TRIP MD: A strong community skyrocketed our brand’s growth
James Edmunds of CBD drinks brand TRIP on rapid growth, US expansion and the real value of a powerful brand
CBD has been touted as the next category for innovation and investment as the Food Standards Agency moves to regulate the product as a food ingredient.
CBD oil and drinks start-up TRIP is one of few brands that has already reaped reward across the UK and Europe despite adoption rates for the ingredient still having some way to go.
Former senior brand manager for L’Oréal James Edmunds has helped grow the brand’s awareness and customer community significantly since 2019, to the extent that his efforts were last month recognised by Forbes in its ’30 Under 30′ listing.
Internal growth within the business has also been significant, with 10 new roles opening up during a recent recruitment drive, including head of growth and retention lead to boost marketing efforts.
Edmunds sat down with NutritionInvestor to talk about CBD adoption among consumers, establishing a loyal customer base, and US expansion.
What’s your career background and current role at TRIP?
I’ve always worked in the creative industry. I spent six or seven years at L’Oréal after university working in mostly marketing with some sales-focused roles and really enjoyed my time there. I came to really understand how brands within the L’Oréal group built really strong communities with their networks. And that’s definitely been a huge help for me in my role at TRIP.
While I was working at L’Oréal, Olivia, my sister-in-law and Daniel, her husband, started work on TRIP. Today TRIP is Europe’s leading CBD brand. We have a range of CBD drinks and oils.
The brand was created when Daniel sustained quite a bad knee injury just before his and Olivia’s wedding. Rather than being able to walk down the aisle and dance at his wedding, he thought he was going to be on crutches, so they tried everything and anything to aid his recovery. Daniel found the impact of CBD was really incredible in helping him sleep better.
He made a miraculous recovery and was able to walk down the aisle, and off the back of that the two became really passionate about CBD and wanted to create a brand that could really share the benefits of the ingredient with the world. While working on their research, they got me involved to help build up the brand and the community around it. We launched TRIP initially as a direct-to-consumer business in 2019.
Building a strong community online through socials, SMS and email has really been the foundation of the business ever since. We’ve become a strong omnichannel business, so we still sell direct-to-consumer across Europe in the US, but we’re now sold in around 8,000 stores across the retail space, including Sainsbury’s and Ocado, and on-trade venues like the Soho House members club and QSR establishments like Leon and Benugo. We’re also available in premium retailers like Selfridges.
Considering the limited education on CBD and a historical lack of interest in the category from investors and big food groups, how have you found the process of appealing to both investors and consumers?
As a business we’ve always been consumer-first in terms of the way that we’ve tried to run the business, whether that’s deciding which channels to operate in, our communication with consumers, or how we raise capital.
We’ve always been laser-focused on the idea of helping people to deal with stress and anxiety through the power of plants. And from the very beginning in 2019, we’ve seen that consumers have really loved both the concept of the product and how the product makes them feel. We recently carried out a survey on our website and it found that 94% of people that use our products recommended them to a friend.
For us, that’s the most rewarding metric to track because we know that if people are recommending us to a friend, it’s really helping them deal with their day-to-day challenges. Investors, retailers and external parties have really valued the response from consumers too.
We have thousands of five-star reviews and that’s a real testament to the products. Our products specifically have created a consumer experience thanks to them looking a certain way and using specific branding and language and the origin story is something consumers really connect with. Historically CBD products have had challenging tastes, so we are also really proud of the taste profile we’ve created.
How much did you have to educate consumers on the benefits of CBD when you launched?
Education among consumers has accelerated quickly since 2019, especially throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I think now more than ever, people really care for their mental health and that increased focus has seen people do more research into various areas like meditation, exercise and products like TRIP. The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry recently valued the UK CBD market at £690 million. And I’ve seen some studies which indicate that consumer awareness for the ingredient is above 80% across the UK.
What’s your investment history so far?
We held our first public funding round in May of 2021 where we raised $5 million. We’re really excited to have brought on some great partners to help our growth trajectory and help us expand into new markets. These included serial entrepreneur and investor Christian Angermeyer, and also the CEO of Depop Maria Raga. It was an exciting step for us and has helped build on the growth plans that we had already leading up to that point.
At the moment we’re really focused on our current plans to continue to grow the brand organically (so we won’t launch another round just yet).
Did Covid-19 serve to accelerate sales and growth for the TRIP business, thanks to the increased consumer desire to improve physical and mental health?
I think first and foremost, Covid-19 has been a really stressful period for all of us and I think that it’s affected everyone differently. From a personal perspective, it’s been really rewarding to be able to help some people deal with stress through what has been an extremely stressful time.
For businesses like TRIP, the pandemic created supply chain challenges, and during periods of extreme growth, that has definitely thrown up challenges. We’re lucky to have an incredible team that have been able to cater for that.
What have been some of TRIP’s most prominent achievements since its inception in 2019?
From a retailer perspective, we’ve been really lucky to work with some of the world’s best retailers. Within the UK, we launched in Boots last week, which has always been a great signifier of both quality curations and consumer-first thinking in retail. This year we’ve had a large push into the US. We sell across a number of states through the Soho House Group, online through our D2C store, and then we’ve also recently launched in retail stores in California. We’re excited about that development.
How has branding played a key role in the growth and development of TRIP?
We want the entire experience of consuming a TRIP product to help consumers to feel calmer, like they can unwind and relax. When you look at the product, the branding is very minimal. It’s got a calming pastel colour palette. We want the same feeling to flow throughout. The flavours are elevated and sophisticated to indicate that the products are of a high-quality, The branding is always considered at every touchpoint that the customer has with us, whether it’s on SMS, our D2C website or via billboard marketing. As with any brand, we’re always a work-in-progress and we’re really lucky to have an incredible community online and in-person to help shape the brand to meet their needs.
Considering the ongoing move in the UK to regulate CBD as an FSA-recognised food ingredient, what are you expecting from the market in the next couple of years?
We foresee adoption rates continuing to grow extremely quickly. And considering TRIP’s current referral rate of 94%, we expect to see product usage really skyrocket from here. We’re really excited to see that happen very quickly. We expect over the next few years, whether that’s in the UK, Europe or the US, the growth will continue on that trajectory.
You mentioned a little bit about the split between D2C and retail and on-trade, how do you divide your time in terms of sales and marketing across these different channels and how has the demand across the three changed over time?
All of these channels are really important for us for different reasons. Consumers use TRIP products all day, every day and that creates a really exciting opportunity from a channel split perspective. We know that some people are picking up a can of TRIP in the morning when they go to get a croissant from coffee shops like Benugo or Leon. Some people are using a TRIP CBD oil before a meeting at 11 am and the picking up a can in the afternoon. Same are using TRIP as an alcohol alternative or mixer in the evening.
That all-day usage opportunity creates a really exciting omnichannel business structure. It wasn’t something that we intentionally created from the start, but it happened as a result of really focusing on how we could best cater to the needs of our consumers.
Both D2C, on-premise and retail are all hugely important channels for us and we really focus on all three. From a marketing perspective, we really tried to focus on the organic side of marketing by building a community organically, driving word of mouth, and using micro and major influencers.
CBD has a much higher adoption rate in the States than Europe and the UK and there is more competition, so how has your approach to sales and marketing changed in this new market?
It’s definitely a different market landscape over there and there are some incredible CBD brands already present. The way we’ve built the communication plan and the way that we’re going about building the community is the same, despite the fact that people interact with products in a slightly different way.
The way that we brought about the brand in the UK is by listening to the community and trying to build content and products that really served the community’s needs. Before we launched in the US, we made sure to do lots of consumer surveys to understand the market landscape,. Thankfully, the US audience really loved the consumer products that we have over here in the UK, so there weren’t too many changes to be made and that allowed us to scale across North America.
With regards to NPD (new product development), will you expand beyond the drinks and the oils in the short-term?
Right now our consumers really love the product range we have at the moment so we’re going to be really laser-focused improving that. That’s not to say that we won’t make new products in the future, but right now we want to make sure that our users’ experiences are as good as they can be with the suite we have now.
What’s next on the horizon for TRIP in terms of growth and opportunities?
In terms of the strategy, nothing changes for us. We are building on the incredible growth we’ve seen across all markets. In the UK, we’ve seen our strongest ever growth in the last few months on both via D2C and outside of the online channels. Launching into retail in California and via D2C across the US is a really exciting step for us. Over the next year or two, we’re really excited to build on that momentum in the US, Europe and the UK.
You were just recognised within the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ listing of celebrated business people, how did that feel?
I think it’s amazing to have a really high-quality publication like Forbes recognise the work that TRIP is doing. It’s a real recognition of the incredible work that the TRIP team is doing to help people manage their mental wellbeing. To be the first CBD brands to be included on the list in Europe is a great step for the category.