Damien Kennedy is the CEO and founder of Wheyhey! After becoming increasingly frustrated by friends and family digging into so-called ‘healthy snacks’ that were secretly extremely high in sugar, Damien decided to put his science degree to good use. He bought an ice-cream maker off eBay and set about trying to make the healthiest and tastiest treat he could. More than 4 years later, the brand is growing at 300% year-on-year with listings in major retailers including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, as well as winning ‘Start-Up of the Year’ in 2016.
We spoke to Damien about:
– How the protein consumer market is widening
– The importance of both online and offline marketing
– How to be successful as a start-up in this industry
1) How is the protein consumer market widening?
When we started the brand, certainly in the UK, the protein space was dominated by sports nutrition brands. Companies have done an incredible job of driving that message home for mass-market consumers. We always positioned Wheyhey! as a mass-market brand that was not just for people that go to the gym. You go back to the ’60s and ’70s and the dietary requirements of how gym-goers live and eat is very much high protein and all-natural. We felt that that message is going to come to a mass-market consumer very very quickly – so we positioned ourselves as a mass-market brand. We’ve been proven right over the last four years. Now you see brands like Weetabix and Kellogg’s – mass-market consumer brands, really traditional brands, and heritage brands adding protein and having the protein call out on their products. So the protein space is going to explode over the next two to three years. It’s going to be everywhere.
The key for a protein brand moving forward is that the growth is going to come from great-tasting products. Consumers and mass-market consumers will not compromise on taste, no matter how good the nutrition is.
2) How efficient are gyms at stocking the latest nutrition products?
Every square foot in your facility needs to generate income. Having food and beverage on offer, especially if they are the best tasting and the newest, most innovative products on the market, is going to attract secondary income. So food and beverage is a great way to attract new members and also to drive revenue. Gym owners have to be at the cutting edge of everything, not just gym equipment and training philosophies, but also food and beverage. If you have the most innovative products and the best nutritional products in your gym, the chances are you’re going to drive more revenue and keep customers happy, which is everybody’s goal!
3) How important is offline marketing?
When we started the business and had very limited funds, we really leveraged digital and online social platforms which are crucial and allow businesses like us to punch above our weight against major competitors. Once we got to a stage where, firstly, we had enough funds and, secondly, we had to reach a wider audience, then offline marketing became really crucial.
4) How can offline marketing be used effectively?
The people who are going to be buying your products don’t just live in a gym – they go about their everyday lives and if we can be targeting them outside of them gym as well, it means that when they are actually coming in, they are already thinking about our product. So if they’ve seen it on a billboard, if they’ve read about it in a newspaper article and then they come in and see it in your gym, they will have already heard about it and think it must be good as it is the one that has the most presence out of all the competitor products out there, so they are more likely to be purchasing it.
5) What have been your biggest business challenges so far?
Getting the business off the ground and the realities of starting your own business. Luckily, we were completely naive to the amount of work it took to get the business off the ground when we started. If we have learned anything, it is that everything takes longer and costs more money than you’d ever think.
6) What advice would you give to start-up brands in the industry?
The biggest one of all is don’t be afraid to ask for help. People generally, in big companies and your competitors a lot of the time, will help, especially if you are a small business starting out we are all on the same journey and we are all trying to build something great, so help is the big thing.
As a start-up, you think you’ve got a great idea and you think everyone is going to copy your idea so you end up rushing and trying to take shortcuts but it’s not worth it. The execution of your idea is key and then surrounding yourself with great people. If you’ve got a great idea then good, but execution and great people will build your business for you so don’t worry about what your competitors are doing. Be on your own journey and follow your own path and things will work out.