Business Leader recently caught up with Natasha Bowes, an entrepreneur that is harnessing a 2,000-year-old drink range to build one of the UK’s fastest growing businesses.
Founded in 2012 by former Russian figure skater Natasha Bowes, Biotiful makes a range of award-winning cultured dairy drinks and snacks using the ancient method of fermentation – called kefir.
With a 65% market share of the emerging industry, Biotiful have created a range of products that are becoming increasingly popular among health-conscious Brits.
The London-based firm has grown by more than 120% over the past three years, and last year achieved a turnover of more than £10.9m. As a result, Bowes is the Managing Director of the third-fastest growing female founded company in the UK.
From Barclays to Biotiful
Before Bowes created the company, she had a successful career in professional services at KPMG and Barclays – however, while working in her previous capacity, she longed for the kefir drink she had become accustomed to.
Bowes explains: “I founded Biotiful to fulfil my dream of introducing kefir to the UK market. After moving here with my work, I found it hard to find a kefir that lived up to my memory of what I used to drink every day. Knowing first-hand all the great benefits cultured milk can bring, I decided to take matters into my own hands, setting up Biotiful to upgrade dairy with better nutrition, taste, and quality for everyone.
“I spent many months experimenting with different flavours and packaging before hitting upon the perfect kefir. Kefir – meaning ‘feel good’ in Turkish – is packed with billions of gut-friendly bacteria.”
In her native Russia, diary products are very popular, but with the UK food sector drastically changing to become more health-focused in recent years, Bowes knew that her product would fill a gap in the market.
She continued: “I have always had a huge passion for nutrition and healthy eating, and with an increasingly health-conscious UK consumer I wanted to bring the relatively unknown product kefir to the UK so everyone could enjoy the highest quality product with all its natural health benefits. Using British milk and superior live cultures from Russia, I was able to produce the highest quality cultured milk drinks, both in terms of nutritional value and taste.”
For many, kefir is a new product on the shelves on the UK supermarkets, but the product itself has been around for millennia.
Success from ancient recipe
Despite kefir being a historical drink for many cultures across the world, it is relatively new here in the UK – and the financials at the business look strong as Natasha explains.
She comments: “Biotiful’s retail sales have increased 80% in that time to more than £26m. Our performance is a result of our core liquids range and strong performance in our Kids Slurpy range, as well as exciting NPD launches in Biotiful Shots and Biotiful Yogurts which have only just launched.
“Biotiful’s rapid growth has been in part thanks to the burgeoning UK health trend and growing market for superfoods. We were the first brand to launch kefir and start the trend for consumers looking for natural gut-health benefit products and lead the category. First mover advance enabled us to explode this exciting new category and capitalise on mainstream consumers looking to support their gut health.
“This timing, however, was not accidental. Before starting the venture, I was able to identify the consumer need and commercial opportunity for Biotiful. As well as launching the product range itself, we have worked hard as a brand to educate the UK on the natural health benefits of Kefir. When developing a business or product, it is crucial to identify the relevant context and prioritise consumer requirements and interests. This will create a more attractive product that can be positioned in line with consumer needs.”
Educating the UK
With a simple product range that fills a gap in the current dairy market, it may appear that the road to success was down to clever planning and marketing – however, the company did have challenges that it had to overcome.
Bowes explains: “The biggest challenge for us was consumer education. Given the limited knowledge of Kefir in the UK when we launched, we needed to find a way to educate consumers on the extensive health benefits of the product. PR has always played a significant role in this, helping to drive mass awareness.
“In 2016 I appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den, which drove a lot of interest and certainly helped to bring the brand into the spotlight. Kefir also featured on BBC2’s ‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’, where their experiments confirmed it was the most effective probiotic food currently on the market.”
And Bowes’ experience in the Den was an important step before the company’s rapid rise to popularity.
She said: “Being on the show was a very interesting, if not daunting, experience to feature on such a famous TV series, and meet The Dragon’s in person. I think I clearly demonstrated the potential of the business in the UK and how forward-thinking Biotiful kefir would be in the market, so I’m proud the sales results since the episode have exceeded expectations.
“The show has been great exposure to the benefits of kefir. I believe it’s important to know the true value of your business, so it appears to have been the right decision to go down an alternative route.”
What does the future hold?
Having educated the nation on the benefits of kefir and the UK’s health revolution in full swing, Biotiful is leading the way in their industry. And with the last year highlighting the importance of eating and drinking the right products, Bowes sees an even brighter future for the company.
She concludes: “Health has never been as important as it is now. We expect even more demand for naturally healthy products as consumers are even more conscious about what they eat and drink.
“Innovation has always been at the heart of everything we do at Biotiful. We are seeing more and more consumers look for immunity support benefits that they can enjoy every day as part of a healthy diet.
“We are seeing more mainstream consumers buying Biotiful kefir, which shows there is huge demand for natural products that offer these health benefits, especially as we enter 2021.
“We have exciting plans underway to ensure even more people can enjoy kefir.”