We catch up with The Protein Ball Co's co-founder Matt Hunt to discover how they took the attention away from protein bars to make vegan protein balls a convenient contender for active vegans
When and why did you first launch The Protein Ball Co?
We first launched The Protein Ball Co in 2017 as the shelves were packed with hard, overly chewy protein bars that left an unpleasant aftertaste.
At the time, there was just one protein ball on the market and it was a challenge to eat, we knew we could do so much better.
We were the very first company to pack 6 x bite-sized balls in a single pack, making protein easier to snack on and easier to control portion size. By choice we lowered the percentage of protein and made a decision to make ‘taste’ our main differentiator.
We initially started with three high protein flavours, all using whey protein powder. Over the last few years we’ve noted the market shift towards vegan and dairy-free products.
To accommodate this, we have launched six new delicious and nutritious vegan flavours and their market share is now catching up with the initial whey products!
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- How to choose your ideal vegan protein powder
Protein bars and balls have become very popular over the last few years – how did you stand out from the rest?
We concentrated our full efforts on making our protein balls not just nutritious but also absolutely delicious. They are soft and chewy, with a handful of ingredients like nut butters, fruits and seeds – so clean and with no aftertaste.
We do not add sugar, our products are all natural and sweetened with dates.
We also source gluten-free ingredients and all our products are high in fibre, GMO free and palm oil-free.
We are now rolling in a new, even healthier direction by adding vitamins B12, C and D3.
As tastes and consumer expectations change, we change with them.
Because we make everything ourselves in-house, we can source and select the tastiest raw ingredients. There are a number of other protein ball brands on the market, but very few actually produce themselves. The right ingredients are essential to our taste and our recipes and the reason we stand out from our competitors.
We also offer something different in that we offer bite-sized balls and so you can consume them on a bike or during exercise such as yoga and you do not have to consume the whole pack in one go!
Did you find you had to be more aggressive with your marketing campaigns because there was so many protein bars already in this category?
It is true that the protein segment is very crowded and actually it is growing year on year. Protein has become a ‘buzz’ word for a number of years now, encouraging a stream of new entrants into the market.
Our response, and our privilege, has been to work with Double Olympic Champion, Dame Kelly Holmes in marketing our products to the health conscious. We are in awe of her achievements, so it’s great to know she rather likes our products too!
What’s your process for developing new recipes?
Hayley, my partner in life and business, created all of our recipes at our kitchen table.
Like an artist with a palette of ingredients, she has put together some wonderfully creative combinations. She has also created private label recipes for some of the biggest wellness brands across the world.
There is a process, but more than a process, it’s about a person, someone with great skills and enthusiasm for perfecting recipes.
Someone who’ll never settle for second best.
You make everything yourselves – when you started did you have industrial space or was it developed from your own home?
At the start it was all from our home kitchen, the same story as most small start-ups.
We quickly grew with a German supermarket and then expanded across into Northern Europe and the USA.
Nowadays, we have the luxury of a Recipe Kitchen, but the process is still relatively similar, except that we now monitor food trends and new health movements. For example, collagen and vitamins seem to be gaining a wider audience at the moment, so we have created a number of recipes using these ingredients.
How did you expand The Protein Ball Co as it grew? What things did you need to consider?
The team grew from two employees the very first year and now we have extended our wonderful family to around 40 people and it’s still growing.
We have had to rent more warehouse/production space and now have four units in the same Industrial Park.
We reached out to investors and have expanded with machinery and upgraded facilities.
We are conscious of the fact there is no guarantee of constant expansion and would advise any young business to monitor capital expenses and cashflow, with an eye to the tough times as well as the good ones.
Our motto is ‘the only constant is change’.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started The Protein Ball Co?
You have to give it absolutely everything and then some more.
I have pretty much worked 12 hours a day for the last 10 years!
It is a full-on commitment of time, energy, sweat and tears – some days really test your willpower and discipline. You learn on the job what it takes to be an entrepreneur, there’s no textbook that can prepare you for the challenges you face.
Whilst some challenges are universal (the long hours!), some are very personal, connected to time, place and product. There are always curveballs – who could have predicted Covid19?
Why did you decide to apply for the Vegan Trademark?
From the start, we could see that veganism was not a fad or a trend, but a growing dietary, ethical and environmental movement.
It is my belief that veganism will become the ‘norm’ during my lifetime.
We all know about the environment and the challenges it faces. As time goes by, more and more people will stop to think about their actions and make a change to their diets.
We proudly display the Vegan Trademark logo on the relevant products and are looking at developing more vegan products later this year.
Having the Vegan Trademark has opened up new channels and new opportunities connected to this globally growing movement. Aside from commercial benefits, we all need to think more about sustainability.
What’s next for The Protein Ball Co?
We have some exciting recipe and flavour ideas that are being bounced around at the moment.
We will continue to compete against the protein bars and take bite-sized chunks out of their market because, as we say, ‘balls beat bars all-round!’
Want to discover more vegan start-up companies? Join us to explore the rise of the UK’s vegan start-ups