Explosive impact – couple who started with £27 sell business for £72m

Alan & Juliet Barratt

Following a shared passion for health and fitness, husband and wife Alan (CEO) and Juliet Barratt (CMO), founded sports nutrition start-up, Grenade, during the recession.

After launching in 2010 with just £27 in the bank, Grenade was sold for £72m to Lion Capital last year and since then has continued to grow strongly.

It now has over 50 staff, and retails in more than 80 countries around the world. Grenade is now the market-leading sports performance and active nutrition brand, incorporating a wide range of innovative, high-protein and low-sugar products.

Grenade has been named as one of the UK’s fastest growing companies and was featured in The Sunday Times’ Fast Track Top 100 in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. It was also included in the Tesco incubator programme in 2018 (alumni include Graze and Deliciously Ella).

Can you give our readers an overview of Grenade and its products?

Grenade is the market leading sports performance and active nutrition brand, offering a selection of award winning high protein, low sugar products including bars, brownies, shakes and capsules.

Why did you start the business? What was the inspiration behind it?

As sports supplement distributors we’d grown tired of selling a load of products that looked, sounded and tasted the same – and were in a total fitness niche. We spotted an opportunity to expand protein-based snacks to a wider audience of health conscious consumers, and sold the distribution business to launch Grenade.

We set about creating products that people would actively seek out and remember. Our first weight loss formula was so effective, a friend who sampled it compared its explosive results to ‘a grenade’. That product is now known as the Thermo Detonator® and the name Grenade® just stuck.

Over the next few years, we grew a dedicated team alongside a range of products bursting with personality and great-tasting, high-quality ingredients. We’ve worked hard to challenge the stereotypes of nutrition products in the fitness industry and beyond.

Can you tell me the story of your growth?

In 2006, we trademarked Grenade® and spent the following four years perfecting the brand and our sports nutrition products, testing different recipes in our own kitchen. We came out the other side of the recession and eventually launched in 2010. In the early weeks of the launch, after investing almost everything we had into the product, we were down to just £27 in the business bank account! Four years on, we launched our selection of high protein, low-sugar healthy snacks, and in the same year Grenade made a £1.9m profit. In 2017, we sold a majority share of the business to Lion Capital, valuing Grenade at £72m.

Thanks to the strength of our products and a fresh approach to marketing in a sector dominated by white tubs of protein powder, we were able to grow the business at an accelerated rate.

We’ve featured in The Sunday Times’ Fast Track Top 100 between 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, have taken part in Virgin’s VOOM series to support entrepreneurs and were also part of the Tesco incubator programme this year.

We’ve always been passionate about mentoring and have grown our Solihull-based team to 50 people. Our employees are really important to us – many have been here from the very start and we have all grown the business and our skills and experience together. A significant chunk of our time also goes towards supporting other entrepreneurs as they get started in their businesses.

How do you build a strong and identifiable brand?

First impressions are so important – you often only get one chance, so you have to make it count! Set your brand up to stand out. When we started out we didn’t have budget for stands at trade and consumer shows – so instead we hired a tank and drove it to one of their big expos – that certainly got us noticed and was very on-brand!

Whether people love it or hate it – we’ve always wanted shoppers to have an opinion and a reaction to our brand. Grabbing attention was a reason why we chose bold brand and product names, strong colour palettes and disruptive stunts from the start. To create a strong identifiable brand, you can’t afford to be too worried about what others think – particularly in competitive retail markets where you have about five seconds to grab people’s attention whilst they’re in a shopping aisle.

At Grenade, we don’t do cheap products but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s important to build a robust brand personality that people can relate to. Using this method, we’ve been able to develop an emotional connection with our customers which helped us to grow a really engaged consumer base in the early days – and we have worked hard to keep it ever since.

What are the pros and cons of working as husband and wife?

Running a business as husband and wife has been a real challenge, because there’s no real break from each other. In that sense, we haven’t been able to have a ‘normal’ family life because Grenade is our life.

On the other hand it gives us a huge advantage because sharing a business has cemented our trust in each other. Running a business can feel lonely if you’re doing it without a close support network. Sometimes you think the challenges you’re facing are only happening to you, but of course everyone has the same problems. By working as partners in the same business, we’ve gone through some unbelievable highs and lows together and come out the other side smiling. It’s made us stronger as a couple and as business partners – we’re also hugely grateful for the extraordinary holidays we’ve enjoyed as a result of our success.

What are the main challenges within the sports nutrition industry?

The sector has changed a lot since we first launched. Long gone are the days of white medical looking tubs of protein. The sports nutrition industry has seen rapid growth over the last decade, and British consumers now spend £66m on active nutrition products every year.

Popular confectionary brands are now creating protein-based versions of their chocolate bars to jump on the coattails of successful start-ups like ours, and the competition has undoubtedly become fiercer. We need to stay on our toes, which we do by keeping the brand fresh with new recipes and a more diverse product range that always sets the standard for the copycats.

What are the company plans for the future?

We’ve just started our campaign calling on everyone to ‘join the snacking revolution’. We want more people to ditch boring, unhealthy snacks stuffed with sugar and choose healthier options. We’ve launched some fantastic new bars including the Grenade® Carb Killa® Brownie and Grenade® Carb Killa® Birthday Cake flavour.