Inside Eat Natural’s success factory
Eat Natural bakes 100,000 health food bars a day. Co-founder Praveen Vijh explains how
Forget everything else. Without our factory we'd be nothing.
For a company in the health food industry ingredients have to be top quality, and the brand, marketing, and staff are vital. But our custom built factory is where everything comes together.
You're no doubt thinking that's glaringly obvious for a company manufacturing fruit and nut bars. But our point of difference is that the products we make are ‘un-manufactured'. Simple mass production would be easy, with a need for only three or four machine operators. But we employ 50 to get the required results.
Every bar is made up of around 65% fruit and nuts, whereas other products would perhaps have up to 10%. We strictly refuse to use binders, fillers, preservatives, and artificial flavours or colours that make life easy for others. To achieve our soft touch we've had to invent machinery with manufacturers in Wales and Holland to do what we demand of it – make virtually handmade bars on a relatively large scale. It's a scientific process and one that has become evermore challenging as we've grown from nothing in 1997 to a £9m turnover today. For example, glucose and honey have to be combined at just the right time as it's a chemical reaction like any other. Equally for the bars that use Belgian chocolate you get no second chance with the melting and setting: Once it is reset it cannot be remelted. Macadamia nuts are another issue. It is the most expensive nut in the world and each bar is 10% macadamias. The problem is they go rancid very quickly, so with no preservatives their inclusion, like everything else is all down to timing.
Our method is more than simply dropping production into a factory space. For us it's the other way around. We have to simulate production as if it was the kitchen at home.
After all, home cooking was how we came up with the recipe in the first place. The morning after a dinner party with cofounders Preet Grewal and Bill Porter, we decided the market was saturated with unhealthy convenience food, Preet and I experimented in the kitchen and came up with a high quality fruit and nut bar.
We agreed on some recipes and the kitchen treatment got bigger. We started with an empty warehouse in Halstead, Essex, where each of our subsequent factories have been. The first factory cost around £35,000. It took a year to 18 months to devise it as we don't believe in borrowing. For that reason the scale of production was relatively small. But it was at least easier to replicate ‘home-cooking'. We repaid the outlay in six months, but outgrew it soon after and have continued to outgrow every factory since. For instance, in the past two years we've grown 200% and have the fastest growth rate of the top 25 health bars.
Our second, third and fourth factories set us back a total of £500,000 – a big contract with prestigious Dutch supermarket group Albert Heijn provided further impetus to upgrade. We're now in the process of designing and building our fifth, which at £500,000 will be three times as expensive as anything out there remotely similar.
We've now got nine flavours and produce between 70,000 and 100,000 bars a day, as well as breakfast cereal mixes, although it's still nothing compared to some of the larger brands. We're stocked in 8,500 outlets in the UK, including Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and Superdrug, and export to 13 different countries. And by the time you read this we'll probably be working on factory number six.