Savse the best for last: Guka Tavberidze on launching the UK’s first cold-pressed smoothie brand

Guka Tavberidze founded Savse to bring fresh smoothies to every household. Here's how it all began.

Five years ago, the closest thing to bottled smoothies available in stores across the UK were mixed fruit juices, often saturated with sugar and additives. When Guka Tavberidze introduced Savse to the world, the UK’s health foods market was just stirring. Having grown up drinking a special blend of fruits and vegetable smoothies as a child, and predicting the impending groundswell of the health movement, Tavberidze launched Savse (Georgian for ‘crammed full’), with just £250 in personal investment and his mother’s smoothie recipes.

Now the smoothie brand is in over 10,000 stores nationwide, including Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, ASDA, Boots, Co-Op, Ocado, Selfridges and Whole Foods and has a turnover of £10 million with substantial growth forecast for next year.

The biggest turning point for Savse came when Tavberidze went against conventional wisdom, followed his gut, and cold-pressed the ingredients through a process called high pressure processing (HPP), to keep the nutritional value of the drinks in tact; something which standard smoothies simply cannot do.

From preparing for rapid growth to staving off copycats, here’s his start-up story.

How did it all begin?

I wanted the fresh smoothies my mum made on a daily basis. The market is saturated now, but it wasn’t when I started. You couldn’t go to a coffee shop or a store and just pick up smoothies. It wasn’t a concept in the UK. The assumption was that people into green smoothies were health freaks. I kept telling everybody, just wait a few years, you won’t be able to find a place where you can’t get a green smoothie.

Having understood what existed in the market early on, that’s about five to seven years ago, I knew sugar was going to be a massive talking point. I wanted to change the drinks market for the better. It was a massive perseverance from my side.

The question I faced was how do I take what my mother made in her kitchen and bring it to the public? I had no idea where to start. I was told by an industry specialist that pasteurisation was the only way, but I absolutely refused. Once you pasteurise a drink, you’re basically cooking it, and that degrades the nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables. That’s where I came across cold-pressed smoothies as a way of giving consumers something home made but convenient.

What gave you the push you needed to take the risk?

The consumer doesn’t know what the consumer wants unless you give it to them. You have to be crazy enough to take a risk. At the beginning, I made it at the right time. The appeal of smoothies and healthy drinks was slowly coming to the fore. After going through all the ‘Nos’ and the rejection, I finally found a way of making it the way I wanted it to be. I went to speak to Waitrose, and they said it’s incredible, but who else knows about the product? Go out there, make noise, and we’ll list you. That was a blessing in disguise.

Every rejection comes with a message within in. Had (Waitrose) registered me at that time, it would have been a disaster for me. I was alone at the time, and I couldn’t have coped with the demand. In hindsight, it was a blessing.

I went after the special chains rather than the big retailers, including all the health food stores, where consumers were actively looking for products like this. Then bigger retailers came calling.

How did the industry react?

In terms of the industry, it’s competitive, and bigger brands have the resources to crush smaller brands. That’s not what Savse stands for. We were the first and we paved the way for everyone to come into the cold-pressed concept. As a brand, we don’t believe in copying what somebody else is doing. It’s a case of being the first, and staying true to what the consumer wants.

But on the other hand, there are some big brands are copying everything we do. There are existing brands entering the cold-pressed and HPP (high pressure processing) space. What are they? Are they pasteurised or cold-pressed? It’s not good for the consumers because these companies are sending mixed messages.

To me, it says it’s not the consumer they care about, it’s about saturating the market and driving out smaller brands. We’re the leaders, and innovators and nobody can touch that.

How did you raise funding, and why?

We had investment in the brand. I personally don’t believe in crowdfunding. I wouldn’t want thousands of people investing in the brand especially at this stage. I went to speak to a few private equity houses and VCs, and we chose the right partner for the stage we’re at. We received an investment of a seven-figure sum a couple of times.

Investors buy you, not your idea. Of course your idea should be great, but if you as an individual don’t stack up, then you won’t get funding. When they see you’re the innovator, your brand is growing in triple digits, it’s something people want to get behind. I found the whole thing pretty easy. There was such demand for the brand.

Getting investors on board is like getting into a marriage. You have to balance the situation. I created an environment that gave me autonomy to express myself.

What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?

There are a lot of milestones. There was set back after set back, but the biggest milestone was when I was repeatedly told that pasteurising is the only way. I absolutely refused. I’d rather not head a business than compromise on making it the way I want it. That showed forward thinking and integrity.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Feel the fear, and do it anyway. It’s the only thing that helps you in any given situation is fear. I’ve done a lot of talks and have been asked this so many times, but I believe mistakes are the fundamental reason for success. Everyone should make mistakes because that’s how you can identify why it happened. The message is in the mistake. Learn from it, eradicate it and move on stronger.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We want to become established as market leader in the UK and strong presence globally. We’ve just released the first ever cold-pressed and HPP baby food in Europe. This is going to change the way parents see nutrition for their children. Imagine babies eating pasteurised food. It doesn’t seem normal that as adults we have ‘real’ food. Don’t babies deserve real food too?

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

I would have been a footballer or a rugby player. Anything that allowed me to play or compete against somebody. I didn’t do this just for myself. I didn’t do this for turnover. There were points where we were growing at 612 per cent! But my hunger came from the fact that the consumer deserves the best, and I won’t compromise on that. I wanted to be the voice of truth within the industry.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.