On Thursday 15 June 2017, the British Libraryâs Business & IP Centre will be hosting Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Brilliant Brands. The panel will consist of Inspiring food and drink entrepreneurs speaking on their respective journeys to business success and the creation of their exciting brands. One of the brilliant brands on the night will be PROPERCORN, represented by co-founder, Ryan Kohn. We caught up with Ryan to find out a little more about the PROPERCORN story and to discover how it developed from an entrepreneurial dream to a big business, selling three million bags a month.
What makes PROPERCORN so different from any other popcorn brand on the market?
Weâve grown at a serious pace over the last five years but weâve never compromised on our popcorn. Weâre total flavour fanatics, so the recipes still start in our kitchen and the process involves careful sourcing, blending and tweaking until weâve got the perfect product. Every bag is made using natural seasonings and our passionate team still manages to bring to life incredible recipes like Peanut Butter & Almond and Sour Cream & Black Pepper. Weâre also very proud to be the only independently-run, British brand of the four leading popcorns on the market. This definitely helps us to retain flexibility in our entrepreneurial approach.
Tell us about the early days of starting your business and why you think your idea succeeded?
My business partner, Cassandra, came up with the idea when she was 25. Like all great ideas and entrepreneurs, she spotted a gap and was brave enough to make the leap. Itâs easy to forget how little there was on offer in terms of healthy snacks at the time; it was either a chocolate bar or a rice cake and not much else in between. Cassandra was determined to bring something to market which found that tasty/healthy sweet spot. Quite simply, it made sense - and when we brought together our dogged determination, her creativity and my business experience we found we had a pretty formidable team.
Did you expect such fast growth when you started and how have dealt with the challenges that such change brings?
To be honest, our initial business plan was much punchier than we actually achieved. However, this was probably due to our inexperienced forecasting than anything else. I am extremely ambitious and with past businesses, I have learnt that there is a lot to be said for momentum. I believed in what we had and knew that once we got the ball rolling, that momentum would follow. Our first stockist was Google HQ where we became the best-selling snack; this was an amazing case study and a quick succession of major retailers followed. Challenges are endless and pitfalls inevitable, so resilience and reacting positively to any mistakes is key when starting your own business. I really do believe in the power of being positive and the challenges you overcome, only make you stronger. It helps too when you have an amazing team supporting you and we certainly have that at PROPERCORN.
Did you have any concerns about entering an already saturated market? And, if so, how did you manage to stand out?
We were one of the first to market, but a couple of competitors had launched before us. Initially, we thought it was detrimental to our ambitions that others were doing the same thing, but, when youâre trying to build a new category it was, in hindsight, brilliant that we had others pushing the same message. We wouldnât have been able to do it alone as a start-up with limited budgets. Together we have built the fastest growing snack within crisps, snacks and nuts sector for the last five years on the trot.
From the get go, our flavours have always made us stand out and weâre very proud to have won the Great Taste Awards for our efforts. We also have an enormously talented in-house creative team who create everything you see on our packs, cases and campaigns. Iâd like to think itâs the attention to detail and passion that goes into all elements of PROPERCORN that really sets us apart.
Finally, do you have any wise words of advice for budding food entrepreneurs hoping to follow in your footsteps?
If youâve spotted that gap and you really believe the demand is there, have a go at pulling together a skeleton business plan. It sounds really obvious but even a crude skeleton will give you focus, whatever the industry. Think about what a successful year looks like, how you might go about achieving that success and then just go for it and donât hold back.