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How Earlybirds bottled snacking

The ‘snack-in-a-bottle’ pioneers talk about their dairy-free agenda, the ruined breakfast drink market and their successful stripped-back rebrand.

4 December 2019
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The age of the snack is upon us, with the traditional ‘three square meals a day’ concept very much heading out the door.

In a recent snacking report published by Mondelez, 6 in 10 (59%) of 6,068 adults surveyed worldwide said that they “prefer to eat many small meals throughout the day as opposed to a few large ones”, with the retail market flooded with recent innovations designed to take advantage of the recent surge for snacks.

Earlybirds, a ‘snack in a bottle’ endeavour that recently won Best New Brand in the 2019 World Beverage Innovation Awards, have managed to combine multiple snacking trends including permissible indulgence, healthy eating and accessibility.

And, following their debut in Sainsbury’s in May, the company launched a stripped-back rebranding, with emphasis on their bottled snack/breakfast drink USP over brand name, becoming the first UK company to have fully compostable sugar cane bottles and caps. They’re also set for a compostable label in the new year.

And consumer response was somewhat positive.

“We quadrupled our sales on shelf in the first week after rebranding,” co-founder Rory Paterson tells Food Spark.

“That had to do with aesthetics and the fact that consumers knew what they were buying. So many companies talk about what you’re eating but no-one says when you’re meant to have it or what it’s for.”

Front and centre on the two launch Earlybirds bottles (Berry Bircher and Mango & Oats) is the sentence, “This is a Snack”, with the company looking to exploit a niche opportunity for a nutritionally strong, indulgent snacking product containing a host of fresh, natural ingredients that fills and satisfies consumers between meals with one serving. From a bottle.

Nightmare no more

Originally conceived to be a quick, easy breakfast shake for the time-poor uni student, Earlybirds developed into a 14 ingredient-strong creation that was thick, indulgent and full of nutritional value designed to revolutionise a tired, uninspired category.

“We realised that while there are so many breakfast drinks in the UK, they don’t perform very well, are quite cheap and actually quite nasty,” explains Paterson.

“They have long shelf lives, are full of added preservatives and are very cheap. The market has been slightly ruined by the bigger players who have come along and pumped out things for a pound that aren’t that filling and that taste ok but are full of sugars and stabilisers.

“We wanted to make something indulgent, filling and satisfying so that you wouldn’t need another and to over-indulge – which is very easy to do. You would feel satisfied after drinking it and it could be your indulgent thing for the day.”

Getting such an ingredient-heavy product such as Earlybirds to market is not an easy process and, explains Paterson, it could be a reason for the lack of competition.

“It’s incredibly difficult to make a drink like this as it’s got tons of natural ingredients,” says Paterson.

“At first, manufacturers and producers didn’t want to work with us as it’s a bit of nightmare for them to make it perfect and look good. Each 300ml bottle has 14 ingredients! It’s an expensive thing to do, too.

“We use High Pressure Processing (HPP) so our shelf life is quite short. It’s all cold pressed and fresh. Nutritionally its very strong, full of fibre, a good source of protein and all plant based. It’s very rare these days to find a product like this in the UK. There’ve been quite a lot of HPP and cold pressed companies that have closed in the last few years so there’s not much choice in retail that fresh in the drinks aisle.”

No reason for dairy

Like with many snacking releases of late, one of the key drivers with Earlybirds is to be time-friendly, with Paterson explaining that customers have much more choice today in supermarkets and have openly chosen snacking and convenience over traditional meals.

“That’s why convenience sections in supermarkets are now so big,” says Paterson.

“Life is so 24 hours now that consumers want to have that little bit of indulgence every now and then, which is what snacking is. Snacking becoming as popular as it is today is why there’s been a rise in healthy snacks but not many snacking products that are designed to keep you full in between meal times are that healthy.”

Earlybirds chose strong flavours with their two launch bottles to align with the idea of indulgence. Both contain a variety of cold pressed fruit and vegetables, either as purees or juices. They contain no added sugar, make up 20-30% of the daily recommended fibre intake and have oat and coconut milk as plant-based dairy bases. 

A traditional dairy option, Paterson says, is not on the agenda.

“The market is moving so, so heavily towards plant-based that there would be no reason for us to do a dairy option. The people who will be buying us will be having 80% plant based compared to dairy.”

Looking forward, Earlybirds have new listings set for February and April 2020 in the UK and Europe, with the recent rebrand securing new commercial avenues for the brand.

“We want to grow our base range, look at new formats and show consumers that snacks can be in bottles. We expect to grow massively in the next six months.”

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