How to create a health food or drink business in seven steps

By João Gouveia, Founder of INIU

The markets for health foods and health drinks are growing ones, with new trends emerging constantly. And if you’re dreaming of starting your own business and creating a vibrant brand there is a lot to consider.  To help you cut through the noise and decide where to focus here are some steps to take, based on my own experience starting INIU.

What’s the big idea?

Define your ‘what’ and more importantly identify your ‘why’. The ‘what’ is usually the easy bit, but the ‘why’ is the critical part as this will form the basis of your brand story and the passion that drives you forward.

My “what” is simple – fresh juice. My “why” was around wanting to be healthy, not having to spend endless hours shopping, and avoiding being stuck in the kitchen combining ingredients to make this fresh juice for me and my family. I set out to create a product that solved a problem that affected me directly; a case of scratching your own itch.

What’s important though is that I then asked, “why keep this idea small?”

Don’t stop at ‘what’ and ‘why’ – take it further. Ask where and when. How big can your idea get? For example, I wanted to think globally because as a father of four I can’t help but think about the future. And I’m aware of the impact at various levels that the processed foods and livestock farming industries have on our health and the health of our planet.

Now you have your ‘where’ (e.g. globally) you also need your ‘when’; in the near or the distant future? How soon do you want to make this a reality? How soon can you take the first steps, then the second…

Finally, are there new markets you push into in the future? For example, with INIU, we can tackle snacking. Forget thinking big, start thinking huge.

Once you have your what, why, where and when – ask yourself, “what would just one step before that huge idea look like? And one step before that?” And so on. With these answers you’ll have created your plan.

Will people want my product?

The only way you’re going to figure this one out is via testing. Test your idea or product on as many different and diverse people as possible. To find out whether other people will enjoy it and hopefully want to buy it, you need to have them taste it and then, all importantly, you must to absorb that feedback.

Even with a small initial test-group, if people like it and want to buy it, you could have yourself a market. That’s when it’s time to widen the net, start testing larger focus groups (people that aren’t your friends) and creating incrementally larger quantities of the product to get it into people’s hands.

Investing in market research is an investment in the fine-tuning of your product. Everything from public demand and target markets to key geographical locations can come from market research and should then all be filtered down into your eventual marketing plan.

Don’t forget also to research your competition so you truly understand the market.

What’s the next step?

Once you‘ve validated your idea you need to turn it into a product, and that means figuring out how and where to produce it.

In our case, getting the recipes right required working with several professional nutritionists. They can help you balance ingredient combinations so that they not only taste great but are also good for you. Engage experts to help you – even if you think you have the knowledge in-house, bringing external expertise into the process is a good idea; you don’t know what you don’t know! Then find a production facility that can make your product – you want one that has the capacity to scale-up as your business grows.

Defining your brand

You’re not just launching another drink or food item to the market; you are launching a new brand with its own identity. It’s important to start thinking about this at an early stage, and to trademark it so that no copycats are able to steal the results of your hard work.

As Richard Branson says, in Business Stripped Bare: “Brands exist as a means of communicating what to expect from a product or service – or to highlight the family likeness between different products and services.”

Part of your brand identity should be knowing what makes you different to (and hopefully better than) everything else out there. This differentiation will be vital to targeting your chosen consumers. Your brand, its story and its potential are all part of the product that they’re buying into.

To start with your resources won’t be huge, so you need an effective way to reach your target market. Work with ambassadors and influencers that truly believe in your product, treat your loyal customers well and nurture that special relationship with them so that they become brand ambassadors themselves, sharing your brand message all over social media. It’s true that there’s no better marketing than word of mouth. However, that doesn’t mean that a single penny you put into traditional digital and print marketing would be wasted. Look at options for PR, social media, blogging, YouTube, paid advertising and exhibitions. Each brand will have different needs. It’s always best to consider every option and to understand its benefits, challenges and costs.  Then you can make the best decisions.

How to stand out

As a consumer’s first impression of your product, your packaging plays a vital role in making your brand recognisable. It needs to stand out from your competitors.

Your product’s packaging reflects who you are as a brand; it’s your voice, style and individuality. While initially you might be tempted to DIY your packaging, I would strongly advise against it. Get it done professionally and you’ll look professional; be sure to work and keep working with the designers until you’re genuinely happy with the result. Be practical and make sure your packaging is robust, especially if you will be sending it to customers by post. Also for food products how the product interacts with the packaging is very important.

Then it’s back to the focus groups, friends, existing customer base, social media AB testing and market research. Test your design out for 12 months or so and be prepared to redesign after that if you (or your advisors) feel it needs it.

Focus on the business of business

Make sure you crunch your numbers well. Work out your pricing and be certain you have factored in all your possible costs and margins. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but you also don’t want to price yourself out of making money. Do the maths – then do them again.

To attract retailers you need a clear, definable USP. Leveraging customer feedback and demonstrating demand will also improve your chances of bagging a retail contract. The product is the main attraction, but it needs an audience to get a platform. Retailers need to be confident that it will sell – not just take up valuable space on their shelves.

Although you’re not going to be able to tackle multiple sales channels at first, keep your options open and make careful strategic decisions on which to tackle first. As tempting as the retailer route may be, you have to consider the time it takes to negotiate these contracts and the facilities needed to meet their volume demand. There may be other channels you can pursue, including direct to consumer, that will still get your product out there.

Your business will not survive without cashflow, so make sure to calculate your outgoings and ensure they won’t squash your ability to generate revenue. While you don’t expect to turn a profit immediately, you need to plan your financials as if your survival depends on it, because it does.

Emphasise the power of teamwork

However skilled and knowledgeable you are If you try do it all on your own, it will not only take you longer, but each struggle will be tougher, and you’ll soon find yourself second guessing each decision. The key to growing your business and scaling up quickly is to make the most of the experience, knowledge and innovative thinking of others on your team.

Look for people who are passionate about the brand, are highly skilled, and above all have a strong work ethic; they will need it – and you will need them. Look for people who are different from you, and have complementary skills. Fill any gaps.

Creating a new brand and business is hard work but it is rewarding.  With a strong team you’ll have the best chance of success. I wish you a healthy business with healthy profits and opportunities to grow huge!

João Gouveiais the founder of INIU – a range of functional fruit and vegetable juices that are 100% natural, with no added sugar, preservatives or other additives. Cryogenically frozen, INIU juices retain up to 99% of their nutrients and taste; as good as if you’d made them yourself. Store the juice in your freezer and when you’re ready simply add water and blend. A fresh, 100% natural juice with all the best bits of nature in under a minute.

Launched in Portugal in 2017, INIU was nominated for the Innovation Award at the Food Entrepreneur Show 2018 in London and is now launching in the UK. INIU’s mission is to develop products built on the foundations of health and convenience.

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