Community: 10 things we learnt from this year’s Seed Fund.

For the fifth year now, it has been a privilege to support The Seed Fund, an altruistic mentoring scheme for food and drink brands turning over sub-£1m and run by The Collaborators. The 250 applications this year were the most impressive yet.

As a culmination of the year-long project, we hosted an event at our offices, where seven founders were given 30 minutes to pitch their ideas to a group of industry leaders.

Over the course of The Seed Fund, we heard from dozens of small brands who are challenging conventions and lie at the forefront of new trends. Here are 10 learnings that we picked up:

1. Plant-based cheese can taste nice
If you’ve ever tried the rubbery creations found in the vegan (safer to call it plant-based these days) section of the dairy aisle, you may have walked away disheartened.

Congratulations to Ellie Brown from Kinda Co. (pictured above) who set us straight with the best vegan cheese we’ve ever tasted. As the winner of the 2019 Seed Fund, she will now get £100,000 worth of support from a variety of mentors in branding, finance, marketing and sales to help drive her business. Much deserved and an exciting journey ahead.

2. Look after your gut and the gut will look after you
There is unassailable evidence that the gut has a huge impact on everything from your immune system to the health of your brain. We sampled a range of pre- and pro-biotic products tackling gut health, including fermented vegetables (Bottlebrush Ferments make an amazing natural kimchee), snacks bars and even bone broth (Borough Broth Company’s Pho broth is delicious).

3. Brands need a conscience
Almost all this year’s entries advocated sustainability as the key driver of their business and brand personality. For the first time, many talked about their desire to become a B-Corp. It’s great to see this worthwhile certification spreading.

Flawsome, which makes juices from wonky fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have been thrown away, has saved almost 10 million pieces already. Also on a mission to make you healthier, Dr Will’s offers natural condiments with 50% less sugar.

4. More nut butter brands…and butter cups
We’ve seen a lot of natural nut butter brands over the last few years, with several new entrants this year alone. Our favourite is ManiLife. With a relatively small market, many are now expanding into better-for-you indulgence – British consumers have never had so many butter cups to choose from.

5. Do it yourself
As a small business, it can be incredibly hard to balance manufacturing with sales and marketing. But this year more brands than ever chose to make things themselves – partly due to lack of resources, but also because they see it as fundamental to their differentiation.

Prime, fantastic meat-based snacks, is a great example. As the only ones able to make their products in the UK, they have built real defensibility with a superior GM and a quicker turnaround for innovation.

6. Super olives and mushrooms
Every year, at least one new superfood finds its way onto the supermarket shelves. This year it’s the turn of the nutrient-packed mushroom.

Meanwhile, further along the aisle, Olly’s Olives produces the first unpasteurised olives and has truly disrupted the £125m category. 97% of adults snack between meals – olives are one of the best as they are high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants.

7. Look to our ancestors
Whilst conjuring up faddy new eating regimes, we are also discovering the beauty of simple ancient diets. Although many involve resurrecting grains, our favourite is The Can-D Food Co. (candied smoked salmon), inspired by ancient Native Canadian methods of preserving salmon for hunting trips. Delicious if a tad sweet.

8. Cannabidiol for long
‘We are working on a product with CBD in it,’ was a common response when asked about NPD. Lots of talk but little action, many put off by the vagueness of legislation and research around efficacy. This despite predictions that the market for cannabidiol [CBD] will be worth £1bn in the UK by 2025. In the US, its already a prevalent supplement in dog food…especially for those creaking with arthritis.

9. Lotus seeds are hot (for now)
A total of three popped lotus seed snack brands applied this year. We didn’t even know lotus seeds existed until then. As we found out, they are low in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium and, therefore, good for the heart too. Great for flavour infusion, but still super niche. Not sure what market report everyone is reading.

10. Kombucha, yuzu and switchels
We tasted a huge array of drinks this year as founders looked for inspiration from around the world. The kombucha wave builds, whilst more niche imports such as yuzu (Japanese natural fragrant fruit drink) and a Caribbean switchel (also known as a ‘haymaker’s punch’) are perfect for those with a sweet tooth. Meanwhile, The Drinks Bakery provides biscuits to complement different alcoholic drinks. Trust us, they are incredible.

We look forward to discovering new tastes and trends in the 2020 Seed Fund, launching in February.

Over the course of The Seed Fund, we heard from dozens of small brands who are challenging conventions and lie at the forefront of new trends. Here are 10 learnings that we picked up