Thinking outside the tin: The disruptive UK food brands going for growth

Thinking outside the tin: The disruptive UK food brands going for growth
Ian Hills
Ian HillsPurple Pilchard

Posted: Tue 6th Feb 2018

Ian Hills, founder of marketing and PR consultancy Purple Pilchard, looks at British food brands that are defying the doom and gloom.

There's a lot of negative, empty noise out there at the moment: impact of Brexit, sliding pound, stuttering productivity, climbing raw materials costs...

I'm not suggesting these issues don't exist or are merely a figment of the Daily Mail's imagination. I’m confident, however, that against this gloomy economic backdrop a number of resourceful food and drink businesses will always swim against the tide of conventional thinking, creating genuine buzz both at home and abroad.

Everywhere there are emerging brands hungry to change the nation's food landscape for the better. Today's consumer is less willing to accept bland, over-processed food solutions, fuelling an appetite for change.

Today a growing platoon of well-drilled 'army ant' brands are munching their way through corporates market shares with thoughtful, tailor-made solutions. These attentive brands stand tall and won’t worry about ruffling a few feathers along the way.

1) Healthy agenda

When Public Health England's sugar reduction report aired in June 2014, the winds of change could be felt throughout food retail and once impregnable categories like soft drinks/juices wobbled precariously.

Jim Jams

Jim Jams was born to bring the UK's stagnant jams & spreads fixture kicking and screaming into a healthier present day. The husband and wife founders were horrified to discover that the world's leading chocolate hazelnut spread was awash with sugar.

Jim Jams built its foundations around reduced sugar thinking (83% less sugar) and within two years (Oct 2017) has become the biggest mover within the UK's top 20 jams and spreads (802%) and the first UK food brand to embrace the Sugarwise charity logo on-pack.

Pip & Nut

Elsewhere Pip & Nut recognised that wholesome peanut butter wasn't pulling its weight. Why settle for kids and vegetarians when you have a product with the potential to engage a growing gym-savvy fraternity, looking for an accessible, non-worthy brand to provide an all-important pre/post protein-hit?

Coconut Collaborative

Still the 'free-from' movement flourishes, an opening The Coconut Collaborative was perfectly placed to tap into with its unrivalled coconut nous.

The rising popularity of everyone's favourite tropical superfood (creamier than other non-dairy alternatives and more easily broken down by human bodies) and a refreshingly inclusive attitude to vegans and other food intolerants meant this business had little trouble generating momentum down a food aisle where 'predictable functionality' historically ruled the roost.


'Gourmet with a Northern Soul' is the battle cry of Beckleberry's, a bustling Geordie business with 100+ Great Taste awards in its locker.

This father and son operation wanted to restore some pudding manufacturing pride to the North, creating natural deck yet adult-orientated sorbets, (e.g. passion fruit and tarragon), a credible lactose-free ice cream alternative, devoid of overt masking sugars and a far-cry from the synthetic, citric acid fuelled sorbet atrocities of the 1970s.

2) Rip up the rule book

The Great British Biscotti Company is a Dorset-based business that refused to acknowledge that the best biscotti must be born in Tuscany or that flavour-wise almonds are always the answer.

Besides creating the world's first tea dunker, (biscotti = inextricably linked with coffee) the Dorset biscuiteers established a dreamy, savoury range and in so doing, an array of new biscotti usage occasions (salads, soups and cheeseboards).

3) Anti-food


Coldpress in its jaunty, hexagonal bottles was the original cold pressure juice pioneer who chose to overlook traditional 'heat' treatment (pasteurisation) for pascalisation, (eco-friendly, hydrostatic pressure) to zap mischievous bacteria.

On the basis you wouldn't heat an orange before eating it, Coldpress couldn't fathom why UK chiller cabinets continue to be dominated by tired, heat-blasted juices that have unsuspectingly been stripped of their taste cues and nutritional integrity.

Ombar and Cotswold RAW

The very same 'anti-heat treatment' thinking persuaded raw chocolate pioneer Ombar to focus on the true anti-oxidant wealth of cacao while raw pet food pioneers Cotswold RAW pro-actively tackle rising dog obesity (one in three UK dogs) by providing an 'at one with nature' antidote to nutritionally vacant kibbles.

4) See good in everything

Moose Maple Butter

Moose Maple Butter is a young brand making its way in the well-to-do suburbs of London. Its 'clean deck' outlook put it on a collision course with gruff, old-school thinking which believes saturated dairy fats remain a poor health choice compared to plant-based unsaturated fats.

Moose Maple point to research which suggests the void left by butter's exile from the breakfast table has often been filled with the same inappropriate, refined carbohydrates that fuel diabetes.

Curiously, butter is one of the best natural sources of vitamins A,E,D,K and selenium, while Canadian maple syrup provides a lower glycaemic index than refined sugar and enough anti-oxidants to shame a generous portion of broccoli.

5) Grab your chance


Ambition doesn't get any bigger than tackling the world’s best known cola which is what Dalston's opted to do.

The adventure began in 2012 when the Passing Clouds nightclub refused to sell branded cola, prompting two chefs to create their own 'clean deck' alternative.

After much mashing, and blending handmade batches were shuttled around by bike to London's cutting edge coffee shop and restaurant scene. Overnight an enviable underdog reputation was built, buoyed by the positivity of a surrounding London Olympics.

6) Challenging the status quo

Made For Drink and Olly's Olives

I so admire Made For Drink and Olly's Olives. Both brands surveyed the UK pub scene and wondered why in a world of tailored drink solutions (craft beers, small batch gins, clean-deck mixers…) bagged snacks remained so dull and potato-centric.

Made for Drink are moreish, charcuterie-themed nibbles packed with discernment and around the world provenance and are made to accompany not overpower alcoholic beverages. Olly's Olives wears its heart on its sleeve, championing 'marination for the nation'.

Olly's remains vocally indignant about the dumbing down of olives. Drowning olives in messy oils or heat-treating them for extended life simply wouldn't be tolerated in Europe where olives remain 'snacking royalty'.

In essence, whether your brand is differentiated by ingredient deck, specialist dietary needs, innovation, provenance, new tech or a larger-than-life personality, there's always scope to make your mark by thinking outside the tin.

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Ian Hills
Ian HillsPurple Pilchard
Pilchard works tirelessly to establish itself as a straight talking 'incubator' agency looking after the needs of young, ambitious brands of tomorrow; providing meaningful, 'breakthrough moments' in a cluttered FMCG marketplace.

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