In a world where veganism is on the rise, there’s an obscene amount of plant-based food startups coming up globally – especially in the UK. Today, consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to protein bars and healthy juices. Household names can’t assume getting a loyal clientele as the market has been disrupted by new and impressive options. However, it wasn’t like this when Ed Foy, co-founder of PRESS, the cold-pressed juice company, started a pop-up in 2014 in Old Street tube station. “Back then a purely vegetable juice wasn’t very commercial and people only made them in homes – not paying for it,” Foy recalls.
Looking back, Foy started his journey in the corporate world as a brand manager at L’Oreal. It was then he realised his passion for business and the need for better skills. This resulted in him going back to school and acquiring an MBA at Harvard. “It definitely set the bar quite high for me in terms of expectations of myself,” he recalls. Following his studies, Foy went on to become the head of global marketing operations for Jack Wills. During the following years he picked up many business lessons which would help him throughout his entrepreneurial journey.
While he credits his education and previous jobs, it was mainly during his own experience as a business leader when he honed his skills. “Until you get your feet on the ground and you’re at the coal face of starting a business, you won’t learn about savvy business management and how to scale further, solve problems and what compromises you’re ready to make for cost versus margin,” he says. “The fundamental idea of the business is about how you run it and how you fund it. It doesn’t matter whether you have an MBA or whether you started a pizza company at 16 – success isn’t defined by that.”
However, PRESS wasn’t Foy’s first idea. “When I came out of business school, one of the ideas I had was to make Ben’s Cookies, which I think are miracle products because they’re just so delicious, [although] sadly not necessarily at the healthier end of the spectrum,” he laughs. “But the reality was I wasn’t sure I could’ve got morally behind the idea of spending the core part of my life selling a very sugary product in a market that was already very saturated and had its problems with obesity.”
The idea to launch PRESS was born when Foy’s co-founder Georgie Reames visited LA and saw people beginning to make cold-pressed juices a daily routine. Foy saw the trend spread throughout the US. That’s when he decided to bring the culture of healthy juices to Blighty. “The health and wellness movement was going to become more important in Britain and we thought we should bring that concept over to the UK,” he reflects. “And while I was in Nashville, it had made a meaningful impact on my life.” No wonder then that Foy and Reames decided to launch the nutritional juice startup rather than a venture offering sugary snacks. “The exciting thing with PRESS is our mission has always been about balance, about changing lives with nutrition,” he continues.
Despite knowing it would be far from easy, Foy’s insatiable appetite to make the startup a success kept him going through the initial days of selling cold-pressed juices out of a bathtub near Old Street tube station. “We branded the bathtub, filled the top with ice and product and it was a kind of test – ‘Are people going to be interested in this? Will they pay for it?'” he remembers. He would soon have his answer. “I called Georgie up after the first day and said ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?'” Foy continues. “She said ‘Any good news will do right now.’ And I said ‘Well the good news is we’re sold out, the bad news is we’re gonna have to do this for the next month. Get back to the kitchen and I’ll see you there. I don’t know how or when we’re going to fit sleep in.’ So it was a real success and we sold out every day and people really liked the product.”
Looking at how the juices were gaining demand, Foy and Reames decided to open a store in Soho at the end of 2014 by injecting their savings along with additional help from family. Unfortunately, due to financial restrictions, they picked the wrong location. “We did the bad thing of opening on a very quiet street because all we could afford was the deposit for that kind of site and rent,” he says. “I’m happy to stand in a pineapple outfit and say ‘Come in for the best juice’ but when there’s no one to even say that to, there’s not much you can actually do.” Understandably, Foy is determined to change the location of his flagship store this year even though it lasted five years. He believes a disadvantageous street can be the “difference between something amazing and something that never happened.” “It’s a real shame because so many businesses may have an amazing concept, a great product, great customer service, great execution but because of financial restrictions they just fail very fast and very early,” he adds.
Indeed, finances were the main concern for Foy. “Oh my God, it’s like the worst challenge that we had,” he remembers. In fact, getting cashflow was such a concern in the beginning that it cost Foy more than his sleep. “I was clinically depressed for two years because I was just so worn down from 19 hours a day of constant stress of running out of money, managing the business – it’s brutal and it’s ultimately driven by the fear of always having to watch out for money,” he says.
It even got to a point that Foy and Reames were almost out of cash. “It was coming up to Christmas [one time], we had a lot of people on the payroll to pay and we were very close to running out of money, which meant Georgie and I would have had to put more money in,” he remembers. Fortunately, things took a turn for the better when he had a look at their Shopify account and found there were thousands of pounds seemingly just sitting there unused. After a phone call, the PRESS founders found out that the payments had been bouncing from their accounts for “some random accounting reason” and that they actually had money to spare. “We managed to get [Shopify] to pay that all out in 24 hours, which meant we had plenty of money,” Foy remembers.
Still, the experience taught him the importance of having an accounting team. “The biggest thing that I don’t think anyone really explains or teaches is you need to have your bookkeeping done properly from the beginning and if you don’t understand the difference between bookkeeping and your accounting, you’ll suffer,” he opines.
Another challenge for Foy was to ensure he sourced the best quality of ingredients which again came at a higher cost. “In the beginning, when buying fruit and veg it tends to be cash upfront as opposed to monthly billing until you have a trading history and that makes your working capital quite painful,” he says.
Clearly, the journey from the bathtub pop-up to making PRESS juices a morning ritual for thousands of people was fraught with thorns but that didn’t demotivate Foy. “Our battle is always grow the business, drive price down, open up our product to more people and repeat because eventually you’d like your product to be as cheap as possible without compromising on quality and eventually you’re the Tropicana,” he says. And this is why Foy realised he should change the bottle after studying consumer behaviour in supermarkets to make it more attractive. He wanted to make it more explicit and informative as opposed to the simple design it had in the beginning.
Additionally, Foy ensured social media was an integral part of his marketing strategy and fresh content was posted regularly, which can be difficult for startups. “The struggle was when you’re small, you’re trying to do a million things and making sure you spend the time on doing the right imagery, the right posts and driving people to the business – it’s quite hard, it’s just a lot to do,” he says. To escalate brand awareness further, Foy even started The Squeeze, a publication which he populated with articles on health and wellbeing. “I’d recommend mostly anyone with an online business, if you’re not creating articles on your own platform, then your customer only has so much that they can actually engage with,” he says.
Foy’s efforts to scale PRESS resulted in the brand being stocked in Selfridges in January 2016. The then director of food Nicola Waller happened to walk by the Soho establishment and was looking for a smoothie and juice bar for the store. “They said ‘Listen, you’ve got to meet me at noon tomorrow, would you guys be able to pull something together before that?'” he recalls. With the promise of a deal like that, the founders unsurprisingly spent the next 20 hours putting together an 85-slide presentation. Despite the sleep-deprivation caused to get it done in time, the efforts undoubtedly paid off with PRESS bagging the deal. “It’s awesome that a business like Selfridges was willing to give a small one like ours a chance because they saw the promise [of it] and that certainly gave us credibility for our quality and products,” he adds.
Indeed, the Selfridges deal opened a host of opportunities for Foy and, additionally, he was able to secure more funding. In the same year, he raised a private round and secured funding from VC firm The Clark Group. And in 2017 he even raised £1.1m through crowdfunding on Crowdcube. He utilised the money by investing in a new chilled warehouse to run the distribution effectively.
Indeed, Foy’s hard work truly paid off as PRESS products are stocked in more than 450 independent stores across the UK today and he has no intention of stopping. In fact, in March 2019 the business began stocking its products in Belgium. Consequently, it opened many more doors for Foy throughout Europe. “What that means for me is that actually there are all these opportunities out there and if we were to put manpower and time on Europe as an opportunity, maybe pick three key markets – which is what we’re looking at now – what could we achieve?” he says, adding that Germany and France are next on his radar. However, he faced various challenges with respect to translating the words on the bottles and having multiple languages on them. “It sounds like a small thing but it isn’t when you’re trying to streamline production and manufacture,” he says.
Along with expansion, Foy believes innovation is key and he’s always introducing new products. What started as a cold-pressed juice business has now grown to having soups, supplements, granola bars, superfood snacks as well as nut milks. “Vegan ice cream is definitely in the pipeline next and we’re also working on our CBD [or Cannabidiol] range of products,” he adds. And that’s not even all. “A sparkling drinks range, just trying to deliver great flavour but without high sugar and additives, as well as a vegan scrambled eggs mix are coming soon.”
Having seen the highs and lows of business, PRESS is only set to grow further and this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the unwavering passion Foy harbours. “If you’re in an emerging market, just by surviving you will become the front runner,” he concludes. “You’ll see the competitors fall over and you, therefore, will become the answer in that market.”