Walker set up The Primal Pantry range of fruit and nut bars as ‘The Primal Kitchen’ in late 2013 – only to find that the name had been trademarked in the US three days before the company launched there.
“You can’t protect your product. You can only protect your brand,” she told FoodNavigator, adding that she would advise any start-up to “trademark everywhere if you want that big brand – it’s a little investment that will help you out.”
The quest for clean products
The Primal Pantry brand aims to tap into the ‘paleo’ diet trend for wholesome, natural foods, containing only dates, dried fruits, nuts and a little almond oil – but it also aims to appeal to vegetarians, vegans, the sports nutrition market, and those on a gluten-free or dairy-free diet, as well as consumers looking for a simple, nutritious snack bar.
“People want clean products,” Walker said. “They want to look at the ingredient list and know exactly what’s in it. …It’s less faddy and more about eating real food. That trend is here to stay – the paleo trend we don’t know.”
It has proved a winning approach, with 20,000 bars sold in the first two weeks just through social media, and turnover of £400,000 in the first year.
“We have set ourselves quite a realistic and conservative target of £1.5m in our second year,” Walker said, adding that the company has just sold a minority share for a six-figure sum to improve cash flow.
Investing in (award-winning) design
Walker is trained in nutrition and has a background in food industry marketing, including for big names like Nestlé and Innocent Drinks. The five-bar range developed from the mixtures she was making for her infant daughter in her own kitchen when she found available snack products for children were nutritionally dubious. But it is the ‘three-figure’ investment in the brand’s design that she claims has really helped the product stand out.
“I think the biggest mistake brands make is they don’t do enough with the design and the brand,” she said, admitting that she was fortunate that she knew designers who were just setting up their own company – and The Primal Pantry design won them awards. “It cost me three figures on the condition that I would pay them back when I could.”
However, the company’s skyrocketing growth was difficult to manage.
“All the profit we have made we have put into making more bars,” said Walker. “Cash flow is our biggest challenge at the moment. The problem is we have been growing really fast and we are such a small team.
“…It’s really difficult to predict demand. For every bar we sold we had to go and make two more – we are on such an upward curve.”
When asked what she would do differently if she were to start over today, she said she had simply guessed at which recipes would be successful. “We did no market research whatsoever,” she said. “I would never recommend that.”
With a retail price of £1.49 per 45 g bar, and €1.99 in Europe, the bars are already being sold in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Spain, and are soon to be in Germany, France, Belgium and Slovakia, she said, as well as South Africa.