Belfast Telegraph

Lunch pot start-up BOL Foods takes ‘bold move’ to ditch dairy

Paul Brown set up BOL in 2015 following a 14-year stint at Innocent Drinks.

A former boss at Innocent Drinks is risking another financial hit to his soup and salad start-up by ditching dairy from the product range.

BOL Foods founder Paul Brown said his ethically-inspired move had proved a tough sell to investors because a similar decision to remove meat and fish had dealt a near £3 million blow to sales.

The 38-year-old, who set up BOL in 2015 following a 14-year stint at smoothie-maker Innocent, said he felt compelled to produce purely plant-based ready meals following concerns over the environmental damage of intensive animal farming.

It has been widely claimed that meat and dairy farming is exacerbating global warming by filling the atmosphere with dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.

Despite the ingredient shake-up, BOL is still on track to more than double sales to £10 million this year, as the firm eyes an international push into Ireland and France.

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Brown said the financial impact of his decision to cut out dairy would “not be as drastic” because existing products were being redeveloped.

He said: “When we dropped meat and fish it was a case of dropping the recipes from market, so going to our customers and saying these recipes will no longer be available.

“This is why the sales dropped so drastically.

“Because we have had more time to plan this change, which we will be making at the start of the summer, all being well we won’t lose the space and lose the sales.

“I can’t afford to make another decision that halves the size of the business.”

BOL – pronounced “bowl” – employs 41 full and part-time workers and manufacturers its salads, vegetable pots and soups at sites in Leicestershire and Merseyside.

The decision to remove meat and fish from its product range caused sales to slump 23% to £4.8 million in 2017.

However, sales for the first quarter of this year are already three times higher than the year before, putting the firm in line to boost revenues by 110% in 2018.

The London-based firm is backed by more than 20 investors, including Innocent founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright through their start-up fund JamJar Investments.

Mr Brown said his backers needed a lot of persuasion before agreeing that a dairy-free future was the right direction for the business.

He said: “In year two we were getting up to £6 million in retail sales and we won National New Business of the Year – things were going pretty good.

“So for me to then tear up the rule book and say ‘Sorry, guys, I don’t want to part of this massive problem for our generation, there is going to be some bold moves, short-term risk, and a massive downturn in sales, but we can rise out and make ourselves stronger for the future’…

“In the end everyone has backed it, but it has not been complete plain sailing.”

He said the brand would roll out at least 11 new recipes across its product range this year, as he looks to make significant inroads into the UK’s £3.9 billion ready-meals market.

Mr Brown was food commercial director of Innocent, until the firm called time on its veg and noodle pot range in March 2015.

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