Cutting through the wackaging

From a garden shed in South London to over 600 stores across the country, Luke Johnstone and Alex Stewart share their lessons on building a fast-growth frozen smoothie company

Luke Johnstone and Alex Stewart have come a long way from their early days as entrepreneurs. They started their frozen smoothie kit company from a garden shed in South London eighteen months ago and now, PACK’D is available across the country.

The trillion-dollar global health food market suggests a wide scope for growth in the sector. But as Johnstone and Stewart discovered upon breaking into the UK’s £1.5 million fruit juice and smoothie market, being healthy has become unnecessarily complicated.

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It all started when athletically inclined Johnstone realised just how many fruit juices and smoothies are falsely advertised as healthy. “We want to make healthy living easy, by providing an antidote to the pre-bottled drinks pretending to be healthy, also saving people the hassle of making quality homemade alternatives from scratch,” he told Growth Business. “We cut through the ‘wackaging’, purees, high sugar and corporate giants by providing real nutrition that does what it says.”

Johnstone left his job at the BBC behind, and got together with his school friend, Alex Stewart to set up the company in 2014, working out of his garden shed for the first few months of their partnership.

The first year was the hardest

“The hardest part of the process was developing the product. To survive as a small business during (the first year) was tough. We ran a smoothie market stall through The Princes’ Trust to keep momentum going,” Johnstone added.

Once the duo got through to the major supermarkets, that very momentum they had pushed for started to gain traction. “We think the range spoke for itself and our passion was crystal clear. We went from initial meetings to on the shelves in what felt like a very short space of time.”

Rapid growth

Staying true to their South London roots, Johnstone and Stewart are currently based at Pop Brixton, a community project providing affordable space for start-ups and local businesses. The PACK’D Smoothie Kits are already stocked in over 30 independent stores across the country, including Planet Organic, Whole Foods and As Nature Intended, and in several London restaurants and independent gyms, in addition to 333 Sainsbury’s stores, 305 Tesco Express stores, and 27 Costco from April.

Staying ahead of the competition

“Our focus is on simple health and nutrition to help people fuel their goals. This resonates with today’s customer who wants to take ownership of their diets and enjoy healthy convenient food and drink,” Johnstone explains, acknowledging just how saturated the health food market is in the UK.

Research into consumer spending reveals this to be true. One in three consumers would recommend brands they trust to others, and one in six are prepared to pay a higher price for these products. But just how can a growing business build that trust to stand out from corporate behemoths?

PACK’D works with the guidance of a nutritionist, for one. The company’s press kit goes on to outline other qualities setting it apart from the competition, including that each kit makes two smoothies, contains two frozen fruit and vegetable portions, and are flash-frozen so they don’t need to be pasteurised, which can strip fruit of its nutrients.

The company is predicted to grow exponentially in the coming year. At last week’s World Food Innovation Awards, PACK’D won Best New Health or Wellness Product, and was a finalist in a number of other categories. The company also received a Shell LiveWIRE Innovation Award in 2014, and has backing from The Prince’s Trust and Virgin Start Up. PACK’D investors include David Krantz, founder of fashion giant Racing Green and an investor in Planet Organic and former CEO of Space NK, and Peter Lassman, a former director at Chrysalis PLC.

Summarising the key lessons they have learned in their entrepreneurship journey, Johnstone said: “Don’t assume anything. High standards and attention to detail are crucial. The small margins count.”

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