Exit: PROPER bags new home

We are delighted to announce that Exponent Private Equity has taken a majority stake in our partner brand PROPER, creating a partnership with Eat Real and marking the end of our wonderful five-year journey with the team at PROPER.

Although the brands will remain distinct, the combination will create Europe’s largest and fastest growing Better for You snacking group. The new company will be led by Chris Schulze-Melander, the current CEO of People Against Dirty, makers of Ecover and Method and who has proven experience of growing mission-led brands.

Co-founder, Cassandra Stavrou, will remain in a senior leadership position and sit on the board of the new company. Mike Hedges, PROPER’s current CEO, will oversee the transition for PROPER until the summer, after steering the company through its exceptional growth period over the last three years.

Comprising ready-to-eat popcorn, microwaveable popcorn and lentil chips across grocery, online, food service, convenience and travel retail, PROPER’s revenues in 2020 reached £24m and the brand is now stocked in 10 countries, selling 5 million bags a month.

We are really proud of what co-founders Cassandra Stavrou (awarded an MBE this year for services to the food industry and sits on the UK Government’s Food & Drink Sector Council) and Ryan Kohn have achieved. Having launched the brand in 2011, they have since pioneered the UK’s healthy snacking category. In a highly competitive snacking space once dominated by crisps but now an endless myriad of choice from snack bars to crackers and nuts to biltong, PROPER have continued to stand out.

From when we invested in 2016 to now, its branding has consistently challenged the big players through its distinctive tone of voice and impactful visual handwriting. Not only has this helped them to become the number one popcorn brand at the expense of the likes of Tyrrell’s and Metcalfe’s, but also enabled them to take on household names such as Butterkist.

In 2019, the business successfully rebranded (our experience is that this is always tricky) from PROPERCORN to PROPER, to allow it to expand into other types of snacks. Anyone who has done it will tell you that consumers are ruthless about brands launching into new products. All the more impressive that PROPERCHIPS was the most successful Better for You launch of recent years. New and exciting snacking NPD is already developed for launch over the next two years.

They have been as innovative in their brand marketing. The most recent ‘Stay in-in. The new out-out’ has resonated with the Netflix generation, building on previous out-of-home, TV and digital campaigns, including smart guerrilla marketing stunts, all of which have grown its national brand awareness. This has also been helped by the brand’s focus on single bags in highly visible high-footfall locations, starting with the Google offices as their very first stockist.

As a true brand legend, PROPER has a strong purpose – everything they do is ‘Done Properly’ as part of their vision to take healthy snacking mainstream and global. This purpose not only makes their customers’ lives better, but also has a positive impact on the world around them, future-proofing the brand as it scales.

PROPER’s approach to growth has always had the customer and team culture at its heart. All this has helped the brand to attract the highest calibre of talent that live and breathe its values. It was the first B Corp snacking brand and our first partner brand, inspiring us to go on the journey ourselves.

The team are the customer, meaning that they have always understood their customers’ behaviours and motivations. These snackers only want brands that reflect their values. Most importantly, unlike most brands at their stage of growth, they have always had an annual budget to spend on speaking and listening to customers.

The team culture they have built is obsessive about delivering innovative products (uniquely, they have their own product team and don’t rely on manufacturers for NPD), all through the lens of what will help deliver the brand mission and what customers actually want.

With PROPER’s and Eat Real’s shared mission to educate and inspire more consumers to snack healthily, the partnership will accelerate both brands’ innovation pipeline. Europe’s healthy snacking market is set to grow +35% over the next five years from the current £22.5bn, reflected by 84% of Millennials and Gen Z snacking at least once a day. We wish the team the very best in introducing PROPER to tomorrow’s snackers all across Europe.