For listeners in the UK and Ireland food industry, our guest this week won’t need much of an introduction!
I first met Giles Brook in 2006 at the legendary Fruit Towers in London, where he interviewed me for a job at innocent smoothies, in his role as Commercial Director. Since then, Giles has built up probably the most superb CV in the food and beverage industry, not to mention a portfolio of investments that would make anyone of my age weep with envy!
Giles has been behind the growth of numerous insurgent brands – Innocent, Bear, Vita Coco, Pip and nut to name but a few. He is currently CEO of Vita Coco (for Europe Middle East and Africa) – which he launched over 10 years ago – and which is now turning over £40m in sales.
Although he is the highest-ranked individual in The Grocer’s ‘Food & Drink Power List outside of global and multi-national CEOs, he is also nice, as he takes time out of the office to mentor and guide entrepreneurs.
Here’s our interview earlier this month where we talk about what Giles looks for when investing in a company, whether looking for investment upfront or driving organic growth should be the thing, and how it can be really hard for founders working in the food industry
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[00:28] – Introducing, Giles Brook, CEO of Vita Coco, who has built up an impressive CV in the food and beverage industry. He has been behind the growth of numerous insurgent brands including Innocent, Bear, and Pip & Nut.
[01:39] – How did Giles go from working in big food and beverage to starting to invest in companies? He takes us through what that jump was like for him.
[02:50] – Giles explains how he met one of the early investors in Vita Coco, Mike Kirban.
[04:23] – In addition to relying on gut-feel, today Giles also uses insights i.e. data points and research to drive the decision making. He explains why you should use data insights to help make decisions but you don’t let them lead decisions.
[05:27] – An example of how research data can be wrong and how can this be explained? How is it different for pre-launch and after the product has been launched?
[07:25] – Giles takes us through starting and growing Vita Coco, as well as investing in other businesses. These are all insurgent brands that have created new categories adjacent to one that already existed.
[09:27] – Regardless of how good the commercial opportunity, the most important thing for Giles is that he is passionate about the product or service. What else does he look for in a company when he is considering investing?
[11:11] – Why gross margin rates are critical? How does Giles define it and does he have a benchmark he uses?
[14:43] – Rate of sale: When looking at growth projections for a company he is considering investing in, how does Giles gauge if their revenue projections are realistic or not?
[16:23] – What happens if you launch into a category (e.g. frozen) where the myth/reality is that 80% of the volume is done on deal? We also look at the importance of considering discounts on the three year P&L projections.
[20:29] – What kind of companies do investors like Giles consider investing in and why?
[25:10] – What can the rate of sale in the first six to eight weeks in the best store tell you about how successful the brand is going to become?
[26:40] – Raising money used to be a private affair and most of the money was made through organic sales. Nowadays it seems to be different; it is more public and a huge amount is raised upfront to drive growth. Is there the right way or do we need to consider each case individually?
[32:26] – Do investors consider the amount of experience the company has in the food industry and proof of ability to drive organic growth before giving away money upfront?
[35:26] – If you are a founder who is launching a business it can be quite stressful. Giles explains how he manages this aspect and why it is important to support founders.
[40:50] – As well as investing and growing massive companies, Giles also finds time to train and compete in endurance racing and is about to do another race. He explains why it is important not to compromise our passions.