From their kitchen table, to supermarket shelves via Dragons’ Den, the founders of vegan chocolate brand LoveRaw, Manav and Rimi Thapar, have set their sights on the established giants of the UK choc market….
Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned lacto-ovo vegetarian? Did they become extinct?
After years of slow but steady progress in establishing veggie brands like Linda McCartney, Quorn and RealEat in supermarkets, the cruelty-free food market has suddenly made a quantum leap towards full-on veganism by-passing most people’s usual first step in giving up meat, which is vegetarianism.
Research from Finder estimates that the number of vegans in the UK increased by a massive 419,000 (62 per cent) over the past 12 months. A not-insignificant 7.5 per cent of the UK now claim to be vegan in 2020, whereas 14 per cent claim to be vegetarian. Vegan food suits both of course. And then there’s the flexitarians, that eat both vegan and meat. Go figure.
Clearly then Manav and Rimi Thapar’s LoveRaw business, with its brand of vegan chocolate, is riding a sizeable wave and, in fact, having started back in 2013 in their own kitchen, caught that wave early on.
Manav [Rimi’s husband] and I were your typical twenty something millennials, explains Rimi Thapar. We both worked independently of each other: I was working in Investment Banking and Manav in Textile Distribution. Both miles away from anything food or FMCG related and not particularly mindful about food. Our idea of healthy was calorie counting. At the time we were living in the south of Spain and started visiting farmers markets and really appreciating seasonal fresh produce, and our vegan journey started from there. Our brand and products have really evolved since then. Today we make indulgent vegan chocolate products.
Although not exactly a rags to riches story (both had well-paid jobs) it is a classic entrepreneurial, cottage industry tale of kitchen table to supermarket, started with no investment (and, it has be said no real level of expertise either) but a lot of determination and trial and error.
I wanted to start the business with minimal cost and risks, and the quickest route to market was making the products at home, explains Thapar. Also coupled with the fact that every contract manufacturer turned us away as we didn’t meet their minimum quantity requirements. We got our big break when we launched with Wholefoods. Our first order was 5,000 units, which increased over a few months. We were making around 3,000 units a week in a tiny kitchen working 18 hours a day and even when I reached the minimum requirements of the factory, I worked from the kitchen until I reached full capacity.
Searching for an investment boost the pair even appeared on Dragon’s Den. Having received an offer from Deborah Meaden, however, they decided not to take the investment but did receive a PR and branding uplift from the experience.
We needed the investment but intuitively it didn’t feel right to give away so much of the business. A business which we had invested so much time, effort and emotion in. It was the right decision as we went on to raise much more money financially, and at a higher valuation.
Progress has been made since then, with the brand stocked in Holland & Barrett, Boots, Waitrose, Wholefoods, Ocado, Revital, As Nature Intended, The Vegan Kind, Selfridges, Various petrol station forecourts and independent retail stores. In the last 12 months the firm has experienced 114% YOY growth during Covid.
With a staff of around 13, the headcount has also tripled from two years ago.
This year we have mainly focused on sales and digital growth, growing our sales team from one to three people and taking on a digital marketer earlier in the year to support our growing ‘direct to consumer’ sales since COVID 19.
Unless you believe that the rapid rise of vegan product at retail is a passing fad (and Thapar is somewhat unsurprisingly of the opinion that it is not) then there is still a lot of potential for growth as more and more people convert to plant-based foods.
Paradoxically, what gives this trend some stickability is the fact that it is not so much about the widespread adoption of a strict vegan lifestyle, but more about people adding vegan products onto their shopping list. It’s those flexitarians. And that means it is much more likely to have permanence on supermarket shelves.
There are so many factors which have contributed towards the shift to vegan: health, environment, animal welfare, social media, comments Thapar. I think the food industry has been exposed a lot over the past few years and there is more transparency about the source of what we eat, especially the meat and dairy industry. Most consumers are not converting to full veganism however, more-so taking a flexitarian approach, where they have the choice to eat partially vegan and non-vegan, but still contributing towards their health and the environment. I don’t think you can scroll through Instagram without seeing a user’s vegan breakfast, lunch or healthy smoothie.
Now that the brand has emerged from the kitchen, sights are set high – on market leadership of the vegan chocolate market, no less and beyond- and having obtained fresh investment, the Thapars are already developing a range beyond its initial launch.
The brand and product offering has evolved since we launched in 2013 and we are confident in continuing to grow our range of indulgent vegan chocolate snacks. Not letting COVID get in the way of progressing, we are working on new products and extending ranges. I think now is even more of an important time to innovate and be dynamic to the current market conditions.
That’s where the fresh investment comes in.
We have invested in new hires, new product development, working capital, marketing and generally building the brand.
Ultimately, LoveRaw does not want to be just a vegan chocolate brand but wants to make an impact in the established dairy-based choc market too.
We want to be recognised as the leading vegan chocolate brand that disrupts the mainstream chocolate market, and we want to be accessible to all UK consumers. Most importantly we want to have a good time along the way and to make our journey memorable.
Lofty ambitions indeed. Looks like the Dragons missed a sweet deal on this one.
Husband and wife Manav and Rimi Thapar, founders of game-changing vegan chocolate brand, LoveRaw, were category winners for both the Great British Entrepreneurs of the Year and Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year for the North West region at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards (GBEA) 2020. They have now scooped the overall award for Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year. https://www.greatbritishentrepreneurawards.com/“