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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox’s attention to detail through their Diamond Programme ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and that the sale process itself was managed expertly.
We challenged Bluebox with finding the right strategic buyer and thereafter negotiating a deal that met our requirements. In helping initially to identify and to secure the deal with Mountville Mills they accomplished just that. Communication throughout was excellent and professional, managing each stage of the process. I would have no hesitation in recommending Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest their business.”
Richard Millward, Former Client
“We were delighted with the services that Bluebox offered us. Bluebox were challenged with finding us the right strategic investor and, thereafter, negotiating a deal that met our complex requirements. In identifying and securing the deal with LGC they have done exactly that. The process itself was efficient and smooth, largely due to the excellent communication from the Bluebox team, who also demonstrated excellent experience at managing a very engaging auction process. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox to any corporate shareholder or private business owner looking to divest a business.”
Helen Dickinson, Former Client
It has been a real privilege working with the team at Bluebox over this last year or so. Bluebox’s attention to detail ensured that we were well prepared for when the business was taken to market and the sale process itself was managed expertly. Starting the process, I had no idea exactly what this would entail and the volume of work that has been produced by everyone and the result reached today is nothing short of brilliant.
Hugh Morris, Former Client
We are delighted with the services that Bluebox was able to offer. They showed an intimate knowledge of a deal cycle, managed a tight auction process and were highly communicative from the start. I would happily recommend Paul and his team to business owners contemplating a sale of their business in the next 24 months. Experience is key and this has paid off for us.
Laurence Seward, Former Client
Aligning ourselves early with Bluebox, and entrusting the team to guide us through their process proved to be a highly rewarding investment from all viewpoints. Bluebox’s support significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years. The earlier the engagement the better so far as I am concerned.
Mike Minett, Former Client
We began working with Bluebox in early 2015 through their Blue Diamond Programme, as we were contemplating an exit. We found that the process focussed our minds on the key areas of growth in the business, and prepared us well for the inevitable rigours of due diligence. During the sale process itself, the advice offered by the Bluebox team was invaluable. We found them to be helpful, straightforward and honest.
David Stokes, Former Client
When selecting our adviser, it was extremely important that they had access to international buyers and were experienced in cross-border M&A. The team at Bluebox proved to be invaluable by identifying a strategic acquirer from America who was not known to us and by negotiating an excellent deal for all parties. I was also impressed with the process management from Bluebox, which ensured that the deal was closed in a timely fashion.
Jeff Weinstein, Former Client
When I first engaged with Bluebox, I was hesitant as to the benefits of using an advisor to firstly, find a buyer for my business and secondly, to get a deal over the line. However, now that the deal has completed with KPM, I can honestly say that the finer negotiation points handled by Bluebox and their overall management of this process has been nothing short of first class. I would be delighted to recommend Bluebox’s services to any entrepreneur contemplating the sale of their business.
Bill Ballard, Former Client
Bluebox worked closely with us over the following six months and helped us to implement some key initiatives which made InferMed a more attractive acquisition target. Once we decided to sell the business, the Bluebox team were very diligent in ensuring that no stone was left unturned. They negotiated expertly on our behalf to ensure we got the best deal possible.
Alan Montgomery, Former Client
The pre-sale planning programme that we signed up for with Bluebox made us develop our strategies and focus on the bigger picture. It proved to be a very rewarding investment from all viewpoints and significantly enhanced both the value of our business and its ‘saleability’. I would highly recommend Bluebox to business owners contemplating an exit in the next two years.
Nigel Parsons, Former Client
I have experienced first hand the value that can be created through highly structured pre-sale planning. It amazes me that it is not something that everyone does. It is so disappointing to see around 90% of transactions collapse before they complete and pre-sale planning will not only enhance your price, but also significantly enhance your chance of a closed deal.
James Caan, Investor
We worked incredibly closely with our advisers who provided expert knowledge of the sale process with which we were not familiar. We were truly delighted with the results.
Marten Nielson, Former Client
We appointed advisers to manage the sales process after we had received a number of unsolicited approaches for the business. I was incredibly impressed by the immense value that could be created by expertly negotiating with a group of already interested parties.
Paul Duckworth, Former Client
I was delighted with the service that the team offered and their real attention to detail. The deal was not without its complexities and it was reassuring to have such experienced advisers assisting me throughout the negotiations.
Peter Bennett, Former Client
Truly delighted with the way my sale process was managed. The fact that the team I worked with achieved such a great multiple is testament to their experience and their ability to create some true competitive tension.
James Averdieck, Gü, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided invaluable support in negotiating this complex transaction. Their access to international purchasers, and exceptional knowledge of cross border M&A ensured that the deal was concluded efficiently, achieving a highly successful outcome for us all.
Jon Parslow, Former Client
“We selected Bluebox after a fairly long round of evaluating potential advisors because of their scientific, yet challenging approach to maximising value. During our initial meetings they showed us how far short of “ready” we were and consequently we completed more preparation in the early stages which meant we were equipped for what was to come. We were delighted with our choice of Corporate Finance partner. I do not hesitate in recommending Bluebox for any SME to consider.”
Simon English, Former Client
Bluebox provided invaluable advice in managing the negotiations with incoming investors. Their skills in handling these discussions were evident from the outset and the vital interface that they provided between the incumbent team and the incoming investors was truly beneficial.
Henry Braham, Former Client
Bluebox have a professional, dynamic and experienced team that is greatly assisting me with my focus on my exit within the next 24 months. Their structured approach is very refreshing and their ‘Blue Diamond’ programme is adding immense value.
Matt Evans, Former Client
The team at Bluebox provided me with a seamless service from the start of the engagement until our deal was completed. Attention to detail was commendable and their understanding of corporate M&A very impressive. I could not recommend them highly enough.
Victor Lewis, Former client
Having tried to sell my business previously – and failed – I was only too aware of the importance of pre-sale planning. This is a talented team offering a service that most people find out about, but too late.
Simon Hulme, Former Client
Bluebox are a quality outfit. Their access to International acquirers and relationships with the highest quality domestic investors was impressive. My shareholders and I received excellent service from start to finish and it was refreshing to be dealing with a senior team throughout the sale exercise.
Michael Clapper, Former Client
I cannot recommend the team at Bluebox highly enough. Their expert guidance throughout the entire sale exercise resulted in my shareholders securing an excellent deal with which the entire team was delighted.
Mark Rodol, Former Client
I’m really pleased with the service Bluebox provided. The team demonstrated excellent knowledge of the process to follow and led negotiations for the hospital in a way that allowed us to ensure we received appropriate value whilst focusing on reputational risk. Communication and service were of a very high standard.
Steven Davies, Former Client
With Bluebox’s expert advice we were able to find the right buyer that will benefit our business strategically. We’re delighted with the outcome and look forward to starting our new chapter
Clive Hillier, Former Client
The advice offered by the Bluebox team throughout the process was invaluable to the shareholders. We strongly believe that participating in Bluebox’s pre-sale planning programme was a significant driver behind the success of the deal. Their project management and negotiation skills throughout the sale process itself resulted in an exceptional deal being delivered to all parties involved.
Harpal Singh, Former Client