Juliet Barratt: Businesses should be “sensitive” to cost of living

The business tycoon and founder of Grenade tells us about her impressive journey, and the importance of corporate sensitivity in today’s economic climate.

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As inflation hits a 40-year high, today’s manufacturers are seeing prices rise faster than sterling can fall. Any firm that relies on the sourcing of raw materials is affected – as are its customers.

It's a problem that Juliet Barratt is sympathetic to. She founded Grenade during a recession with her husband Alan Barratt. Together, the couple raised the protein-bar for sports nutrition startups, providing healthy snacks to health-conscious buyers.

Now, having sold the business, Barratt has collaborated with the FEBE Growth 100 on its list of the top entrepreneurs in the UK. Plus, she’s helping the companies through the various growth challenges of today’s startup scene.

We caught up with Barratt for her take on wellness post-COVID, and how new businesses can scale up when their consumers tighten the purse strings.

Let the buyer be-aware

Today’s headlines don’t paint the most optimistic of pictures for new startups. The cost-of-living crisis is squeezing UK households, leading small businesses to bear the brunt as consumers cut back on spending.

“We know that not everyone's going to be able to buy the products”, Barratt acknowledges. “If you're asking somebody to spend three quid on a protein bar, it's a big investment. Some people have only got £10 to spend on food during a week.”

Some well-known brands have taken the route of shrinkflation as an answer to the issue. Examples include Walkers, which last year cut two bags of crisps from its 24-bag multipacks while the price stayed at £3.50.

But Barratt warns against this tactic which she says can lead to consumers feeling “ripped off and disappointed in the product.” Instead, she recommends brands demonstrate “sensitivity” to the cost-of-living crisis.

“If you have to put prices up, which a lot of brands are, you need to tell your consumers why,” Barratt advises. “Transparency goes a long way. The one thing you don't want to compromise on is the ingredients and selling short to people. They see straight through it.”

Launching a grenade

Grenade built its community by first establishing itself in the health and fitness space, gathering a group of athletes that were bona fide fans of the product.

Separately, they told their following about Grenade and its most popular bar the ‘Carb Killa’, helping to attract audiences via a clever, but authentic, sales funnel.

If you have to put prices up, which a lot of brands are, you need to tell your consumers why.

Barratt credits establishing that emotional connection with customers as a way to give more value than just the end-product.

“If you try and sell to consumers at the moment, they're just going to get turned off. But if you can build that very credible, genuine brand that understands the consumer, and brings out products that benefit the consumer, then I think you'll stand the test of time.”

Carb Killa

Through these various channels, Grenade users received not just a food item, but a recipe, a workout, or an interview with a fitness guru.

“We did have to educate people, you know, we had to tell them about the benefits of eating protein. A lot of women were asking ‘Oh, am I going to get Hench?’

“That's where I think we did really well at Grenade because we built a very genuine, intelligent group of ambassadors that use the product.”

Informing customers of the health benefits of protein was a way for Grenade to create consumer demand for the products – something Barratt claims is important for new businesses to succeed.

Barratt cites The Skinny Food Co., ranked sixth on this year’s FEBE 100 list. The firm specialises in healthy treats including syrups and creams.

“They're not reinventing the wheel,” Barratt stresses, “they're just doing a different version of something that consumers already know.”

The future looks well

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest winners from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the wellbeing sector.

Months of messaging on the importance of physical and mental fitness have made health a top priority for consumers – part of the reason we ranked it as one of our business trends for 2022.

We built a very genuine, intelligent group of ambassadors that use the product.

Still, overall market growth has stalled. Inflation hit 9.1% in May, causing costs to surge. Nutritional items are certainly a luxury, not a necessity – Grenade’s own protein-packed recipes mean its products can cost as much as £3.

How does Barratt think specialist food startups should approach launching in the current climate?

“I think people have to be a lot more inventive,” Barratt says, “the food brands that are growing now are the ones that are doing something slightly different.

“[When we started Grenade] there were so many products out there in the sports nutrition space that were very generic and had scientific names like Xenadrine. As soon as you stepped outside of the health store, you couldn't remember what they were called.”

To ensure their name stood out, the partners tried another tactic. Recalling a comment made during their product trials that the business would “go off like a grenade” the Barratts spoke to a tool maker in Birmingham to ask for a grenade-shaped product container.

That decision has shaped the company’s entire marketing strategy. Today, the Grenade logo has become instantly recognisable amongst UK supermarket confectionary aisles.

The hand that feeds the startup

Of course, getting your brand noticed has become a difficult challenge given the overcrowded market that is wellness. Wholesale and retail trade is the third-biggest sector in the UK and is estimated to be worth over £1 trillion globally.

Barratt recommends tapping into some of the UK’s entrepreneurial networks for help.

“[Grenade was] on the Sunday Times fast track for six years and the people we met through those events were invaluable,” she divulges.

“There are just so many businesses on the FEBE list that have grown so much in a couple of years, which is a testament to how strong we are as an entrepreneurial country.”

Food for thought

Today’s business climate might feel thin on opportunities but, as the FEBE 100 shows, there are still plenty of success stories emerging in the UK – proof that there will always be consumer demand if an idea is strong enough.

Barratt sold the Grenade business in 2019, to American snack giant, Mondelez for £200m. But she remains committed to helping businesses to attract and retain customers through the current turmoil.

“We think outside the box in the UK,” Barratt observes. “We try to make the best of bad situations.

“We got through Brexit, people got through COVID-19. Businesses in the UK will find it tough, but they will get through it.”

Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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