Start-Ups We Admire

Written by Luisa Gibbons

We’ve previously shared suggestions around what large corporations can learn from start-ups when creating new products (if you missed this blog, see here). In this latest update, we reveal some of the new brands and products that have caught our eye recently.

Created for a Cause

We know that ‘authenticity’ is a growing driver of brand choice, a millennial-driven trend that is pervading across all age groups! Here are some of the brands that are doing much more than lip service to a higher social or environmental cause.

Riding on the gin boom, the founders of Elephant Gin were inspired following a safari in South Africa to bring a touch of the African sundowner to a new premium gin. Using unusual African ingredients and botanicals to enhance delivery against this positioning, 15% of profits are given back to important charities supporting wildlife conservation across Africa.

At first glance, Kate Percy’s Go Bites look vibrant and fun – both the product and packaging! With Go Bites providing natural ingredients to boost energy (for workouts, training or just to get you through the day) they are the perfect fit for founder Kate’s mission to provide ‘Go Faster’ food. However, Kate is taking this a step further, with an educational food programme for schools to inspire kids to eat well and teach them about the link between food and sport performance.

Whilst we were excited to try Nim’s watermelon crisps, it was their edible teas that really caught our attention at IFE! We love the idea of waste being minimised and ‘off-cuts’ from crisps being put to good use in a brand new line extension. A simple idea, but the teas taste and look both delicious and natural, as well as supporting a more sustainable offering overall.

Experience Led

In today’s digital era, there is heightened demand for and appreciation of products offering an enhanced sensorial experience. These brands go above just offering great products to further drive consumer connection.

Run by Maya, a mother with a health- and eco-conscious mind, Playin Choc is a family-friendly chocolate brand with a twist. The chocolate itself is made using only three ingredients and is free from refined sugar and lactose. Maya takes the brand one step further however, packaging it in 100% recycled, biodegradable card from which you can pop out and self-assemble colourful 3D toys. The box also has further toy parts inside if needed, again made from the eco-friendly card. This makes Playin Choc the perfect brand for parents who want chocolate that both they and their children can enjoy in a fun, engaging way, whilst knowing that they’re looking after the environment and their health.

Although The Happy News is primarily a newspaper sharing good news only, the brand also has a collection of new products, including these colourful chocolates and sweets with messages on the packaging to make you smile. The focus is therefore not only on the chocolate, but on the experience in which it’s given or bought and on building a more positive mindset. With a much-needed and increasing focus on mental well-being, we love the ethos and delivery of these goodies.

Heroing Interesting Ingredients

We’d always recommend caution when it comes to chasing ingredient trends – what’s more important is understanding the consumer drivers behind the trend to ensure meaningful direction for your innovation (read more here). But here are a few examples of new products we discovered at IFE where unusual ingredients are showcased and deliver a great consumer experience as a result.

Great Taste 2018 winners, Ruby & Grace harness the nutritional benefits of Tigernuts (aligned with growing demand for products which support gut health). With luxurious pastel colours for the packaging coupled with descriptors such as silky, velvet and lush used to describe their flavours, the product taste and texture does not disappoint!

Vegan Rob’s

Rob Ehrlich has set out to create a snack that is ‘delicious, healthy and a whole lot of fun’, and with his Sorghum Puffs we think he’s done well against his mission! With the brand giving back to a number of charitable causes, this could easily have featured in our first category. But what we really loved about Vegan Rob’s is the unusual flavours which really packed a punch on the taste front! With flavours such as Cauliflower and Brussel Sprout puffs driving intrigue, with Beet and Jackfruit tapping into current trends (and well aligned with the vegan positioning), the range is clearly differentiated from the proliferation of cheese flavoured puffs on the market. The hero for us was the spicy and incredibly moreish Dragon puffs but we felt all the flavours we sampled delivered on the ‘plant based and crunchy good’ promise

Meaningfully Distinctive

We came away from IFE with a phone full of photos of beautiful packaging – with chocolate in particular delivering some stunning designs. The following examples however, in our opinion, take good looking to the next level with their designs also communicating key brand advantages at an intuitive level.

Little’s Coffee

Whilst not a new brand (started 25 years ago), the start-up mentality is evident across the Little’s range, from the exciting flavours (such as cardamom bun and island coconut instant coffee) to the way these are showcased through vibrant and eye-catching packaging. Born from a love of experimentation with flavour, Little’s coffee is continuing to evolve and their recent move to recyclable packaging is a powerful way to drive differentiation, tap into the consumer consciousness and showcase their bold patterns and colours even more effectively.

Coco Chocolatier

There’s no denying that Coco Chocolatier’s packaging delivers in terms of being beautiful. But what we love, is the reason why they have such gorgeous designs – using their chocolate packs as a showcase for independent artists. Forging a link between the art of creating delicious chocolate and flavour experimentation with the creativity and inspiration of artists. In an era of craft, we believe this powerful pairing contributes to the premium, special feel of the proposition as well as driving differentiation. Their positioning sums this up perfectly: “COCO is a canvas for artists and artisans alike: those who dare to innovate, inspire and challenge. This is where creativity and cocoa collide. There is no compromise on style or substance”.

With their dark branding colours, their emphasis on impactful flavour and their hand-written font that clearly shows their attitude, Oumph! are a brand that shouts ‘meaningfully distinctive’ from the first time you see them. They weren’t at IFE, but we did see them at Vegan Life Live a few weeks ago where they served their ‘Pulled Oumph!’ on the backs of electric guitars. This is a brand that has their personality down to a T.

Challenging the Status Quo

It would be amiss of us not to take this opportunity to showcase some of our favourite challenger brands that are really starting to shake things up for ‘the big boys’. These brands epitomise what we believe to be the key strengths of start-ups (and where large global manufacturers can still stand to learn a thing or two).

For example:

  • A real and compelling reason to exist – tapping into and staying true to a consumer need

  • Single minded focus – resulting in brand, product and packaging being perfectly aligned

  • Capitalising on sensory power – communicating a strong and consistent message at every touchpoint through sensory assets that intuitively fit with the positioning

We love Pip & Nut’s creativity with flavour, taking ordinary peanut or almond butter and turning it into dreamy jars of ‘Chocolate Orange Almond Butter’, ‘Crunchy Maple Peanut Butter’, ‘Cherry Bakewell Almond Butter’ and much more. They have a strong relationship with their customers on social media and increase the excitement around a lot of their products by making them limited edition, like the two pictured below. They let the health credentials and growing trend for nut butters beyond peanut speak from themselves and put the emphasis on simple yet delicious flavours.

Halo Top Ice Cream

This brand has filled a gap in the market by launching low-calorie ice cream that still tastes amazing, with an extensive range of flavours (think cinnamon roll, cookie dough, candy, cake, sea salted caramel…) and vegan options too. This taps into both the fitness and vegan trends, and has bold, memorable, colourful tub designs with stand-out golden lids. Whilst a number of new and exciting brands are breaking into the freezer, it was Halo Top’s entry that really made traditional brands start to look tired and old fashioned, redefining the cues for premium, luxury ice-cream and stomping up the charts accordingly.

Fever Tree

Whilst far from being new, Fever Tree is one of our ‘go to’ examples of how to create an impactful new proposition! It ticks so many of the boxes in the way it has perfectly delivered against a growing consumer need for premium mixers (using clever activation to fuel this need even further). Whilst staying true to its core proposition, and allowing this time to grow and build, Fever Tree has now expanded out from their strong foundation of tonic to attract new users through an expanding (yet recognisably Fever Tree) range of extensions. All of this, coupled with strong presence off and on trade (demonstrating an importance on how to effectively engage consumers), has led to Fever Tree overtaking the market leader – a true sign of an ultra-successful challenger!


Oatly are a brand with a clear attitude and cool personality. The information on pack speaks to the consumer like a friend, and their advertising doesn’t hold back on showing their values as a plant-based milk brand. Whilst limited leeway with the product, they have carved a niche through their upfront and quirky branding.

Which start-ups do you admire, and why? Let us know – get in touch below or find us on Instagram and LinkedIn!