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Ben Bartley: “Killer brand”

Killer brand — we knew our brand jumps out on the shelf (they are wild animals!) — that’s so important in the crowded jungle out there. Shopper data shows you have less than 2 seconds to catch attention on the shelf. And you need a story. Brand credibility that matches your product promise. As a part of our series called […]

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Killer brand — we knew our brand jumps out on the shelf (they are wild animals!) — that’s so important in the crowded jungle out there. Shopper data shows you have less than 2 seconds to catch attention on the shelf. And you need a story. Brand credibility that matches your product promise.


As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Bartley.

Annoyed by his kids ́sugary snacks (his youngest lost his back tooth to decay), Ben was driven to develop a “sweet alternative” that was good for you. His kids also did not like eating fruit, so he set out to engineer a “sweet” that was actually full of the goodness of fruits, but retained the “candy” excitement and chewing enjoyment for kids.

He also realized kids were learning at school the importance of protecting the planet, unlike the generation before him. His passion for shark conservation (he set-up an NGO when living in Asia) led him to position the brand to protect endangered species. He has 25+ years’ experience in the FMCG world with global brands (Coca-Cola, Heineken, Bic). He was previously International MD for GoGoSqueez, a pioneer in kids healthy snacking in the USA.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born and raised in Asia, where I guess I developed a liking for Asian food, not so much sweet but savory, sour, and spicy. This has given me a natural “anti-sugar” position from the start! I was also was fortunate to have dived in many places in Asia and noticed when I went back to live there with my family 20 years later that there were literally no sharks left. They had all been eaten for shark-fin soup. This struck me as terrible as they are the apex figure that protects and maintains the health and balance of our reef and ocean ecosystems. I developed a real passion here to give a voice to a beautiful creature that had developed a bad rap due to movies, Jaws, etc.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Originally wanted to call the brand “Sharksavers” as it fitted with other confectionery brands like Icebreakers, Lifesavers etc. However, my creative partner and I thought that was too narrow and we agreed to open it to help all endangered species. The brand name “Chum” was born through its connection to sharks (chumming), however; in the English dictionary the first meaning is a friend. So we wanted to protect our friends, our Chums. At first I was hesitant as there is a famous dog-food brand in the UK named Pedigree Chum, but we stuck to our guns as the story was strong.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the start in the UK, we tried a high-risk approach. We visited all leading retailers unannounced with our wild mountain gorilla and deliver product samples. He is real and people thought so too. When we were waiting in reception area of one major retailer they called security (they were not amused!) and escorted us off the premises. And in the United States we used the gorilla for product sampling at colleges and universities, this time with permission, but the local police received calls of a wild gorilla loose on campus and came and arrested him. The lesson I learned was if you have the guts, no matter how embarrassing, you will succeed.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Another me-too proposition. Its staggering when I walk the food shows how many new kombuchas, luxury chocolates, meat jerkys or fancy popcorns you see trying to break through. You have to be different as retailers already have brands selling the same.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Make sure its relevant to the customer and consumer. Create a story behind the brand. Start small and focus.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Creating the brand is (relatively) easy; any graphic designer can create your brand in a day. The challenging piece, and probably more importantly, is finding someone to make it the way you want. The brand will get you purchased once, but the product will get you re-purchased which is the most important KPI for a sustainable business.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Definitely on their own. If their idea has merits it must come from the source. Consultants can play a role later on when there is scale and complexity.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

It depends on your situation, ambition and view on risk. The idea is so often derived from personal passion. So going on your own is preferable but it’s not easy to break into the big players; and you will invariable need capital from an external source.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

Filing a patent is straight-forward, providing you have the originality. Sourcing a manufacturing partner is not easy as there must be belief and a fit when starting small, but if you have the passion and can convey that belief, a good copacker will look longer term. It took me many months to be taken seriously, a lot of data, presentations, and long plane journeys to demonstrate I was serious. It’s a win-win business. To find a retailer, you need a network, a sales team, an established distributor or broker who has contacts and credibility. It’s a wild world out there. It’s not impossible to do it on your own, but it’s much harder unless you can demonstrate a track record, some sales data, previous listings, etc.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) The best product quality — we were enthused early on when internally and externally we confirmed our fruit snacks was better tasting than most competitors around as we had a simpler, more natural product.

2) Strong innovation pipeline — reasons to keep the consumer coming back for more are vital, be it new flavors, eco-packaging, new product variations to capture more consumer needs and achieve scale.

3) Killer brand — we knew our brand jumps out on the shelf (they are wild animals!) — that’s so important in the crowded jungle out there. Shopper data shows you have less than 2 seconds to catch attention on the shelf. And you need a story. Brand credibility that matches your product promise.

4) Top people — needed for any successful food business. Its food and you need people who believe in the brand and product to convey that same passion as you because you cannot do it all.

5) Strong customer service — creating a food line is complex, convoluted, and difficult. The customer must not be adversely affected!

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Answers 1 and 3 above.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Yes. Our two brand pillars are 1) good for you and 2) good for the planet. We give back 15% of profits to @wildaid.org to help their magnificent work saving endangered species, our Chums! This is an on-pack pledge on all our packaging. If all food brands gave back the same, the world would be in a better place. We have also started using a more expensive bio-degradable primary packaging to reduce our impact on plastic pollution on the environment. If we can grow really big, we will hopefully be donating millions of dollars a year to this fantastic cause, and rightly so when you look at the state of the world right now.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

You never know what your idea can trigger. Choose a brand that can help educate you, support your own well-being and that of the world we live in by (in)directly giving back and playing your part!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Many leading personalities are passionate about the same issues: Ellen DeGeneres — gorilla conservation; Leonardo DiCaprio — global conservation. Michelle Obama — healthy diets; Daniel Lubetzky (KIND) is passionate about giving back.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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