Growth & Customers

I was told my brand was ‘too sexy’

Discover how Rude Health co-founder Camilla Barnard successfully disrupted the health food industry with her beautifully bold branding.

Despite facing relentless judgment, Camilla Barnard and her team at Rude Health were on a mission to shake up the UK’s health food industry.

With a vision to make their product look as desirable as it tasted, they rejected the usual brown palette for their branding and instead reflected their fun-spirited and tasty products with vibrantly coloured packaging.

But breaking the status quo saw them bombarded with critics claiming her branding was “too sexy and extreme”.

However, their cheeky approach soon paid off, and they quickly became a customer favourite, propelling their product range to more than 60 foods and drinks and seeing them take in an impressive £30m (CA$51million) in annual turnover.

Get all of Camilla’s top tips on how to successfully disrupt an entire industry, and how she built a bold million-pound business that customers just can’t get enough of.

Here is her unfiltered advice below:

Pioneering change in the health food space

Bex Burn-Callander:

Can you tell me where the idea for Rude Health came from?

Because in 2005, the world was a bit different. There wasn’t the emphasis on veganism and healthy products, and it was kind of a different world.

So where did the inspiration come from?

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, it really was a different world. It’s so easy to forget.

There was a real sea change about 10 years ago, I think, in people’s approach to health. And it suddenly became, I mean, 10 years ago, health became fashionable, cool.

Yoga and eating well and get the glow, that was not happening in 2005, 2006.

But what I wanted to do, what myself and my then husband wanted to do was to, well, what we now say when we talk about the goal of Rude Health, the business, what we say is we want to make healthy eating a celebration, not a sacrifice.

And I think that does sort of address how people were and the attitudes at the time. And that healthy eating was just not a high consideration for most people.

And it felt like healthy eating was a compromise or a sacrifice, and people tended to feel that you were either going to have something delicious that you weren’t going to enjoy or something that was good for you that you weren’t going to enjoy.

And I’ve been brought up in a family where my mother cooked, she was a great cook and I loved food. Food, everything to do with food. I love the eating food. I like cooking food, I like talking about food. I like sharing food.

And when you think about it, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, what culture, what nationality, almost every sort of life event toward ceremony actually involves getting together around food.

And for me, that’s part of it.

It’s not only the nourishment, it’s not only the pure nutritional value. There’s huge value in the social occasion and therefore the enjoyment of it.

So right from the start, what I wanted to do was not to go down the health, health, vitamin, vitamin, are you getting all your micro, macronutrients?

Because that’s not celebratory, that’s not fun.

Right from the start, it was about the fact you can be healthy, you can eat well, and that can be really, really enjoyable, and that’s really important.

So that was where it came from. Yes, in a very different world.

Creating a health product that also tastes just as good

Bex Burn-Callander:

I love that. It’s more like eat this delicious cereal, but by the way, it’s actually really good for you.

But is that quite hard to develop as a product?

Obviously it sounds wonderful, but to create a product that offers both of those things, was that quite a journey for you guys?

Camilla Barnard:

It’s constantly a journey.

It’s still a journey because we want to be taste led, and we’ve got incredibly strict pillars on what we will and won’t have in our foods and how we will and won’t make them.

So it has to be, it has taste good.

We won’t launch it if it doesn’t taste good.

But there are a lot of things that we can’t do that obviously other brands that don’t have the same sort of health pillars, health criteria, can do.

So looking at our dairy free drinks, a fundamental principle is we talk about kitchen cupboard ingredients. Partly because they’re healthy, and partly because you can recognize them and understand what’s in them.

So you can make an informed choice about whether what’s in them is what you want.

Whereas when you’ve got a list of things on there that you don’t recognize, it’s much harder to make a choice.

So for example, when we launched the milks about 10 years ago now, at the time, there weren’t many almond milks out there, but the almond milks that were out there included a lot of ingredients.

One of which on all of them was carrageenan. Which is a seaweed extract, which looks fine, except that it’s also a known gut irritant.

I mean, I say known, most people wouldn’t know that because that’s quite specific bit of information, but…

Bex Burn-Callander:

Now we know what to look out for.

Camilla Barnard:

But what really upset me about that was that, again, particularly at the time, a lot of the people who were choosing to drink dairy free milks were actually moving away from dairy because of gut issues.

And the idea that the thing you were switching to contains an ingredient that was a known gut irritant. It was like, this is just not fair on people.

So what we didn’t use carrageen, and we didn’t use calcium carbonate, we didn’t use the gums. What we did was put rice in, because almond on its own can be very thin and watery.

So you want to have something with it that gives you the nice mouthfeel, the nice sort of creaminess of milk.

And everybody knows what rice is, whether you can have rice or not have rice. You’re completely clear on that. And it’s actually a really good flavour profile with sea almond.

But yeah, we always have to find another way of doing things that allows us to achieve the flavour without compromising on the ingredients.

And it’s always tough. It’s been tough from the beginning, and it’s the ongoing tension wherever we’re making something new.

How to naturally progress your product range and expansion

Bex Burn-Callander:

And it’s interesting that you’re referencing the milk because was that a real pivot for the business?

Was that just like, let’s try this crazy thing?

Or was it like, this is the future, let’s really divert resources towards plant-based milk?

How did that become such a big part of the business?

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, so we started the business in 2006. And we launched the milks in 2013. So seven years after we started.

And as you said, we started the business with the ultimate muesli.

And the idea then was to start with the healthiest of health foods. It doesn’t get much healthier than muesli and make a really, really delicious muesli with 24 different ingredients.

And then from muesli, it sort of naturally builds into porridge and granola, and then other light cereals. We then branched out into other green-based snacks.

So we found a rice cake that was really thin and crispy, which was just much nicer than the sort of thick polystyrene rice cake.

So we couldn’t resist doing that.

And then we were able to make oatcakes, that again, had a really lovely bite to them. So we went into oatcakes.

And then what was happening, was there were 2 things going on at the same time. To sell the cereals and to raise awareness around the cereals, we did lots and lots of tastings.

That was our main form of marketing, actually. Because we didn’t have lots of money, and the easiest way to get people to buy the food is to give them a sample of it.

So we would go into stores, mostly to places like Whole Foods and Planet Organic, and we would do tastings. And when you’re tasting cereal, you need to serve it with something.

And when I was doing these tastings, I was increasingly noticing that people, more people, not many, but more was saying, do you have anything other than milk to have it with, to try it with?

And at the time, the options weren’t great, to be honest.

They didn’t taste good, and the ingredients weren’t good. And I hated serving our precious cereals with what, at the time, I thought were really quite ropey milks.

And at that point, Nick, my then-husband, was also talking to people and having completely different discussions.

And somebody had said to him, “Oh, you can do all kinds of grain-based things. Have you thought about grain-based milks?”.

And he thought, “Oh, actually, yes, that does make complete sense.”

So coming at it from sort of two different angles. It didn’t feel like a pivot, it felt like an absolutely natural extension of more grain-based foods, that are part of breakfast, and complement the cereals.

So it felt like a really obvious next step. Did we have a clue how successful it would be?

No, we didn’t.

We’re all about food. We love making new food. We’re always looking at new foods, always wanting to innovate. And it was another innovation, another new food.

And we were really excited about it, because Nick had spent a long time trying to find a company that could make milks with the ingredients that we believed in and that tasted right.

And he was hugely excited that he’d found that.

So we were hugely excited by the new designs that made what was then, a really miserable category, that you shopped because you had to, feel a lot more enjoyable.

We put packets on shelves that actually looked desirable with a drink inside that tasted good and had good ingredients.

So we were hugely excited. But by that time, we’d been doing this seven years, and we’ve been hugely excited many times.

And this time, we got the timing right.

It just was the right thing at the right time, and yet it took off.

And now most of the businesses is on milk.

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s so fascinating because this journey towards finding milk, it’s so similar to another great business.

So Tim Warrillow, who was one of the founders of Fever-Tree, he was talking about the premium spirits revolution and how you have this gorgeous product and that you are pairing it often with a really inferior tonic, loaded with sugar.

And he was like, there has to be a better way. It’s exactly the same journey.

And look, Fever-Tree is a massive-listed business now, so it’s fascinating how that thought process works out.

Turning your business concept into a visually desirable brand

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you mentioned the design, and I’d love to talk to you about the design because when you look at the Rude Health packaging, it’s all a bit naughty, isn’t it?

Tell me about how you came up with this packaging.

What have people said about it? Do people love it? Hate it?

How did you find a sweet spot when it came to your brand?

Camilla Barnard:

Again, it took us a long, long time to get to roughly where we are now. And it was 2013 when we launched the milks.

And it was actually, with so many things, the trigger was entirely serendipitous.

Our designer who’d been working for us freelance, got another full-time job, and couldn’t do it anymore. And I didn’t feel like I could go to a new designer and say, “Can you do some new designs that are just a bit better?”

It’s just the worst brief ever.

So I thought, we need to come up with a brief. We need to work out what it is we’re trying to do.

And our copywriter was at the time working for a business. They needed a guinea pig company. We didn’t have any cash at the time. They needed a guinea pig company to do what they call the co-creation workshop.

We were like, “Fine, we’ll be guinea pigs. Absolutely no problem.”

So we did a workshop with the goal of coming out with knowing if you think about Rude Health as the brand, almost as a personality, who is Rude Health?

What does Rude Health do?

What do people expect from it?

What does it look like?

How does it express itself?

It took three kind of iterations.

We did that first workshop. We then did another internal kind of development of it, to get it more specific. And then we took it to a third person, my brother who’s a brand copywriter, to hone it again, to make it tighter.

And then we finally took the outcome to a designer and said, “Right, this is what Rude Health is. This is what we stand for. This is what we believe in, this is who we are.”

So before we did all this, we looked like a health food brand.

We were in very, the craft card kind of packaging. There was energy and there was fun in there, but we looked like a health food brand.

And what was coming through in all the work we’d done, was that we actually really believe in what we’re doing. We’re really confident, we’re really bold. We’re all about taste, and we’re all about living in Rude Health.

And anyway, the designers took the brief away, and it was an incredibly tight timeline. I mean, ridiculous.

And they came back two weeks’ later with a series of concepts, and it got to concept four, and they showed us this incredibly bright and energetic and beautiful pack.

And I mean, to me, it just looked like art. It was absolutely stunning and amazing, it had all the ingredients, and it was showing all these people eating.

And I was like, “Wow, this is it. Yes, yes, yes, yes.”

And Nick was the same. He was absolutely in love with it.

The designer told us afterwards, it was so funny, I think it was years later, they told us that the only stipulation we’d given them was not to get rid of the craft card.

And quite correctly, he’d ignored us.

Because what they managed to do was turn our whole concept, our idea, our verbal brief, into a visual image.

Which is that the food is healthy, there’s health in the name, but actually, what you want to do is to look desirable and delicious, whether it’s gourmet food or junk food, either way.

And that was the role of the brand, don’t look like a health food, look like delicious food.

So that’s what they gave us, something that looked really desirable, really appealing, something that didn’t look like a health food, which of course was polarizing because nobody at the time had done that.

There was a very clear delineation.

If you went into health food shops, it was very brown, very green, very recessive. Not at all shouty.

If you went into a delicatessen, everything was very stylish, beautiful fonts, lots of lovely rich colours and junk food’s always been bright and in your face because that it’s a very instant appeal thing.

So, we were mixing it up and that was exactly why we loved it.

But of course, it was polarizing.

Some people hated it, probably still do because it’s got lips on as well. It’s quite a punchy statement.

And the lips work really well for us because the lips are also, obviously lips eat, but they also express how you feel.

And again, that was that sense of being in Rude Health and being who you are and having something to say.

So they work kind of both ways,

Bouncing back from failure can be a long journey

Bex Burn-Callander:

But there is a flip side to being a pioneer in everything that you do.

So whether it was you launching new takes on tired products, or being a pioneer in the way that you shook up the marketing angle of the health food category, did it ever go wrong?

Was there anything that you attempted that then kind of blew up or was not as successful as you hoped for?

And what did you learn from that experience?

Camilla Barnard:

Oh my goodness. I mean, there are so many things.

I think anyone who’s run a business will probably know that it feels like more things go wrong than right, most of the time.

The amount of foods that we’ve launched that didn’t work or did work, but then ended up not being viable because it cost us too much to make them, and we couldn’t charge what we needed for them.

I mean, one of my favourites was a top banana porridge. I’m still sad about that, but it had a maple sugar in it, which ended up being more expensive than gold basically. So we couldn’t make that.

Oh gosh, what else?

There’s lots of innovation, lots of foods that we’ve made. We spent a couple of years making Kombucha. That was fantastic Kombucha, it was really good.

We did it too early, and it just took up far too many resources of the company because it’s a live product, because it’s volatile. It was just too much to manage.

Endless things, endless things have gone wrong. I could go on forever.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How’d you come back from those failures, especially when it’s something like you said, top banana, you loved it, you really wanted it to work.

So when you have to either withdraw a product or take another tack, how do you keep bringing the energy?

Surely it must sometimes feel a bit like a kick in the teeth, especially when you’ve spent a lot of money on a new product.

So how do you come back fighting after a failure?

Camilla Barnard:

The new product failures aren’t so bad in the sense that it is part of the day to day.

You try something, it works, or it doesn’t work.

And actually our approach to innovation was very much, let’s try it and see what happens, certainly in the early years.

I think the really, really, really tough bit was in 2008, we were still a baby fledgling business and we’d raised a little bit of money.

We started the business with £4,000 (CA$6,892), and then in 2008, we raised a little bit of money in order to go into more solid packaging and get a design so that we could go into the supermarkets, and we’d secured listings in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose.

And then in September, Lehman’s went down, the crash happened. The world changed overnight. The Tesco and Sainsbury’s listings were pulled.

Waitrose, thank you Waitrose kept the list, did list us.

Obviously if they hadn’t, we probably wouldn’t be here today.

And that was the beginning of last three/four years of absolute slog.

Because at that point, it goes back to what you were asking at the beginning about the world changing and attitudes to health. The focus then that was when Tesco launched their value range.

So people were focused on getting food as cheaply as they could, and that was therefore what the supermarkets were trying to do.

So nobody was interested in prioritizing health and investing in health. Everyone was looking at bottom line, how little can I spend? So for three or four years, and at this time also I had two toddlers.

So for three or four years we had a toddler-aged business that required so much energy, it’s unbelievable because the world was going in completely the opposite direction.

And two small children who obviously require all the energy in the world because that’s your job as their parents, and I’m in it with my husband, so he’s in the same place.

So for three or four years, it was absolutely, utterly relentless. There was nothing coming back.

You’ve got to go into the business being positive because all the other people in the business need to stay motivated and your job as the founders, leaders are to make that possible.

So, I mean I think the irony is by about 2013, I was broken.

Actually, when it all started going well, I think I completely lost myself by that point, because it had just been so much, for so long.

The whole of life, the whole thing, it just coincided that everything was super intense for a long time, on all fronts.

It has not been an easy ride by any means.

And now people come and say, “Wow, you’ve got an amazing business. It looks so great.”

But it’s been 20 years almost, not quite, and a huge number of ups and downs in extreme highs and extreme lows, and the lows coming long.

That was like four years of, are we going to make it through this? Are we going to survive? It was incredibly good.

With hindsight and having come out of it and through it, I can see that it focused us. It makes you really, really clear about what’s important.

And we were enormously lucky that one of our first hires, our first senior hire was Jonathan. He’s now one of our directors. He was a qualified accountant.

And honestly, without Jonathan, again, I don’t think we would’ve made it through that because if I look at our peer companies at the time, most of them fell by the wayside during those three or four years.

Hardly any of them are around now.

And I think part of it is that insanely tight cash management, you just don’t spend.

So yeah, bouncing back from that actually took me years. I didn’t realize it, but it took me years and years and years to bounce back from that.

So it wasn’t really a bounce. It was more of a crawl back.

The return of energy and momentum from your team is what will keep you going

Bex Burn-Callander:

So tell, so you said that you lost yourself even when the business started doing well, so that was by 2013.

So what did that feel like? What did life feel like for you at that point after that four-year slog?

And then what did you do to try and reconnect with what made you happy again? Or at least find joy in Rude Health and life again?

So tell me how you made that happen.

Camilla Barnard:

Well, I think the success of the milks couldn’t have come at a better time because that meant the business got its own momentum.

It was motoring, it was flying. The people in it were excited and motivated, and that shifted. That meant that the energy finally didn’t feel like it was all coming from me.

So it wasn’t all going out. It started to come back, and that was an absolute joy and also a huge reward, because sometimes it doesn’t work.

The amount of people who have started businesses, throwing their whole hearts into it just as I did, as we did. And it doesn’t work.

And it’s not through any fault of their own, but I feel so privileged, so lucky that it did come back. It did work, and the business did start to thrive and fly and maintain and get its own momentum.

A little bit like, ironically, the kids at the same time, they’re getting to the point where they were, at the same time as the business, just beginning to grow up and start to develop their own lives.

And the joy in that and the joy in things coming back was huge. That was huge.

It all started to come back, and that gave me space, and it gave me the nourishment back in.

The energy was going both ways, so I’m very lucky that that’s what happened, and the drinks did take off.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you’re lucky that you stuck at it. You could easily have been like, right, this has been a nightmare. I give up.

And then you would never have felt the gradual return of all that energy and that momentum as you talk about, and then the giving back where actually you are being fed by the optimism of the people that work for you and that are working around the business.

So it is lucky that you stuck on in there.

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, absolutely.

And I couldn’t have done it on my own. I mean, absolutely. If I hadn’t been in that with someone else, it was my husband, but it needed to be,

I couldn’t have done that whole thing on my own. I think that would’ve been too much.

Put safeguards in place when running a family business

Bex Burn-Callander:

But then you and your husband broke up shortly after that, is that right?

Camilla Barnard:

No, that was really recent, actually. Really recent. It’s only a couple of years.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, I see.

So can you tell me, I don’t know how much of this you want to share, but was it to do with the stress of running a business together and being in it 24/7 and on the weekends and the evenings, that being such a big part of your relationship and how, crucially for me, what were the discussions like when it came to who’s going to take the business forward from here?

How are we going to carve up this thing that we have created, and how has it been taking it forward on your own?

Camilla Barnard:

Well, so my ex-husband is still involved in the business as well.

So we’re both still in it and I actually think the business and the kids were the best of us. That’s what we really did well together.

We were a creative force together, and we created Rude Health, and we created the children. And I feel like that’s what we did really, really, really well.

And again, really lucky that that’s the legacy of our relationship. That’s a really wonderful legacy to have.

And I think, cause and effect, I don’t know. But actually, a couple of years ago, we recognized that the business had outgrown us as founders and as the startup people.

The business was at a different stage where it needed somebody who knows how to manage and run an actual business rather than a start-up.

And at that point we hired Tim, who came from People Against Dirty, which is Method and ECOVA, and we hired him as CEO to run the business.

And so what’s the cause, what’s the effect?

But what it meant was, our separation, my separation from Nick didn’t really affect the business because Tim was running it at that point.

So, Nick and I were already stepping back to give Tim the space to run it. So in a way it was a sort of natural progression, it didn’t affect the business.

So it was an end of an era really, the end of a cycle. And we’re very lucky it hasn’t had an impact.

I think had we split up 10 years ago, that would’ve been a very different story.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I think because Tim was in place as well, you weren’t being thrust together all the time because that would be really tricky.

Like if you are going through a separation to then have to appear side by side all the time. Yeah, that would be really, really challenging.

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, I think it would be hugely emotionally demanding to, as you say, maintain a close relationship on one side of your life, whilst separating on another side of your life.

I think that’s probably something you can come back to in time. People have probably done it, but I’m glad I didn’t need to. I’m not sure I could have done that.

Facing the things you thought you couldn’t will build your confidence—not just success

Bex Burn-Callander:

But what I love is that I’ve heard you say that you wouldn’t have had the confidence to launch Rude Health on your own way back when, but now having built this amazing business, you do have that confidence.

So tell me about that journey.

Is it just that success breeds confidence, and then you believe in yourself because you’ve seen yourself do it or is something else at play here?

Camilla Barnard:

Gosh, that’s a really good question.

Yes, I didn’t have confidence in myself really at the beginning, although I didn’t actually know that I don’t think.

There was a peculiar combination because I absolutely believed in what we were doing, and I was confident in what we were doing, it made absolute sense.

But I didn’t really have confidence in myself.

And you’re right, I think having done it, having done all the things that I probably thought I couldn’t do, doing them because I had no choice, which is how running a business tends to go.

It’s like you just have to. Like you were saying earlier about not giving up and sticking at it. You can’t give up, you just can’t. You’ve got to keep going.

So I think having done everything, faced everything, dealt with everything that I thought maybe I couldn’t, or I didn’t have the skills for or whatever it was,

I think I’ve demonstrated to myself that I can do all these things and the things I can’t do, that’s fine.

You don’t need to be able to do everything, actually. That’s what other people are for.

So I think, I’m not sure if it’s success exactly. I think it’s almost just facing the stuff and doing the stuff that you think you can’t do. I’m not even sure that it matters that it works.

I think there’s something in just doing it and then going, “Yeah, okay, I can do that.”

Or actually, “No, I can’t do that and that’s okay. I don’t need to be able to do that.”

So I’m not entirely sure, but you are right. I have a lot more self-confidence now. I do believe in myself. I know what I want, I know what I don’t want.

And yeah, if nothing else, even if the business hadn’t worked, I mean I would be absolutely gutted, but I think it still would’ve been a hugely valuable experience.

After 2 years you either get on or get out

Bex Burn-Callander:

And are you one of these entrepreneurs that always has another business idea on the back burner, is always jotting things down like, oh, that’d be great, that’d be great.

Or are you very good at staying focused on what you’re working on?

Camilla Barnard:

I’m absolutely terrible at staying focused on what I’m working on.

I am an absolute master of distraction and a new idea. So constantly having ideas.

Yeah, I mean, gosh, but I keep telling myself I’m not going to start another business.

I feel like it’s been 18 years of doing this, I’m not ready to start another 18-year cycle. And I think it always takes longer than you think it will.

I mean, I speak to quite a lot of people starting up businesses and wanting ideas or advice or to talk things through. And it always reminds me that at the beginning you think that you’re going to achieve everything in three or five years.

And here I am, 18 years later thinking I still haven’t achieved everything, but it’s a really, really long cycle.

So I am now super aware that anything that I started up would take more energy and more time than I would believe possible still.

So anything I do now or next will be small scale for fun. It will be a project rather than a business.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You know too much. I think that is sometimes the greatest gift of a first-time entrepreneur is the naivety that comes with it.

Just thinking, yeah, yeah, I can have flexibility in my life. I don’t have to work weekends, it can all be on my own terms, and it’ll be a staggering success within two years.

A lot of the time if they knew what they were getting themselves into, I mean they might still do it, but yes, it would be a much harder decision, perhaps.

Camilla Barnard:

Absolutely. You need that. And it’s really interesting.

Well, again, something I’ve noticed, I don’t know if this is across all sectors, but I’ve noticed that there’s a real two-year turning point, where it has been hugely fun, but there then comes a point where you’ve got to scale up, where you’ve got to go in with both feet.

And that seems to be a real break point where people either go in and go on or they get out.

And I think, yeah, it is, it’s that realization moment where you think actually, this is just the beginning and then you either stick with it or go, this is not for me.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I like that, go on or get out.

That sounds like a book that needs to be written, like the two-year quandary, go on or get out.

Camilla Barnard:

Not by me. Definitely not writing that book. Takes me back to essays at school.

Building a business with £4,000 (CA$6,892)

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I’d like to talk to you a bit about your funding journey.

You mentioned that you started Rude Health with only £4,000 (CA$6,892), which is amazing.

So I want to know how on earth you did that, how you made that money stretch to get your first prototype product or whatever it was.

And then I’d like to hear a bit about the kind of best finance decision that you made.

So it could have been that you raised money just at the right time to take on a really big order or something, but then also the worth.

So did you ever put your house on the line or do something that you now think, thank goodness we survived that.

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, so many. Yeah, we started with £4,000 (CA$6,892) and that bought us ingredients, tubs to put muesli in, labels and branded aprons. That was basically it.

And then initially we mixed it in this kitchen that I’m sitting in now while we were making prototypes.

And then we moved to an organic café kitchen that was closed in the evening, so we could mix there so that we could actually sell into organic shops.

So we’d started with the absolute bare minimum. And I would now say that almost our first two years were kind of a live trial.

So rather than spending years researching and testing, we just went out there with it.

We just made it, labelled it, got out there, put it out there. Went and put our aprons on, went into the delis and health food shops and sampled and tasted and learned that way.

I mean, I think that was one of the most valuable things we did because the sampling tasting is obviously sales. Everyone does that for sales, but it’s the best form of research and marketing that you can do because you’re talking to your consumer.

And you can get so much out of it.

It’s what they ask what other things they’ve got in their basket. You get to work out who they are, what they’re interested in, which I just found enormously valuable.

And it’s one of the things that’s harder to maintain as you get bigger, and you are not as connected to your consumer, which is why it’s so lovely us having our own café.

Because again, you get that connection with people, which you don’t when you’re supplying into a store that’s not yours.

So that was the sort of first £4,000 (CA$6,892).

So we grew organically. It was literally you get the money in, so you could buy more ingredients, and you could scale up like that.

We very early on made the decision that we were not going to be the producers, so we weren’t going to have our own factory. We were going to find specialists.

That has been a really good decision for us because that’s meant that we can launch different foods and drinks. We’ve just got to find the people who can do it the way we want it done.

But it means we don’t have to have all the equipment every time.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That massive outlay at the beginning, yeah.

Camilla Barnard:

Huge. And then you’ve got to be running a factory, which is actually a very different job from running a brand. So very hard to do both well.

So that funding or the way we did it without money may have influenced that. And I think that was a really good decision.

We raised a little bit of money, and I can’t remember how much it was, £100,000 to £150,000 (CA$172,300 – $258,456) or something like that, in 2008 in order to get out of paper bags and into boxes.

And also so we could take on a couple more people to help us build a business and scale up to go into the supermarkets, to do that sort of tipping point from being a startup into actually existing.

So that was the funding that we raised.

I think one of our early, I’ve mentioned it before, but one of our early really good decisions was hiring Jonathan because Nick did sales fundamentally and sort of business management.

And I was doing marketing and brand and neither of us were excited by, nor are good at the numbers.

We’re not stupid, but it was not going to be either of our priorities.

And we recognized that and realized we needed somebody who did do it really well, did get a kick out of it. That was their thing.

And Jonathan has been that throughout and not just that, but at the beginning stage, that was the sort of the crucial thing, was that somebody was managing that.

I mean, yes, there’s a whole lot more because it’s the whole of operations and the whole of finance, but that was a really good decision.

We did put our house on the line. We did in 2008. Everything was on the line then. We didn’t have a choice really. Glad it worked out. Could have been awful.

We’ve made terrible hiring decisions. Oh my goodness, which have been expensive at some time.

What does a terrible hiring decision look like?

Bex Burn-Callander:

What does a terrible hiring decision look like?

Is that just that someone starts, they don’t live up to expectation, you let them go?

Or is it that you kind of let them hang around for a long time, and they end up having a bit of a toxic impact on the rest of the team?

What does a bad hiring decision look like?

Camilla Barnard:

It’s always so easy, with hindsight, to see that I thought I was going to get, or what I thought I wanted, isn’t what’s actually going to happen.

And with hindsight, I can see that wasn’t going to happen. But at the time, you can’t see, and at a senior level, it means you stall the business really.

Because if you’ve not got the right people in place, usually it means it’s not moving it forward and that’s lost time effectively.

And I think it does take a while at a senior level to work out, is this going to work?

Because quite a transition period where people are getting to grips with it and working out what they know and what they want to do with it.

So the impact doesn’t show up for a bit.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Until it’s too late perhaps?

Camilla Barnard:

Until it’s already had an impact and at that point, and then you’ve got to unravel it.

And when you do changes at a senior level, it does have an impact on people and how they feel.

And also, I think the reason I said hiring decisions is also because that one hits hardest, because if you make a bad business decision, which we’ve also done.

We’ve launched into countries, we tried to launch into Germany I think twice. And it’s failed both times, which is expensive, but that’s much easier to live with.

It’s like we’ve tried that, it failed, damn. We spent money. Hindsight, should we have done? Maybe not.

But the people one, it’s because it’s people, it’s much harder because you feel responsible. You feel like they joined in good faith, you hired in good faith, but it has an impact on them too.

And I think that making bad people decisions that don’t work out is much harder to live with because of the impact on the other people as well as the impact on yourself.

I always feel, I mean probably too much, but I always feel horribly responsible when we’ve made a hiring decision that hasn’t worked out.

So yeah, that’s the one that hurts most.

Honesty is always the best policy when making difficult decisions

Bex Burn-Callander:

We have a Sound Advice episode where entrepreneur Aron Gelbard, who founded Bloom & Wild, talked to us about those horrible people decisions that you have to make.

For example, when you’ve got to say either you’re not a great fit for the business or if you have to make redundancies for example, it’s so awful.

But he said that actually that can be the most powerful sort of learning curve for a founder because you really have to strip back who you are, how you communicate, and be really honest because that’s the only way you can deal with people is by being honest.

Was that your experience as well?

Camilla Barnard:

Yeah, I mean he’s right.

I think he’s absolutely right, and it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s still awful. It’s still awful.

But, yeah, it’s all about honesty.

And I have to say that’s been something that Tim has been really, really good at is incredibly clear, open, honest communication. Certainly from my perspective.

And I hope that the team feels the same. He does regular check-ins with everybody. But I think that openness, that honesty, that clarity, because you do, we have had to make those decisions.

And as you say, particularly with when you come into a recession, and you end up having to make a very clear decision of stripping back your people if you want the business to succeed.

Being able to do that in a way which makes it very clear that it’s not about the people, it’s about the business is really, really important, and still awful. It’s just never fun.

You’d have to be a psychopath to enjoy that.

How to handle difficult economic climates

Bex Burn-Callander:

But on that point, I find it really fascinating that that Rude Health made it through that awful recessionary period in 2008.

And as you mentioned, it was a really long torrid time.

But we are in quite a difficult economic time now. There’s a cost of living crisis, which means that a lot of consumer-facing brands are under pressure.

What were the learnings from 2008, from that massive crash and that awful time that you’ve been able to employ on the second time round with a cooler head?

And can you share them with our listeners and many of whom might be running businesses the first time?

Camilla Barnard:

In a way we were lucky, possibly because of that first time we hadn’t really overstretched financially.

We’ve never done the spend-to-grow approach, which is a very capitalist approach. You raise loads of money, you spend loads of money, and then the growth comes and when it works, that’s incredibly successful.

But if what happens in the middle of that is you hit to recession, quite often you end up with a huge amount of debt and you’re not going to get the growth until the recession is over.

So we didn’t ever follow that model, which meant we were in a better position.

This time around we already had listings in the supermarkets, so we were in a much more solid place.

We weren’t trying to launch into in the same way. I mean it’s still frustrating because you don’t have as many range reviews, so you don’t have as many opportunities for growth, but we’re in a much more solid position.

And Tim reacted or acted very quickly doing exactly what you’d said.

We looked at everything we were spending 18 months ago, and I made some really tough choices then on reducing amount of office space, reducing the number of people we’re hiring, and really importantly, putting our focus into the parts of the business that are the most important.

And I think making the tough decisions early has really paid off.

And yeah, it’s hard, but it meant we were well-prepared, and we are in a very happy position now of being in growth, as you say, in a relatively difficult climate, where people are looking at cost of living.

And we are one of the more expensive, one of the more premium milks and cereals because of the quality, because of the taste. And people are still choosing us.

We are still growing ahead of the category, which is amazing work by the team to focus on the right things.

What are going to be the next big trends?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And on that note, I’ve got one more question, and it’s a little bit cheeky, so forgive me, but because you’ve always been so good at predicting consumer trends.

You were there giving us delicious, but healthy food before that was a huge trend.

Plant milks, you were there.

You’ve pioneered all these interesting products. I’d love to know for the people who are thinking, I wonder what the next big thing is going to be?

What is your prediction for the next big thing it can be particularly in your industry?

So within food or drink, or it could be wider, what do you think is going to be the smash hit industry of 2024 and beyond?

Camilla Barnard:

Oh, I wish I knew. I have no idea.

Because I didn’t really launch the milks. I didn’t know that they were going to be the next big thing.

So honestly, it will be something that I have discounted completely. I am fascinated by where the discussion around ultra-processed foods is going to go because I think it’s potentially really, really interesting.

It’s an interesting way of deciding the value in food, which could be moving away from calories and away from diet, but it depends on how the conversation moves forward.

So I think the ultra-processed food debate is fascinating.

And now farming, I’m fascinated in regenerative farming and how that’s going to develop in relation to organic and everything else.

There’s a lot going on, and it’s very polarizing, and I have no idea what’s going to win out. I really don’t know.

My dream is that it gets less binary, is that it becomes less good and bad, right and wrong, this or that, milk or not milk.

So you can have both.

And it’s about quality, it’s about taste, it’s about ethics, it’s about the environment, your choices.

I would love it to get more nuanced, but I think I might be dreaming.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s interesting what you say about ultra processed because I’m on that journey at the moment and I’m the one standing in the supermarket reading everything.

Do I know what that ingredient is? I don’t think I know what that ingredient is, so that’s goes back on the shelf.

So that’s funny that that’s kind of a big movement. I thought maybe it was just me and getting really paranoid about what I was feeding my kids.

But that’s an interesting tip.

Camilla Barnard:

No, I think it is a thing, isn’t it? It is.

People are beginning to look at it and go, I know bread is fascinating on that one. Bread only needs 3 ingredients.

But if it’s in a plastic bag, and it’s sliced, and it’s lasting for a week, pretty sure it’s going to have a lot more ingredients than three.

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