Britons today are vastly more health-conscious than they were 20 years ago. Where once we would gorge on crisps and chocolate at our desks and at home, today you’re just as likely to see mixed nuts, popcorn, and dried fruit in their place. Nakd and Graze are just two of the best known healthy snack brands taking a slice of a market said to be worth £18bn (Nielson).
Anna Oldbury was inspired to launch her snack brand after watching her daughter handpick individual freeze-dried berries from boxes of cereal. She saw the potential and set about launching LioBites. We spoke to Anna to find out more about taking her concept from the kitchen to the supermarket shelves.
How would you sum up LioBites in a sentence?
LioBites are new, natural, delicious and super healthy fruit crisps and smoothie bites.
Can you briefly summarise the background to Lio-Bites and what you did before?
My background is in luxury retail. I’ve studied Fashion Management at the University of the Arts in London and I was working in sales and operations for a luxury brand. After having kids I became more focused on achieving a work-life balance and creating a legacy to leave behind. My first business was a fashion e-tailer. It was a small business selling hosiery online. LioBites is a much bigger challenge as the scale is larger – but I am ready for it!
What was the inspiration behind LioBites? Was there a lightbulb moment when it came to you?
My youngest daughter Livia was picking freeze-dried berries out of my breakfast cereal. There were only several pieces per box but she would hand pick and eat them all. This inspired me to research about getting freeze-dried fruit in bulk for her and learning about the benefits of freeze-drying. I gave out samples to friends and neighbours and kids were loving it. So were the parents! This was the moment I realised I was onto something potentially new, big and life-changing.
Where did the name come from?
The name LioBites was inspired by the scientific name for freeze-drying – lyophilisation – which is the best and purest method of preserving nutrients in fruits.
What were the challenges around launching the business? Where did you find your time being spent?
Every startup comes with risks. I am very organised but, at times, I felt lost in workload and had to keep my motivation up. It took me 12 months from the idea to the actual product launch and I was told that this is the norm in large organisations with 10 people working on a project. Considering I was working on my own with a freelance graphic designer I had to raise the productivity and stay focused.
Raising money to invest in fruit snacks almost cost me my marriage. My husband needed a lot of convincing. Luckily, he also loves LioBites and after trying the samples he was onboard.
On the positive side, I have enjoyed the creative process of product selection, packaging design, PR and marketing. Market research and talking to people always lifts my spirit. You can’t be shy when launching your business – you need to be out there talking about your product to everyone.
The hardest part of running a startup business is to get companies to treat you seriously. I will always be grateful and loyal to people who believed in me from the start.
The drawbacks are logistic and operational issues and deadlines management… I underestimated how much micro-management would be required. The irony is that I have Agile Project Management training and I am very organised. The reality of working on a relatively large scale is that when other people are involved, and processes are interlinked things will go wrong.
How has the business evolved since your launch? Have there been any particular milestones?
Since launching LioBites we have been growing steadily and 12 months later we managed to secure a listing for all 6 SKU with the largest UK online retailer Ocado. We also recorded steady sales from our lovely independent stockists as well as direct sales from our website.
Our social media is full of testimonials from customers and fans of our products. We are in talks with Rail companies and Airline providers and we have just launched a very successful pilot with Super Camps – the kids holiday camps around the UK. This initiative is close to my heart as my long-term goal is to take an active part in a campaign promoting healthy eating in schools and kids clubs. LioBites is on the mission to change bad snacking habits amongst UK kids and Super Camps have been a great partner on this journey! Finally, in the last few months, we have started exporting to Singapore.
Thinking about social media and marketing, what are your tips for boosting brand awareness and ultimately sales?
Awareness is key. Many small businesses look at the goal of launching a product into supermarkets and hope that this is the end of hard work. Having an innovative, disruptive type of product we need to educate our customers on what freeze-dried fruit crisps are.
I am very active on all the social media platforms and share all the milestones, achievement and small events with our growing followers. We organise giveaways and promotions on a regular basis. The audience of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In are all very different and I include posts that are relevant to these audiences.
I am lucky to have a brand with a soul. My kids and my life are part of LioBites, so my journey on social media reflects that. I think this is important too: to be successful you need to be your brand ambassador and understand your audience.
What guidance do you have around getting your products stocked in stores?
I have attended many networking events, listening to people’s advice, pitching to retailers and sharing tips with fellow startups. LinkedIn is great to connect to buyers directly and some retailers like Ocado feature their own online application form for future brands. We have attended trade shows and we are exhibiting at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair Show in September 2019. Trade shows are crucial to secure trade deals and establish connections, as you can talk to buyers face to face. Human interaction creates trust, and this cannot be said about emails or phone calls.
What are the challenges on a personal level running a business?
I am very driven, and I have always been hard working. Doing it all, it’s hard to find time to unwind and avoid burnout. I often work 7 days a week and last year we didn’t have any social life or family time at the weekends due to my work commitments. There are sacrifices I had to make but my family is proud of me and we are all living and breathing LioBites.
What are your proudest achievements?
In terms of the business, there was a pivotal moment when the first production packs were delivered. I was in a factory overseeing the packs on the production line but seeing all the flavours in its packaging delivered on a pallet made it real and super exciting.
What are your top tips for someone looking to launch a business in your field?
Do your homework. I use GS1 for our barcodes as Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco use this brand. Use facilities that are BRC accredited and research the best supply chain. In the food business, there is no room for error and hygiene and traceability are crucial.
Focus on your journey and your product. The world is a large place and there is space for you even if you feel that the competitors are ahead of the game.
Listen to your customers, the product needs to taste good, be priced correctly and appeal to your audience.
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