Launching and scaling your product business with Grounded’s Bryn Ferris
The White City entrepreneur explains how he grew his brand out of Electric House, and onto the shelves of Soho Works and Soho Health Club
Thursday 28 April 2022
Tell us about GROUNDED and how the idea for your latest range came about?
‘GROUNDED is run by myself and my long-time school friend, Gabriel Bean – we’re currently based out of Soho Works White City. The brand was born out of a desire to provide the “mindful mainstream” with clean plant-based products in a space that’s plagued by rubbish ingredients and unstainable packaging. Our mission is simple: to redesign the functional drinks space using only real ingredients, straight from the ground.
‘We’ve always been focused on creating clean-labelled, ‘better for you’ products. Previously, we had a range of low sugar juices (created and launched by Gabe), which sold really well and proved to us there was a clear demand for more honest and healthy drinks. After doing some market research on the functional (protein) drinks market, we realised this category was plagued by even worse ingredients. So, we decided to make our own range of ‘cr*p free’ plant-based protein shakes.
What market research did you do before launching the product?
‘Initially, we trawled through Waitrose, Ocado and Sainsbury’s reviews on existing protein shakes. We found that most people had a problem with taste, but more importantly didn’t like that they were stuffed full of artificial ingredients. Our findings were further confirmed by a survey we did with friends and family, where most pointed to more natural ingredients and taste as being the most important aspects when purchasing a protein drink.
‘Having decided we were going to have a go at designing a range, we set up our “lab” in our parents’ kitchen, alternating between Gabe’s parents’ house and my mum’s house. It took us 18 months of constant development to get to the right formulation. Luckily, time was on our side at this point. We ended up making well over 1,000 recipe iterations, and trying more than 100 ingredients in the process. It was clear early on that making a ready-to-drink protein shake without using artificial ingredients was going to be a challenge. Fake flavourings don’t alter much when the product is heat processed (for shelf life), however natural ingredients are far more delicate and can change dramatically.’
Once you had the idea, what did your journey look like in terms of distribution and scaling?
‘As a premium brand in the plant-based space, it was important for us to focus on the premium end of retail, gyms, and hospitality. We launched our plant-based protein shakes into Selfridges, Planet Organic, Soho House gyms and Gymbox in the beginning and this really helped cement our position in the market.
‘Naturally, we put a big focus on the gym sector. Many of our customers are busy professionals who want to grab something convenient and nutritious as they leave their workout, and we fit perfectly into their daily routine. We do a lot of activations across our listings, whether that be sponsored classes or sampling. It’s key to make sure as many potential customers as possible are trying the product and engaging with the brand.’
How has Soho Works and the community aided your journey?
‘Gabe and I used Electric House and White City House as an “office” for years when we didn’t quite have the money to rent an actual office. We’d bed down on the eighth floor with a tea to share, so we didn’t feel too much like free loaders.
‘When we heard Soho Works White City was opening, we agreed that this was where we wanted to grow GROUNDED from. And as soon as we’d raised our pre-seed investment round, we got our membership.
‘Soho Works is such a unique working environment. Having been in quite a few co-working spaces over the years, none compare to the closeness of the community and diverse mix of people and businesses that Soho Works has. There are so many up-and-coming businesses all going through the same twists and turns, which means there are plenty of other entrepreneurs you can lean on for advice and support. The Soho Works app now means you can literally message anyone there to ask advice from or collaborate with. It just makes things that little bit easier.’
What does the next year look like for GROUNDED?
‘Excitingly, we’re going to be launching two new flavours into the current range this summer: Chocolate Orange and Coffee. They’ll also have 20g of plant protein per shake, only contain real ingredients and, of course, be packaged in 100% recyclable paper-based cartons. We’ll also be launching a brand new range – it’ll be in a bigger carton, but at the moment we can’t say much more than that until we bring it out.
‘Having raised £500k pre pandemic to launch our first range of shakes, we’re now raising a bridge investment round (prior to our Series A round next year) to support the launch of our new products and expand our sales team. We’ve managed to outsell some big name brands like Rebel Kitchen, Innocent and Pulsin on shelves (across one of our London-based retail chains), so it’s now about adding some sales fire power to capitalise on this.
‘For the next 12 months, we’re focusing on the big retailers and bigger volume customers in the UK, and expanding our distribution partners overseas. Our long-term vision is to be the number-one brand for clean and functional plant-based beverages, globally.’