Ember is sugar-free biltong, turned performance nutrition – the brand was founded by Harry and Jack Mayhew after they became frustrated by the lack of healthy and tasty high-protein snacks. But what did they learn from starting up in a booming sector?
RSNG What was your inspiration for setting up Ember?
HARRY MAYHEW, CO-FOUNDER ‘My brother Jack and I both had mini schemes when growing up together, so it was not necessarily a light bulb moment; between us we were always inspired to do something. We started Ember after becoming super frustrated by the lack of genuinely guilt-free snacks that offered the nutritional benefits we were looking for as part of our Ironman training.’
RSNG What three factors have been key to you growing revenue by 65% month on month since launch?
HM ‘Number One has got to be creating a great tasting, quality product. Without this, any product launching into any category is going to struggle in the short to medium term. Press coverage and hype can only get an average product so far.’
‘The advice given by our mentors has also been fundamental to success. We were lucky to get investment from Mark Palmer, former Marketing Director of Green & Blacks, Pret a Manger and now Co-founder of Cawston Press juices, and Giles Brook CEO of Vita Coco EMEA and Founding Partner BEAR Fruit Snacks. In the early stages we totally underestimated the impact that investors and mentors can have in helping make the big decisions a little bit easier.’
‘Sales! There are so many dynamics within a small startup business that sales very often fall down the priority list. We were regimented from the start in making sure we were speaking to the right people from the off. With no sales, you don’t get growth – great marketing is a piece of the puzzle but if people can't buy it, it's useless.’
RSNG You grew up on a farm – how did this affect how you saw food and performance nutrition?
HM ‘Food has always been a big part of our lives from a young age. We were always very active on the farm which led to a shared passion for exercise and fitness. As we started to compete more seriously in triathlons and Half Ironman we became aware of what we needed to eat to aid our recovery. We were frustrated by the lack of genuinely tasty snacks on the market that would not only fill a gap but also provide the protein we needed without all the added sugar.’
RSNG Have you been surprised by the amount of demand out there for a lean protein snack?
HM ‘Not really. Protein is now £40m category and in 30% growth – it’s boomin! Every brand you see launch now has a health claim in some way or form – what we have been amazed by is the growth that meat snacking is seeing 30-35% in some instances, ahead of the protein category and at a time when everyone is talking plant-based, we sit in a super exciting niche.’
‘Make sure you do your research before jumping into any big decisions’
RSNG What might you do differently in the startup process if you could do it again?
HM ‘We would 100% consider just launching online and focussing on direct to consumer, we might have launched with a couple more flavours. We would raise more money from the off to avoid us being on our 5th round of funding! Also, get our packaging designs correct from the start – we have already had to do three re-designs.’
RSNG You say you’re not reinventing anything but doing it the right way – what’s that?
HM ‘Biltong has been around for a long time, so it’s not a new product but what has been available in the past has not quite delivered on quality and flavour. Our premium biltong is made from carefully selected joints of silverside beef sourced from British and Irish farms. It is then air dried slowly, lightly seasoned and sliced thin to enhance the biltong's natural flavour.’
RSNG Does it make things easier or harder that you’re both co-founders and brothers?
HM ‘Jack and I have always been best mates as well as brothers so there is no one I would rather be doing this with. Running a business has its challenges but it's how we work together to overcome them that makes us a great team.’
‘Startups are a problem solving puzzle that needs constant attention – 24-7-365’
RSNG Has there been any narrowly averted disasters so far and what lessons have you you learn from them?
HM ‘Every day there is a small fire, every few weeks there is a big fire, especially in the early stages – or maybe you just get used to them and they seem less big! Startups are a problem solving puzzle that needs constant attention. It never stops, 24-7-365. We've learned how to roll with the punches and to not take any period of calm for granted.’
RSNG How have you used social media and marketing to build your brand?
HM ‘Having a clear, well planned marketing strategy has been crucial in driving Ember's brand awareness and getting people to try our products. Using our social channels we have announced new product launches, some major retail launches and events, which have allowed us to reach new audiences, and keep Ember fans up to date. We've also managed to secure some great press coverage in The Sunday Times and Men’s Health that has helped to spread the word.’
RSNG Do you have any plans to use ambassadors or to support people with projects or expeditions?
HM ‘There are an amazing number of Ember lovers out there that shout about us on social media, which is fantastic. We get sent a lot pictures of people taking Ember biltong on their travels to keep them going. Ember has travelled as far as the Namibian desert and even reached altitudes of 3,064 metres as part of the Three Peaks Challenge. We're always keen to hear about people's adventures and even did an adventure series on our social media last month, which featured Jack's row across the Atlantic.’
RSNG What top three tips would you offer to those seeking to emulate your startup success?
HM ‘Make sure you do your research before jumping into any big decisions. You don't want to get all the way from concept to production before realising the product is not right for consumers. Spend wisely. As a startup budget is limited so it is really important to invest the areas that will be essential for growth and success in the early stages. Being patient is also very valuable – getting your product into some really big retailers can take time and persistence.’
WHAT NEXT? Got a body goal or physical mission coming up? Then share it with Ember @embersnacks and you may end up with the support of the brand…
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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