Roger Trapp: Why we've always got room for more food
Sunday 24 July 2005
Gü, the aptly-named chocolate pudding company, is another case in point. Not only has it entered a market that looks fairly crowded, with even the most devout chocolate devourer well catered for, it has done so at a time when everybody is becoming more health-conscious. A recipe for disaster, you might think.
And yet, just two years after it was launched, the company is turning over £6.5m a year on the strength of sales in more than 2,000 stores around the UK. Moreover, from a standing start, Gü claims to have become the number one premium chocolate puddings brand in the UK and to have a 1.4 per cent share of the chilled desserts market.
To be fair, Gü's founder, James Averdieck, did have some idea of what he was doing because he previously worked on developing the European chilled dessert market for St Ivel and its parent company, Uniq. Unsurprisingly, he hit on the idea of creating a luxury chocolate brand while in Brussels.
But, if he could have an idea that so far seems to have worked, why could not his former employers? Or, indeed, anybody else already established in the business? Perhaps part of the reason is that if you are already involved in a sector you cannot necessarily see the opportunities. Another part may be that certain people are just more visionary than others.
Whatever the explanation, Gü is doing better than Averdieck had thought it would by this stage. And its founder has a clear idea of why that is and how this early success can be consolidated.
A key part of the success is the fact they are selling something people like to buy. As Averdieck says: "We've been quite lucky. It does help being a chocolate company because people like chocolate."
Given that fairly obvious observation, it is perhaps a little odd that Gü is "the only dessert company doing chocolate at the top end". And, having secured this advantage, Averdieck is not about to let it go. He deliberately supplies all the supermarkets on the grounds he does not want to become too dependent on one, and he does not make products for anybody else, on the grounds that this would distract the company from its primary focus on the premium end of the market. Moreover, it would undermine all the company's efforts over the past two years in developing its brand.
Sticking with the food industry, Bigham's is also doing something that you might expect older, more established businesses to have got to first. The company, set up nine years ago by former management consultant Charlie Bigham, provides pre-prepared meals for sale in various supermarkets - but under its own name.
Much like the Gü chocolate puds, which Averdieck freely admits appeal to dinner party hosts who want to look as if they have prepared the whole meal but have not, Bigham's meals are designed to look as if they have just been cooked and yet can be frozen for use later. The idea came to Charlie Bigham while he was travelling in India and noticed the mobile food stalls set up at railway stations that offered fresh pre-prepared food.
Though much longer established (it was set up in 1996), Bighams maintains the same sort of spark that keeps Gü going so well. Sales - expected to pass £10m in the coming year - are up by a substantial chunk on the past year, continuing a trend for turnover growth of about 50 per cent a year since 2001, and proving that a fairly newly established brand can succeed in the marketplace.
Indeed, pre-prepared meals are just one part of the Bigham's success story. There is also its Foodservice line that creates fresh, pre-prepared food for pubs, restaurants and contract caterers, and a recently sold-off bespoke catering service.
But then, as Gü's Averdieck says, the modern business environment appears to offer no middle ground. "A business is either a massive success or it doesn't work," he says. And beating the odds seems to be an awful lot about following your instincts rather than the crowd and doing what others either think can't be done, or would not be prepared to do.
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