ENTREPRENEUR INTERVIEW – JOE SNOW

January 28, 2020

This month, we had the pleasure of getting to know Joe Snow, CEO of Just Wholefoods, a company that at its heart aims to make top-notch vegetarian food. 

 

  1. Where did you start your career and what roles were you involved in?

I started my career just out of university at a boutique investment house. I originally started off as an analyst and grew into the role. I was involved in the smaller companies side and that’s where I felt my passion lay – getting to know these small interesting businesses that were driven by exciting entrepreneurs rather than the large FTSE 100 companies that had thousands of employees and moving partners.

 

  1. What drew you to taking up a career in the food industry and more specifically in vegetarian/vegan products?

It’s quite funny, I was on a website called businessesforsale.com, just scrolling through as I’m always excited about potential opportunities, and I came across a headline saying, ‘organic food business for sale’. I had a look at it as I thought it was an exciting sector as well as an area I know relatively well. I decided to go and visit the company to see what they were about and afterwards felt like there was a real opportunity to take the business on with a fresh approach. It just so happens that I grew up on an organic farm, one of the only organic blackcurrant farms in the country, so food has always been in my blood. At that point in time, the plant-based market was just emerging as a significant growth area so that was a major pull factor as well. I’ve always been passionate about nutrition and am aware of the multitude of benefits a plant-based diet can offer and so everything sort of fell into place.

 

  1. What made Just Wholefoods stand out to you?

The fact that it had been around for about 30 years, so it has a really established trading record and reputation. What I found most interesting about the business was the diverse range of products, all of which thus far had been undermarketed and unexploited in the sector. I also really enjoyed the products, not only because they tasted great but also the convenience of them combined with the fact that they were all vegan, organic and steer clear of artificial colours and flavours. Essentially, the combination of a good track record, great products and being a relatively small and agile business, were key ingredients in being able to turn the business around reasonably quickly.

 

  1. What were some of the challenges you faced in turning the business around?

Initially, the rebranding of the business was quite difficult because of the diverse range of products. Having 18 products that spanned across a variety of categories made it quite tricky to match them up under one label, but we managed to develop consistent branding which shows when you have all the products next to each other on shelf. Also, ensuring that production copes with large increases in demand and sizes of orders is an ongoing challenge! It’s been key to get used to planning ahead for production of larger quantities of goods, rather than ordering based on historical demand. I also put great effort into getting to know all our customers again and re-establishing relationships with buyers. For a long time, there hadn’t been much, if any contact between Just Wholefoods and buyers – I’m a big believer in face to face meetings, establishing close ties with your customers, so re-establishing and re-emphasising these links over the past few months has been key.

 

  1. What three tips do you have for business owners looking to revamp and improve a business?
  • Identify your hero products – know which products are really going to drive your business. Constantly test these products against competitors to see where you can improve, look at how people buy your product instore, your branding, shelf presence – generally really get to know your hero product inside and out.
  • Know your market and your customer – it is crucial to understand the demographic that you wish to sell to. It is easy to picture selling to absolutely everyone, but the truth is, some people are more likely to adopt your product than others. As soon as you understand the group that is most likely to purchase your product, the better you can sell to that group.
  • Fully understand everything that goes on behind the scenes – if I did not get to know the business inside and out – i.e. everything from which hand sanitiser we buy to how we produce gummy bears, there would be significant gaps in my knowledge that are essential for the smooth running and most importantly, understanding of the business.

 

  1. Where do you see the company going in the future?

We’re one of the only, if not the only, manufacturers of organic and plant-based sweets in the UK and we’re really starting to get a lot of traction with our products. Therefore, what we are looking at right now is expansion of our production facilities to satisfy and grow the current increases in demand that we are experiencing both domestically and internationally and really speed up new product development. I would also like to increase the variety of channels that we supply to, adopting an omnichannel approach where we don’t only supply to supermarkets and shops but also increase our distribution to supply other areas like trains, chain cafés, airports and airplanes which are not only extremely high volume channels, but also ensure that we have a diverse revenue base and thus do not become too ‘top heavy’. I would also like Just Wholefoods to become B Corp certified to assure customers that we really do everything we can to operate in an ethical way.

 

  1. What is the most important piece of advice you’ve ever been given and by whom and why?

When I was in my early teens my dad said to me, “if everyone is going right, don’t be afraid to go left”. I think what he meant by that is, just because everyone is saying or doing one thing, does not mean that it is the right thing to be doing. In my case, it would have been quite easy for me to keep going ‘right’ in the sense that I could have stayed in London where my friends were, in a secure job. Rather than taking this well-travelled route, I decided to ‘turn left’ and take a chance on myself, spend my most energetic years working for my benefit and try to grow and build something special that might just look after me in later years – and even though comparatively, it’s early days, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

 

  1. In terms of your career, what has been your proudest moment?

My proudest moment so far has to be our first order going out to a supermarket. We were taken on by ASDA last September and as a small supplier, this was a really a great showing of faith in our product. The feeling of actually despatching that first order was the moment I felt most proud – it was such a rewarding feeling knowing that we had produced a product ourselves, with our own recipe and got it out of the door and onto the shelves of one the UK’s major supermarkets. It was at this point that I really started to feel that the business was starting to go in the right direction and gather pace.

 

Quick Fire

  1. Name 1 person, past or present you would like to have dinner with? Ricky Gervais
  2. Your favourite Just Wholefoods product? The sour gummy bears
  3. What could you eat for a week straight? Falafels
  4. If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? I’d probably go to Australia and see what I could do to help with the effort in relation to the recent bushfires.

 

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