Jack Mayhew – Ember Snacks
Jack Mayhew is one of the co-founders of Ember Snacks, a company that produces a range of meat snacks. He and his brother founded the company in 2017. Jack: “Ever since we were young kids, we were scheming all sorts of projects, and we always thought we would do something together. The fact that we’re farmer’s boys makes us feel at home in this category. Taking inspiration from the farm is a big part of our mission. What led us to Ember Snacks was when we both participated in triathlons, and we were snacking on anything we could get our hands on, including high sugar and processed foods which left us feeling bloated and unsatisfied. Then we found biltong; it was great because it was filling, high in protein and left us feeling great afterwards, but we couldn’t find anything we liked in the UK market. It was that moment, that we thought let’s give this a go ourselves. After a year of product development, we sold our first bag.
According to Jack the smaller channels are just as important as the larger retailers and there are some definite benefits of selling in these smaller channels. “In these smaller places, you’re one in a few snack options and have a more direct link to your customers. In the bigger retail shops, you’re one in 50 or 100 snacks. Next to that, online is a very important channel for us, and makes up 50% of our current business. When you look at our consumers now, we’re looking at a mix between meat lovers, and people who are buying it for the more functional purposes such as protein.”
“Customers have so many more opportunities to engage with a brand nowadays. So, if the story you’re telling isn’t true and genuine, your customers will work it out”.
Main principles for brand growth
Jack explains that Ember has struggled in the past with different marketing KPI’s and pillars, and how to attack them. They’ve been given some good advice by the co-founder and former marketing director of Pret a Manager, Mark Palmer, who is also one of the investors at Ember: “Tell your story, don’t get caught up on the cost per sample or the reach. It’s about telling a coherent story, and talking about the areas that align with your values and are genuine. Nowadays, customers have so many more opportunities to engage with a brand through social media. So, if the story isn’t true and genuine, your customers will work that out”, Jack continues. “We’re a couple of farmers sons that now live in London, but still want to eat mums home cooked food, and biltong is about as close as you can get in the snack world. Once a week our mum even comes down to London and does field activation for us. She’s our top sales lady!”
Jack: “Our marketing KPI’s aren’t traditional, but we want to tell our story clearly to our customers, from a genuine place. One of our key goals is to let people engage with our product, not just through taste but for the fact that we stand for certain values and stick to them, and talk proudly about it to their family and friends. That’s our aim. Over the next 12 months we want to start telling people more about Ember and what we’re all about.”
Innovation as the main focus
When it comes to innovation, Jack states that there’s a difference in the amount of autonomy that they have at Ember, as supposed to the companies he’s worked for in the past. “It’s partly because of the size, but innovation is the hardest thing to do for any business. Especially in our early days it was difficult to innovate when you’re juggling a million different things, and don’t have a dedicated team or department. Ultimately, you have to look at what good innovation means. In my eyes, it’s doing something different that the customer wants. And doing that is hard, especially with a limited amount of resources. For the last 6 to 9 months we’ve made innovation the main focus for our business. But even then, it was hard to get it to the top of the priority list. A lot of ideas don’t work out, and with failures you start to lose your confidence. It’s all part of the innovation journey. You have to make sure innovation is managed on a daily basis to make sure things are moving forward.”
Learning from our mistakes
According to Jack, research has become a priority through learning from previous mistakes. “Before, we didn’t test the important areas of both brand and development. But in the last 9 months it’s become a huge part of our business because we’ve been doing a lot of innovation and taking a close look at the brand. We’ve done focus groups, larger category reviews and a lot of 1 on 1 interviews. And the insight we’ve gained is amazing. Even simple stuff sometimes. We’re trying to get into what is the most important thing for the customer.”
Challenges in the category
Jack: “Meat snacks is a hard product to do well, especially on a technical level. Once you’ve cracked that, it’s a good place to be in, because not everyone can do it. It’s definitely an interesting time for meat snacks with veganism being a huge trend. But when you look at the numbers, meat snacking – because it’s high in protein, fewer calories and it’s a filling snack – we’re experiencing some strong growth. In terms of challenges, the environment we are mindful of. We’re looking very closely at how we can limit our impact. Meat is a complicated industry because there’s so many different inputs. On one end of the spectrum, meat has a large footprint. At the other end, people are saying that it’s a net benefit for the environment when using extensive farming practices. We source British and Irish meat only, which is one of the most sustainable farming systems in the world. The vast majority of cattle are raised on areas of land that cannot support arable production and a grass-based diet enables carbon sequestration in the soil which offsets greenhouse gas emissions.
The success of a start-up
The biggest piece of advice Jack offers to start-ups is having a product people want to pick up, and is consistent. “Consumers have got to go home and tell their mates how great it is. If that’s not happening, you’re going to struggle to get any start-up off the ground, because that’s how people come back and buy it again. That’s how brands grow. The product needs to be fantastic and deliver something different. From a brand perspective, it’s important that people can engage with your brand. Are you telling your story coherently, is your product different and consistent? All these things contribute to the success of a start-up. It’s definitely not an easy journey.”