From Innocent to independent: BOL shares its top 5 tips for success


When smoothie maker Innocent ceased production of its food range, former Head of Foods, Paul Brown, saw a rather convenient opportunity. Convinced of the potential of the axed veg and noodle pot ranges, Paul brought in nutritional experts, new suppliers, hand-picked his team and launched BOL Foods. Here he shares his five strategies for success.

Paul Brown

Paul Brown, the former Head of Food at Innocent, founded BOL Foods in 2014 following Innocent’s strategic decision to cease its food production arm. Brown raised £500,000 in seed capital to re-launch the line, and his range of healthy ready meals is now stocked by four major supermarkets.

Paul Brown

At a glance - BOL foods

At the heart of everything I do is a basic understanding of busy people. I know that there are plenty of busy people who want to eat well – their intentions are good, but their time is limited. I know it because I’m one of them. I like to cook from scratch but my lifestyle doesn’t always allow it, and convenient options often mean a compromise on taste, health or quality. That compromise means there’s market demand not being met.

It’s not guesswork. I know the UK spends £3bn on ready meals. Currently the healthier choices section within ready meals accounts for a small fraction of the market, but the Allegra Taste of the Future 2020 report clearly identified healthier eating as the top long-term consumer trend affecting the UK food sector. The opportunity is clear.

1. Find the consumer need

Seeing a gap in the market isn’t enough – you have to build a response that’s tailored to fit. For any new product, service or business, your concept has to start with the consumer. Understand the consumer need and work back from there – see where it takes you. In some respects that has been easier for me because healthy eating was a personal priority so I already understood the mindset, and felt passionately about it. I was frustrated with the lack of healthy, convenient options - so I was that consumer, and that gave me confidence that there was a clear need not being met.

2. Step out of your comfort zone

You can’t afford to be complacent in business. Change is inevitable, so embrace it – a new way of doing things, a new product or a whole new venture can be daunting, but invigorating.

It’s not easy to strike out on your own, for example. Working for 14 years for an incredible company like Innocent was a comfort blanket that gave me security and excitement. Moving out of that zone is quite an intimidating thing. But, to borrow an adage from Nike, sometimes you need to 'just do it.'

Have the belief, resilience and tenacity to keep knocking down walls and convincing your stakeholders to believe. You won’t always get a ‘yes’. At one point I was told no at every single junction, by pretty much everybody, or so it felt! It’s all part of the battle.

Ultimately, I secured £500,000 in seed capital from a consortium of investors including Jam Jar Investments, the angel investment fund created by Innocent’s founders - three business people who I hold in high respect. Although it helped to already have a working relationship with these investors, I approached it in the same way everyone needs to in order to secure financial backing – with a well thought through business plan. I would advise anybody in this position to carry out a ‘pre mortem’ on all key assumptions in order to be fully prepped for any challenge that comes your way. Once the vision and business plan is set you must pitch that idea with serious passion and conviction.

3. Find the right people

That same belief, resilience and tenacity is needed when it comes to recruitment. You need to build an amazing team around you, but be prepared - the right people are usually settled in good jobs and convincing them to join a start-up that's pretty high risk is a challenge. It’s easier once you’re more established but you should never take real talent for granted.

You also need a degree of personal acceptance. I have two young children and I have to accept that I'm not going to be around as much as I would perhaps like. Sacrificing short-term loss for long-term benefit is something you have to factor in.

4. Always be guided by your ‘North Star’

Passion goes a long way. I’m tapping into my passion for a concept, creating a brand and proposition that truly represents my ideas. Having said that, we all sit with friends and family talking about business ideas, but actually translating that into something tangible is harder than I expected!

You have to find your ‘North Star’ and stay true to it – mine is providing tasty meals for busy people who want to eat well. I won’t compromise on that guiding principle.

5. Keep moving

To take your business forward the product really must deliver. Innocent, for example, led the way for a decade bringing amazing products to market, leading with innovation and staying ahead of the game. As a start-up you can’t get away with being second best. You have to aim high. It’s an ambition that will serve you well as you become more established – if you keep it front of mind.

We’re 100% focused on food and want to be right on the edge of trends. For us, that means bringing great innovation to market on a yearly basis. I personally go on ‘food safari’, travelling around to track trends as well as working with lots of great chefs and nutritionists who are constantly scouring the world for the next quinoa or kale. I don’t just sit and wait for new ideas to become mainstream - I want to seek them out.

Our strategy is to generate more than £50m in retail sales within five years, and I’m confident we’ll do it.

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