On the back of securing a £15 million multistage investment with General Mills’ 301 Inc, Pots & Co founder Julian Dyer and co-chairman Simon Champ talk to NutritionInvestor about international expansion
By Murielle Gonzalez
Building a food brand from scratch in your kitchen isn’t easy – but Pots & Co founder, chef Julian Dyer, managed it. Pots & Co produces 16 million handmade puddings a year and consumers recognise the brand for its taste and signature ceramic pots created by a family business in Valencia, Spain.
Dyer started the company in 2013 – he escaped the restaurant world and began hand-making potted puddings from best-in-class ingredients. He wanted to bring proper puds to the people at home. He believes a proper pudding should steal the meal, and he has focused the business on delivering exactly that – puddings are handmade and steam-baked in their individual ceramic pots at the company’s kitchen in London.
The company uses sustainably sourced cocoa, which meets the international standards of ‘cacao fino de aroma’ – special flavours from the Trinitario variety cocoa beans grown in Colombia.
Pots & Co’s journey has seen Dyer passing significant milestones – Waitrose stocked products six weeks after the brand’s debut in Selfridges. The retail contract was challenging because Waitrose wanted products in stores within two months. “It meant we had to mobilise fast to ensure we could fulfil the order, but we managed it and have been able to expand our product range with them ever since,” says Dyer.
A second milestone came with the brand’s first foray into the US last year. The company secured shelf space into all 588 Costco stores across the country. “It was a huge deal for us to enter the US market and a significant challenge for our growing business to export our puddings and keep up with the demand,” says Dyer.
The £15 million multistage investment by General Mills‘ corporate venture arm 301 Inc is the cherry on the cake. “It’s a significant endorsement of our product and our brand from a global business that prides itself on its ability to discover new and emerging food brands with a remarkable offering,” says Dyer. Pots & Co is General Mills’ first investment in a UK business.
The cash injection resulted from a chance encounter. Dyer was manning the Pots & Co stand at a US trade show and was approached by a group of people. “I showed them the product range, and it was only as discussions continued that I found out whom I was actually talking to,” he says. “It took about a year from first meeting to closing the funding deal.”
Dyer notes the investment allows Pots & Co to start to explore manufacturing capabilities in the US. “Currently, all our products are handmade in our UK kitchen and then exported to the US, but as our presence in the US grows, it makes sense for us to secure manufacturing capabilities there,” he explains.
The company is looking for a facility with an industrial kitchen set up, so until it finds it, the business will continue to manufacture from the UK.
The focus is on getting the right products and distribution in the US market because currently Pots & Co currently has warehouses on both the east and west coasts for its exported products.
Pots & Co registered a turnover of £15 million last year, which is on par with the previous year. However, Pots & Co co-chairman Simon Champ says the number should have been bigger. “British Airways has sold five million pots a year for the last five years, and this revenue stream was stripped out overnight [due to Covid-19]. Still, we continued to see significant growth in 2020.”
With foodservice down, the uptake of the branded retail business delivered growth for the company – a nearly 25% increase in sales. “We have expanded our supply into the supermarkets, and in Sainsbury’s, for example, we have increased sales by 33%,” says Champ, noting sales in the US were up 40% overall and that the brand increased supply via home delivery services such as Gousto in the UK.
“The product range in the UK and the US is designed to meet the tastes of the people living there and to satisfy the trends in a particular place,” says Dyer. “The US is a continent, and so within that market, people have different tastes and expectations from their food, and similarly those may differ from what people in the UK like. For example, Californians particularly like natural products and plant-based foods.”
Champ says the business is focusing on North America as Pots & Co expands in terms of both distribution and product range. Still, he argues the management team is constantly assessing the market opportunity in other countries and regions.
Pots & Co: Looking ahead
Pots & Co plans to continue to expand the range of puddings available in the US and the UK. “There will be up to eight SKUs in the US by the end of the year with £7.5 million of turnover. The UK will have 12 SKUs across different retailers with a turnover of £7 million,” says Champ.
Last year Pots & Co tapped into savoury and plant-based categories with the launch of its Mezze range in the UK. The company is now preparing to launch the Mezze range in the US. “We are currently assessing whether the range will be the same in the US with the help of our partners,” says Dyer.
The range comprises: classic hummus, butterbean and tomato, cashew nut hummus, sweet pepper and chili, and cauliflower and cumin hummus.
Dyer recognises the launch of the Mezze dip range in the UK has been affected by Covid-19 – it was introduced to the market as the pandemic struck, so a UK relaunch is in the works.
Pots & Co’s motto is quality puddings to enjoy at home, and that promise has synched well with current consumer trends. “As a result of the pandemic, people are eating at home. Their only option for a night off cooking or treating themselves is to buy quality products in the supermarkets or order from a home delivery service. Our focus on quality and taste ensures customers can enjoy restaurant-quality puddings in their homes,” says Dyer.
Dyer points out that the business is also aligned with a pre-pandemic trend that has continued throughout the pandemic and will likely last beyond it – people’s lack of time and the subsequent enjoyment that comes from buying high-quality products ready-to-eat at home. “Our products not only taste really good, but they save time and effort on the part of the consumer.”
Pots & Co has come a long way from those early days in the London Kitchen – and now seems well on its way to joining the major league in retail and foodservice.
Date published: 1 March 2021