From the latest American flavours to iconic retro classics, Innovative Bites is home to many of the world’s favourite sweets and snacks, providing both branded and own label products to many retailers across the UK. Anthony Dhadwal caught up with founder Vishal Madhu.
Great to meet you Vishal, so tell us a bit about your background?
I’m originally from India and came to the UK in 2002 to pursue a Masters Degree in Information Technology at Brunel University. After my studies in 2005 I ended up working as an account manager for a frozen food supplier, which is where I picked up the skills within the industry to set up and manage my own business. This led to me founding Innovative Bites in 2008.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Innovative Bites?
I set up Innovative Bites in 2008 at the age of 28, however trading didn’t commence until 2010. It’s a company that originally started by importing one product range over from the U.S, which was the New York Style Pitta Chips line. At the time, it was an innovative and new to market product (seasoned baked pitta bread in the form of savoury snacks), which is what we are all about.
By initially starting with some smaller customers, I soon started to supply larger customers like Amazon, whom in total they supplied up to 1,400 different products. From that point onwards the appetite for American products in the market place grew with the help of the larger multiples creating new American categories in store, the market grew from something quite niche to more mass market, and there is still plenty of growth in this area to come.
Why should retailers stock Innovative Bites brands?
We are unique in the market. For example, Innovative Bites own branded products like the Baking Buddy Mega Marshmallows aren’t available elsewhere. There’s no other marshmallow out there which is as large as ours, which makes them ideal for toasting on an open fire/BBQ. Our new Baking Buddy Tinned Pumpkin is also new and a first to the UK market.
As well as Innovative Bites own brands we are also the exclusive distributors of well-known American brands like Hostess Twinkies/SnoBalls, WarHeads confectionery, Trolli confectionery and Boylan drinks, just to name a few brands all of which are the top brands in their market place.
Who is a typical Innovative Bites customer?
There’s no such thing as a typical customer, they could range from an independent retailer who has several of our lines, to a chain of retailers who have up to a hundred of our products and everything in between.
You recently acquired Bonds Confectionery, what was the thinking behind this and how will it help the company achieve its targets?
The acquisition of Bonds of London was a strategic step to grow the company’s turnover. The long-term goal of the business is to grow the sales of the business to £200 million by 2020. We hope to do this partly by not only driving sales and distribution of our existing portfolio of products, but also by growing our range of our own range of lines.
Bonds of London is a successful business with a great history, which we saw an opportunity to grow further. Both Innovative Bites & Bonds of London businesses complement each other perfectly in terms of product range, key customers and skills mix. Purchasing Bonds of London was the first step in the company’s long-term plan to become the UK’s leading confectionary supplier.”
How big is the American Confectionery market in the UK?
We estimate the American Confectionery category in the U.K to be worth in the region of £32m and growing. The growth is being driven by new product development in the category such as TGI Fridays crisps of which Innovative Bites are the exclusive importers into the U.K. The appetite from retailers, which is subsequently coming from the consumer, is also driving up the number of stores retailers are choosing to put the American range into. We are pleased to say that all four of the major multiples now stock an American category in their stores, for some of which we are the sole or lead chosen supplier. Equally pleasing is the growth in independent stores that are also reacting to the upward trend of American Confectionery.
How important is the independent retail channel to Innovative Bites? How does the company support independent retailers?
The independent channel has always been and will continue to be an important channel to Innovative Bites. When American foods were first bought into the UK, they were niche, and thus sold through selected department stores and independent shops. As the market has grown and with economies of scale we have helped to make the American category a lot more affordable. This has seen many more independent retailers jumping on board with this opportunity to offer their customers something new and different.
Does Innovative Bites have a field sales force to call on the independent retail channel?
For the independent channel Innovative Bites has a small team which look after our local market customers. A lot of our orders come from our new and improved website www.americanwholesale.co.uk which allows customers to view our vast range of confectionery, sweet and savoury snacks amongst other foods.
Bonds of London, which we acquired earlier on in the year, has its own sales team of 30+ people who cover the whole of the UK. Since they became part of the Innovative Bites family they too now sell a larger range of American products and supply the independent retail channel. However, it’s still Innovative Bites who have the larger range on offer.
Are there price marked packs of your products?
There aren’t any in the American range, due to the nature of our products coming from the U.SA. Any price marked products would be priced in the American currency which wouldn’t be suitable for selling here in the U.K. However within the Bonds Portfolio, we have two price marked lines: 3 for £1 & £1 price marked bags.
How is Innovative Bites active in the wholesale channel? Do you do end of aisle activity, for example?
The wholesale channel is an area Innovative Bites have recently focused on in the last year. We work with a number of wholesalers, both those specialising in confectionery and general grocery alike. It’s an area we’re continuing to grow our SKU count in and we look forward to growing our business in this channel in the future.
What merchandising advice would you give our readers in order to grow the category and drive sales?
Before merchandising, it’s important to have the top selling products and a good mix of product in the range. Our portfolio of products has all the popular and well-known brands, along with product and pack sizes to suit every budget. We also sell seasonal items around key times of the year like Easter, Halloween and Christmas, so there’s an opportunity for retailers to really sell something different, unique, not to mention tasty over the festive periods.
Once the range is right, then the merchandising can be perfected with the final touches. It’s clearly important to have your top sellers/well-known brands at eye level and to cluster similar lines together for ease of shopping for the customer.
Can you give us an example?
If retailers have a sour range of product, like our WarHeads range, then we advise to have all the lines in the range together. This is also known as brand blocking which works very well visually. Depending on the amount of space a retailer is dedicating to the American category we’re able to assist the stores with generic American branded including Twinkies branded POS material.
What new product development have you done recently?
Innovative Bites is always bringing out new product to the market place, especially during seasonal periods. For example, during last Halloween, we had limited edition Key Lime Slime Twinkies, which are filled with a Key Lime flavoured cream filling. Twinkies launched this product in partnership with the new Ghostbusters film that was released earlier that Summer. Retailers should keep an eye out for what we do around Easter and Halloween this year.
A product we’ve recently launched is the ‘Baking Buddy Tinned Pumpkin’. The simplest way to describe it is pureed pumpkin in a tin. Its format it’s very convenient and easy for consumers to cook with all year round whether they’re using pumpkin as an ingredient for a sweet or savoury dish, the possibilities are endless.
The product sells very well around Halloween in particular, it’s a very popular ingredient with the American community in the run up to Thanksgiving (23rd November) as tinned pumpkin is the key ingredient when making Pumpkin pie, which is a must around every dinner table.
Are there any other new variants to look out for from your brands?
Hostess, who make the Twinkies and Snoballs products, are always bringing something new out whether it be for seasonal events or movie partnerships. We are also pleased to announce we have recently become the exclusive UK distributor for Trolli confectionery, starting with nine new sharing bags and with further lines due to follow in June (see boxout).
What marketing plans do you have for the year ahead?
As well as trade marketing in the well-known titles, we will be appearing at a number of the key food shows throughout the year. As and when we develop new products there will be specific marketing launches to market these new lines throughout the year. This is in addition to any promotions we run with our customers on our core and exclusive brands.
Health is constantly in the news, including concerns over sugar, salt and fat intake. How has your company reacted to this?
These trends hit the confectionery category the hardest and can be a challenge on some lines, however we are pleased to announce that we have started to sell a small selection of reduced sugar American confectionery lines. If this range proves popular with our customers we will look into extending it if that’s what our customers are asking for.
The great thing about Innovative Bites is that we have a vast portfolio of product, of which not all of it is high in sugar and salts etc. For example, we have our own brand of marshmallows ‘Baking Buddy Mega Marshmallows’ which contains 0g fat per marshmallow. We’re in the process of developing some new and exciting products, which will also be a low fat/sugar content product.
What can retailers expect from Innovative Bites?
It’s our aim to have one of the largest ranges of American product in the market with exclusive access to all the well-known brands. By working with us, retailers will always have sound knowledge and confidence in knowing that they have access to the latest products, trends, availability and competitive prices for all the leading American products on the market.