Behind the scenes at BOL Foods

Read Time:   |  5th August 2020

BOL Foods is on a mission to get the world eating more plants and as part of this it launched its first TV ad, Life On Earth, on Sky AdSmart this summer. We catch up with founder Paul Brown to find out more about the campaign and why he told his team to get their CVs ready when the company decided to go 100% plant-based

When and why did you first decide to launch BOL?

Whilst not everyone has the luxury of being able to cook from scratch each night, for most of us, we do get to choose how and what we eat. That’s why I set up BOL. I wanted to make delicious, plant-powered food that tastes great, takes no time to prepare, and doesn’t cost the earth – planet or penny wise.

That way you can always eat well at an affordable price, even if you’re short on time. All our products are packed full of fresh vegetables, contain up to three of your 5-a-day and are high in plant protein.

What was your background before this?

My parents are passionate about food, the great outdoors and being active. Growing up, I had aspirations of becoming a professional footballer or snowboarder but due to various injuries, I had to give these dreams up. A trip to California left me completely inspired in terms of healthy food on-the-go and on returning home, I was buzzing about the potential opportunity within the UK market.

I worked at Innocent drinks in the first few years of the company being set up and ended up becoming the director of the food division.

At Innocent, I headed up the ‘veg pot’ concept which changed the ready meal category by bringing fresh, healthy natural products into a category that’s usually filled with over processed and unhealthy options.

After Coca Cola acquired Innocent in 2013, it became pretty clear that they wanted to develop the drinks side of the business at a global level. So with the blessing of the Innocent founders and some angel investors, I took the best bits from the veg pot business and launched BOL in 2015.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome when starting the business?

Switching to 100% plant-based was a tough time for the brand and the team. We halved our business overnight and I told the team to get their CV’s ready, just in case.

After we dropped meat and dairy completely, much of our 2018 was spent in the kitchen developing new recipes and coming up with new ideas. At the end of the day, taste is the most important thing in what we do.

All that said, as tricky a time as it was, obstacles are much easier to overcome when you know you’re doing right by the planet with the business decisions you’re making.

As it was, we bounced back with triple digit growth in the same year. Going fully plant-based is easily still the best decision we ever made.

You didn’t become a fully plant-based company until 2018 – what made you take the leap then?  

When I learnt that it takes 1,000 litres of water to create just one litre of milk, I knew it was time for us to make the change. Not only was it a natural next step for us, it also meant drastically reducing our impact on the environment.

In the first year of removing dairy, we saved 7 million litres of water, 194 tonnes of C02 emissions and 91 thousand square meters of farmland. With similar figures for removing meat, going plant-based was a no brainer. Simpler for the business, better for our bodies and kinder to the planet.

Unhealthy Western diets have led to millions of unnecessary lifestyle diseases and early deaths for too long now. And besides the obvious health benefits, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change for the United Nations published a report in 2018 that flagged a plant-based diet as the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on climate change.

According to Kantar, half of the UK are already actively cutting down the amount of animal products in their diet, with the under 35’s leading this movement. Since what we eat is the single biggest environmental decision we each face every day, it’s great seeing the younger generations doing what they can to drive positive change and putting their money where their mouth is.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you before you launched a plant-based business?

Don’t get disheartened if things don’t happen as quickly as you want them to. Traditional values of grit and perseverance are an absolute must when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Think marathon rather than sprint (though you’ll probably be sprinting marathons pretty soon).

You’ve started using offcuts of sugarcane to create plastic-free packaging – how did you find out about this material and how does it work out economically compared to using plastic?

After another inspiring trip to California, who are leading the world in terms of plastic alternatives in food packaging, our team are continuing to see where we can improve on our plastic usage.

We came across Bagasse packaging which we now use for our Dinner Box range. 95% plastic free, bagasse is the by-product of sugar cane that would otherwise go to waste. It comes from a renewable resource, which can be recycled with paper or industrially composted and has a 40% lower carbon footprint than oil based plastics.

We are the first brand in the UK to introduce bagasse packaging to the chilled meals aisle and the total plastic we’ve saved by using bagasse packaging to date is around 14.5 tonnes.

Every decision around sustainability for a business is a balancing act that needs to account for multiple factors – from shelf life, cost and food waste to health and safety, consumer satisfaction and financial viability for the business.

We’re not 100% perfect, but we are always striving for more sustainable ways to improve not only our packaging but our entire business practice.

How important have you found eco-friendly packaging to be to vegan and plant-based consumers?

More and more, we’re seeing consumers wanting packaging that is eco-friendly and 100% recyclable. That’s why we decided to use bagasse packaging for our new Dinner Box range last year.

We’re constantly looking to improve on other areas, like moving to metal lids on our salad jars. We think of everything as being about both people and the planet so every business decision we make is based around sustainability.

By trying to be a business that is a force for good from the outset, we’re making more and more positive steps in the right direction all the time.

What advice would you give to an independent brand who dreams of getting a supermarket listing?

Nail your elevator pitch. You should be able to describe your business idea in 7 words or less.

“It’s like Top Gun but with cars” is my all time favourite pitch. I’ll let you work out the film.

Your business plan should be equally clear, concise, and convincing. After all, you never know who might step into the same elevator as you.

Can you tell us about your BOL forest?

In 2019, we planted the first seedling in the BOL forest. The idea is that each year, we will offset all of Team BOL’s personal and professional carbon footprints by planting trees to counter the impact we make.

We’re excited to watch our forest grow alongside our business and it’s nice to know that we’ll be leaving something good behind long after we’re grey and old.

What was the thought process behind your first TV ad Life On Earth?

The whole thing was shot and produced remotely under lockdown in May and June this year.

Instead of showing products, the film simply aims to communicate our values and ethos to the audience.

Our in-house team of former Innocent and Unilever creatives, alongside Obsession Pictures, created our 30 second spot. It’s a story of two contrasting worlds.

The first is of frenetic, fast-paced, 21st century urban living, where everything and everyone is rushing from one thing to the next.

The second is a complete contrast, depicting the calm, quiet, and serene pace of nature, a slower and more thoughtful way of living.

It’s this juxtaposition of our 24/7 non-stop hectic lives against that of the natural world that allows the viewer to pause, take stock and reflect on the ways they can get back to a calmer pace of life.

If there was ever a time to look to how Mother Nature does things, it’s now. Since launching in 2015, we’ve sort of seen ourselves as sponsors of Planet Earth, taking inspiration from nature in all that we do.

We encourage everyone to think about what steps they can take to live their life a little more in line with nature and bring some calm and respect to our beautiful planet along the way.

Can you tell us how you became involved with Sky’s AdSmart SME Support Scheme?

Our team have their fingers firmly on the pulse when it comes to developments in the industry and any way we can get involved in growing awareness to drive forward the plant based movement, we jump straight on it. It goes back to our mission of inspiring the world to eat more plants.

The initiative of the Adsmart SME support scheme was the perfect opportunity to do this. We applied and were lucky enough to get a spot.

How much involvement did you have in creating the ad?

A lot. The concept of our Life On Earth film was created entirely in house and as a team, we all started on the same page, with similar ideas in mind.

From the seed of the idea of the two juxtaposed worlds to the script, artistic direction and imagery, I worked closely with our creatives, Tim Daukes at Obsession Pictures who produced the final cut and English actor, James Murray, whose dulcet tones you hear on the ad.

For me, this as an all-hands-on-deck approach and the final result is a tribute to the calibre of people I work with in the slick, speedy manner in which they turned it around.

What’s next for BOL?

Even though 2020 has got off to an interesting start and we’re not all together in The Veg Pad, learning and innovating to make sure we are always coming up with exciting new concepts and dishes is still at the top of our list.

Our team are currently working on some very exciting innovations to bring to you in the second half of 2020, so keep your eyes peeled for something epic.

Find out more about BOL here.

Paul Brown is BOL Food's founder

Paul Brown is BOL Food's founder

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