‘blue chip’ bigwigs from ‘corporate world’ looking for a new challenge or a better work/life balance. Their enviable career paths, vast contacts lists and encyclopedic grasp of the UK’s food and drink sector meant significant stashes of investment funds were regularly made available for these charismatic pillars of foodie society to unpick the passive, ‘closed shop’ categories they’d spent so long establishing.

Founders today appear younger, bolder and less stifled by decades of corporate indoctrination. These are impatient high flyers with itchy feet, who aren’t prepared to sit on the sidelines for someone else to stumble across that amazing idea that’s been keeping them awake at night.

Ever wider access to social media, the internet, serial food-preneurs (Giles Brook, Paul Hargreaves, John Shepherd and so on), seed capital and a growing tranche of support agencies, (who’ll accept smaller fees in return for being part of a new product category adventure) means it’s now perfectly feasible to test out an inquisitive marketplace on a tight budget.

Even traditionally risk-averse retailers are now choosing to line up with open minds and thoughtful incubator schemes to unveil the next tranche of meaningful discovery brands that will help them secure either a short-term competitor advantage or reduced dependence on corporate behemoths.

Key watershed moments like the obesity crisis, the war on sugar and the rise of dynamic minority food interests (organic, free, from, veganism, raw) have provided impetus for fledgling brands to make their move, unconstrained by energy-sapping focus groups or boardroom dithering.

Larger-than-life founders of pioneering brands like Rebel Kitchen, Dash, Made for Drink, Squirrel Sisters, Pip & Nut, Ombar, Doisy & Dam and Shaken Udder have helped foster a home-grown foodie renaissance, aided by the growing unknown of Brexit and a gritty determination to showcase this island’s too often overlooked foodie pedigree.

20 years ago the brands that really stood out were the likes of innocent and , which traded on larger-than-life, non-establishment personalities.

Today’s discovery brands need more than lovely photography or a pithy label to stand proud from the crowd. If brands like Three Little Pigs and Yeo Valley stand for local ingredient provenance and best-in-class recipes, brands like Coldpress and Ombar have forged paths pioneering new age thinking (HPP) and alternative production, whilst foodie geniuses like Rebel Kitchen have taken once overtly worthy products into the indulgent mainstream.

Loyalty, however, comes at a price! This is an intolerant time for misleading marketing. It’s all very well hearing about ‘small batches’ or companies that mash and infuse their ingredients by hand, but if your products still roll down a conveyor belt and there’s no discernible taste advantage is this really news?

Then there are those start-ups who are small only in name, actively outsourcing their production to large-scale manufacturers whilst refusing to be honest about these small snags in their compelling brand story. It feels very wrong that smaller businesses who can truly claim their products are handmade by them, aren’t needlessly disadvantaged by wordsmith skullduggery. Of course, it shouldn’t really matter if you outsource your products, just as long as you are honest with your consumers so they fully comprehend what makes your brand truly unique.

Ian Hills is the founder of marketing agency Purple Pilchard. You can find him tweeting at @purplepilchard