Indy Kaur discussing plant-based market insights on NutraPreneur

Plant Futures Hacks for Winning the Plant-Based Market with Indy Kaur from Plant Futures

Episode Overview

Episode Topic: In this episode of NutraPreneur, we explore the dynamic landscape of the nutraceutical and plant-based industries with Indy Kaur, the Founder of Plant Futures. The episode delves into the vision behind Plant Futures, its role in spearheading plant-based innovations, and the unique strategies employed to navigate the rapidly evolving market. From insightful discussions on market challenges to triumphs in plant-based market consulting, this episode promises a deep dive into the heart of the industry.

Lessons You’ll Learn: Listeners are in for a wealth of knowledge about valuable insights into the challenges and triumphs of plant-based market consulting. Indy Kaur shares practical advice on how Plant Futures ensures its clients stand out in the crowded yet growing sector. Success stories highlight the transformative impact of Plant Futures’ insights on clients’ strategies and market presence. Additionally, the discussion touches on the ever-changing regulatory landscapes and how Plant Futures stays ahead to safeguard clients’ interests.

About Our Guest: Indy Kaur, the esteemed Founder of Plant Futures, takes center stage in this episode. With a passion for the plant-based sector and years of experience, Indy shares the journey of Plant Futures, its unique vision, and the impact it has had on the UK’s plant-based food sector. As a thought leader in the industry, Indy’s expertise provides listeners with a wealth of knowledge about the challenges and opportunities in the plant-based space.

Topics Covered: Including the initial vision behind Plant Futures and the motivating factors that led to its inception, this episode covers a broad spectrum. There will be insights into the strategies employed by Plant Futures to navigate the dynamic plant-based market. Success stories exemplify the transformative power of Plant Futures’ consultancy, while discussions on regulatory landscapes shed light on the challenges and how the company stays ahead. The episode concludes with a glimpse into the future of plant-based foods, valuable advice for startups entering the market, and a preview of exciting projects at Plant Futures.

Our Guest: Indy Kaur -A Trailblazer in the UK’s Food plant-based Revolution

Indy Kaur, the visionary Founder of Plant Futures, brings a wealth of expertise and passion to the forefront of the plant-based food sector. With a profound commitment to sustainability and health, Indy embarked on the journey to establish Plant Futures as a pioneering force in the UK’s plant-based industry. Her extensive experience and innovative mindset have positioned Plant Futures as a leading consultancy, offering unparalleled insights to businesses navigating the evolving landscape of plant-based foods.

Drawing inspiration from the challenges and opportunities within the plant-based sector, Indy’s vision for Plant Futures transcends the conventional, aiming to create a future that aligns with healthier, sustainable food systems. As highlighted in the podcast, she emphasizes the need for a pragmatic and provocative approach, challenging the status quo within the industry. Indy’s leadership and commitment to quality obsession set a standard for excellence, guiding both startups and established brands toward success in the rapidly growing plant-based market.

Indy Kaur’s impressive network within the UK and globally, coupled with her hands-on experience, positions her as a thought leader in the plant-based sector. As the host, Bethany, aptly notes, Indy’s journey involves creating a future that doesn’t exist yet—a white paper of possibilities where plants, people, and the planet converge. Her expertise extends beyond the podcast, as Indy actively engages with NGOs, retailers, brands, innovators, and investors, contributing to the collaborative efforts shaping the future of plant-based foods.

Image of Indy Kaur, a key player in the plant-based market revolution

Episode Transcript:

Indy Kaur: I think plant-based is the most exciting sector to be working in right now. Within the food industry. There isn’t any other food sector right now globally where it is full of entrepreneurs and innovation, constantly coming out with new things which are really exciting and buoyant with investors who are just interested to be involved or watching breathe. And it’s just this whole energy behind the sector. And what we’re doing right now is we’re creating a future that doesn’t exist right now as well. So there’s a bit of a white paper. We know we need to get to a more healthy, sustainable food system. We know we have an obesity crisis and malnutrition at the same time, and we know plants are a part of the solution.

Bethany Jolley: Welcome to Neutra Preneur The Neutral Industry podcast. I’m your host, food scientist, and nutraceuticals consultant Bethany Jolley. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive in the nutraceutical industry. From conversations with successful nutraceutical entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to tech executives whose innovations are reshaping the nutraceuticals industry, we explore the innovations and trends that are shaping the next generation of nutraceutical businesses. Welcome back to Neutra Preneur, where we unveil groundbreaking insights into the nutraceutical and plant-based industries. I’m your host, Bethany, and today we have the pleasure of speaking with Indi Kau, the founder of Plant Futures. Plant futures stands at the forefront of the UK’s plant-based food sector, offering unparalleled consultancy and insights. Indi, it’s an honor to have you with us today.

Indy Kaur: Oh, hi, Bethany. Nice to meet you.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, it’s great to meet you as well. so first, I think it’d be great for you to tell us about the initial vision behind plant futures and what really motivated you to start this venture.

Indy Kaur: Yeah, the vision for me really came from the fact that we’re in a new and emerging market right now within the plant-based food category and segment, and that requires thinking differently. So I felt that we needed an organization that could work within the plant-based food sector, which could think differently, and take a few more risks. And the way that I positioned plant futures was to work from the outside in. So we’re an external organization, but we work with businesses, so I’ll work with retailers, brands, suppliers, etc. but we’re the ones that will just be a little bit more pragmatic, provocative and think a bit differently, taking some of that risk and fear about change. I love the statement that everyone loves innovation until they have to change.

Bethany Jolley: Right, exactly. And plant-based foods really are just rapidly evolving. So how does plant futures navigate this dynamic market to provide effective strategies for different businesses?

Indy Kaur: Yeah, we have a pretty impressive network within the UK and globally, which has taken years to build. To be fair, and everyone who works with plant futures and is associated with plant futures, we’re all experts within the sector. So with several years of experience and then it comes to building the network, which means getting to the trade shows and conferences wherever they may be, especially if there are important topics being discussed and the network of NGOs. I mean, there are some amazing NGOs within this sector. So networking with NGOs, having regular conversations with retailers to understand what’s going on in their world, like what’s doing well, what’s not doing so well, and with brands, with innovators, with investors as well. They play an absolutely pivotal role within this sector. So in terms of helping, understanding what’s what, it really comes through the network and our tenacity to really stay well connected.

 Bethany Jolley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s it is important to connect with those retailers to understand what customers are looking for, essentially.

Indy Kaur: Yeah, absolutely. It’s absolutely fundamental. The mean especially within the UK, we have a handful of major retailers and they’re the ones the closest to consumers, across whether the major channels really. And but staying close to retailers that goes across major malts uh, food service and the new delivery platforms, I mean, delivery services is just ramping up, and it’ll be the same in lots of other markets, especially in the US as well, but certainly within the UK. So staying close to the changing, adapting retail landscape, understanding consumers where they’re at right now, where they’re going, where we need to get them to, that all sits within, within the thing that’s the closest to the consumer, which is typically a range of retailers. Yeah, which covers food service, etc.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. And I’ve done some research about the company and you’ve mentioned a unique process to help brands succeed across the different channels. So could you elaborate on this approach and what its impact is?

Indy Kaur: Yeah, I’d say like it’s kind of unique in a way because I don’t think it’s used very much. not within the food industry, but probably within other sectors. I just call it like, don’t spend too much money. And I really back it. So the minimum viable product is methodology, which is used a lot in technology. And what’s great about it is that you really don’t spend a lot of money. Actually, what I find is the less that you spend, the more creative you become or your businesses become. So number one thing I always advocate for is “do the work, but spend the least amount possible,” and it will really test the MVP model.

And in the first few years of launching a food product, it’s you just don’t know what’s going to happen. You can think that everyone’s going to love this product and they really want to buy it, and why would they not want to buy it and all this sort of stuff until you launch, you have absolutely no idea. So when you launch, make it as cheap as possible, like just do the basics during Covid, during lockdowns, I started developing a new snacks brand. It was just in my kitchen putting some stickers on a box and like I couldn’t service the little demand in my neighborhood. But that’s a good example of an MVP. Then, “Okay, cool, I’m going to go and put some money into it. And yes, I have a product that’s that people are going to buy.” So you mitigate risk and increase your confidence level, and you can be a lot more savvy with your spending.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah. And I think that’s a great approach for new and upcoming brands to take because I think a lot of brands do get a little overly enthusiastic and probably spend a lot of money, and then they’re not seeing the sales that they were hoping for.

Indy Kaur: Yeah, this is a major problem. I mean, it’s we talk about it as if it is just seen as the status norm, and it’s never really challenged. And it’s a true fact. I mean, within the UK, we often use the stat that 70% of food businesses fail within the first 12 months. And that’s like a lot of failures. And it’s a necessity the tech industry probably has. It may actually have a little bit of a higher success rate. I might not be quite right there, but I mean, there’s no reason food businesses should have such a high failure rate if they do it right. I mean, the MVP model is brilliant. It gives you an opportunity to test and learn, make those little tweaks. I see lots of brands failing based on small mistakes, which could have been avoidable. And some of it’s under design, some of it’s on the packaging side, some of it’s on the price or not managing their cash flow. and all of that can be mitigated through, the MVP approach. It just it just sounds very boring, but it’s very important.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. Maybe boring but effective.

Indy Kaur: Yeah, exactly. Effect is a good word.

Bethany Jolley: And I’ve noticed even when I’ve been doing my grocery shopping that the plant-based sector is becoming more and more crowded, and it’s really growing. So how do you ensure that your clients stand out in this competitive landscape?

Indy Kaur: They really need to. I suppose it’s a crowded place in one way, but the size of the opportunity, the future market is still significantly, significantly huge, really. Sometimes I always kind of come back to competition is a good thing because in some ways you can talk about its evolution. The market will eventually just refine the crowd to get the best people like the best brands succeeding. Really. So, so there is a necessity for competition like Coca-Cola and Pepsi probably wouldn’t hit the market unless it was both of them. Apple and Android, they work better together than if only one had launched. So we do need the crowd, especially in a new and emerging market, because that’s just the nature of it. Over time, that will start consolidating in the various ways that a new market does. But in order to stand out of the crowd, brands really need to, one, be quality-obsessed, especially for a lot of people who are buying some of the new products for the first time.

So to be quality-obsessed, which means exactly what it says. And the more the brands can be that I think the better place they’re going to be positioned. So that means buying your product off the shelf whenever you’re buying out in a store, getting your friends to buy it, put it in the oven. If it’s a baked product, does it bake the way you think it should bake? If it’s not, then go fix it in the factory really quickly. And that’s that’s the foundational bit. But I don’t see enough brands and brand owners doing that. The best brands are quality-obsessed. Then the next part is really just knowing your value proposition. It’s making sure that what you think your brand does and that the person that you think is going to buy your brand is actually the person who buys your brand. So quality-obsessed and then consumer-obsessed, but it’s more about the consumer, less about you and the brand.

Bethany Jolley: Absolutely. And I love the phrase, quality-obsessed because I, of course, am passionate about quality assurance. But I think it oftentimes gets put on the back burner and maybe isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind whenever they’re developing products. So I think always putting quality first and then, like you said, truly understanding what the consumers are wanting.

Indy Kaur: Yeah. Exactly. And just sense check with them that who you think is buying it is actually buying it because you might speak up otherwise I know for example is good. When I was working at Goop Hoods in the UK, it’s a premium dessert brand. You can learn a lot of these practices from chefs. So from the chef’s point of view, the chefs are goop and chefs are great because they are quality-obsessed. So even if some people within the brand or the business don’t see it, a chef will always bring you back to quality, which is great.

Bethany Jolley: This episode is brought to you by if your business needs credit card processing that fully integrates with most major neutral software platforms, offers the lowest industry prices, and has built-in features like recurring billing, $0 trials, and chargeback prevention. Then visit us at for a free online quote. Are you able to share with us a success story where Plant Futures insights significantly transformed a client’s strategy or market presence?

Indy Kaur: Yeah, probably. I’d say a good example is an Italian brand called Polly. They’re predominantly plant-based. They’re a veg-led business. Italian Heritage, a business that’s been running for 120 years. They were they were in the UK market, but they weren’t getting the attraction that they wanted to get. And learning about the brand and the brand story and the heritage and understanding that what they had to offer as a business, both from a brand perspective and an own label perspective. I just thought there was something really exciting underneath this. So during the strategic process, and this is where it comes down to just not spending a lot of money because some of the answers are just right there. We went on a journey for a few weeks. We went into retailers. We took loads of pictures of the fixtures. We had a look at restaurant menu trends and but it was looking at the fixtures and really challenging the status quo. It was like antipasti is really big in chilled. Why is antipasti not as big in the ambient grocery fixture so chilled, refrigerated and ambient grocery?

And then that just led us into a pipeline of thoughts. Well, has anyone even thought about reigniting the jars of antipasti and veg and all the really cool stuff you can do? You can have fermented, you could have all the pickles and they make great sides as well. So mix it with your salad or have it as a side. And that’s what we went after. So that was one part of the strategy I think we had like a few different elements, but that was one of the elements, and the brand, when the business went ahead, probably went ahead. They secured a £1.5 million contract quite soon after that with one of the major retailers and then went on to launch ten new lines with another major retailer, which was amazing. And so some of this is sometimes the answers aren’t that complicated. If you’re surrounded by the right people, that can just challenge some of the norm. And that was it. I mean, that was with Polly. And last time I spoke to the MD at Polly, about 90 to 100% of that strategy has been delivered, which is amazing, and hugely motivating.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. That’s fantastic. And when you’re talking about food, there are often, regulations that come up. So the regulatory landscapes are constantly changing. So how does Plant Futures stay ahead of these shifts to safeguard its clients’ interests?

Indy Kaur: I think, what’s really special about the plant-based sector is that we have an impressive group of NGOs. So, NGO organizations who are who are pushing on government and regulatory and various labeling standards, etc. So within that network, that’s how AI and plant futures stay updated. And so there’s I mean, there’s a whole whole group of them. Plant-based Food Alliance in the UK, plant-based Food Association in the US, Good Food Institute, ProVeg, Alternative Protein Association. I mean there’s a lot and they’re very well-funded and well-resourced. They’re in the best position to really stay on top of like where the regulatory discussions are and where the legal discussions are, because it’s incredibly difficult topics and also take years to get to a solution.

So the best that I can do for the clients is that I work with is to understand what’s going on at the moment. Where do we have permission to play, what do we need to be wary of? And at the moment there doesn’t seem to be, although there’s a lot of noise and there isn’t really many answers being delivered, which is frustrating, but it’s also an opportunity. So, it is really just striking that balance. I tend to stay away from conversations and topics where I’m not the expert, and regulatory is an expert field, so I lean on, the other organizations that are pioneering it there.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah, and luckily there are quite a few, resources out there now where you can stay connected to these regulatory agencies. I know a lot of them will send out emails if you subscribe or they host webinars and things like that. So you can really stay connected and up to date, even more so than you could in the past.

Indy Kaur: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. It is quite easy to stay up to date. I mean, and also just to know things take the, I mean, it was right one of my last roles for like it was the largest retailer in the UK. We were discussing vegan standards and actually like there is no real other than what the Vegan Society have, have kind of put down, which is brilliant. That is the go-to document. And a few of the trademarks have done the same in terms of, well, what does it how do we define vegan from a technical standards perspective. So the ISO standard are working through the definition for plant-based. But all of this will take just a little bit away from that coming to fruition. The most recent was dairy designation in the UK and that was worrying. But what was great was one of the NGOs took the lead, wrote a letter and we had lots and lots of brands signing up to it. So I think there is that middle place between the regulatory experts and the brands and just they, they can input as and when necessary. But I think, for the larger corporations, they tend to have their internal legal teams who are very up to speed with what’s going on.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, absolutely. And with your rich experience, how do you see the future of plant-based foods evolving in the UK and even globally?

Indy Kaur: Yeah, I love this question because I like hands down and I say it word for word. I think plant based is the most exciting sector to be working in right now within the food industry. There isn’t any other food sector right now globally where it’s full of entrepreneurs and innovation, constantly coming out with new things and which are really exciting and buoyant with investors who are just interested to be involved or watching breathe. And it’s just this whole energy behind the sector. And what we’re doing right now is we’re creating a future that doesn’t exist right now as well. So it’s we’re kind of there’s a bit of a white paper. We know we need to get to a more healthy, sustainable food system. We know we have an obesity crisis and malnutrition at the same time. And we know plants are a part of the solution. So it is it’s this big problem or an opportunity at the same time. So once we break through it, it’s just going to be amazing. It is like for anyone that’s in the sector, I think it’s brilliant. And I do expect more people to want to get involved because it’s a food category that brings together purpose and passion. and yeah, purpose and passion together. I mean, yeah, plants, people, planet, Really.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. Absolutely. I agree, I think it’s a very exciting market to be in.

Indy Kaur: Yeah. Good. Yeah, it is.

Bethany Jolley: And for any startups or SMEs that are entering the plant-based market, what key advice would you offer for their journey?

Indy Kaur: I think for what’s really important for startups and SMEs is that just surround yourself with experts and understand your blind spots. it’s I don’t know where it came from, but there is this notion that it’s easy or straightforward to develop a product and launch it on a retailer shelf is actually very, very difficult, especially when you think about the logistics, the supply chains, the pack size, the product, technical standards, all this sort of stuff. So if you’re new and you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve got a great idea and a great product that you want to launch, or you’re an SME and you’re going to scale up, make sure, one, make sure you know well, one, know your blind spots, but you might not know your blind spots because you might not know what you don’t know. And in which case, just surround yourselves by experts. So the people that have done it, are some who have done it successfully and some that may have failed, who can also share some really great information, would probably be the best. Just make sure that you surround yourself by experts and be just listen, understand what you may or may not know or may or may not be good at to to do well in the food industry. It comes with years of experience.

Bethany Jolley: Absolutely. And I think that’s great advice. Being around those experts is helpful. And like you said earlier, a lot of the answers to those questions are actually quite simple or quite easy to obtain if you’re surrounded by the right people.

Indy Kaur: Exactly. Yeah. And sometimes it’s just grab a coffee and you’ll be like, “Oh, okay, that’s what I need to do.” Like it is just it’s that simple. When you know the answer, it’s because you’ve done it for 5 or 10 years. And if you’re new in the business, someone is very willing to pass that on.

Bethany Jolley: Right, right. And are there any upcoming projects or initiatives at Plant Futures that excite you the most?

Indy Kaur: Yes, we’ve got two at the moment. We’re going to start off 2024 with a bang. And so one is, a creative campaign idea for the UK market. Initially, we’re running that as a pilot pilot trial, and we’re going to follow the MVP model. So you can come back to me in six months and see how I’m getting on with it because I’m definitely going to be following the MVP model. And that’s all about how we get plant-based proteins in growth, in accelerating the growth of plant-based proteins in the UK market initially. And those proteins include tofu, the alternatives lentils, beans, pulses all of those plant proteins. And then adjacent to that is what I’m calling an Insights to Action workshop, which is where we have lots of new insights.

And I have a motto which basically says that knowledge is only useful if it’s applied, and there’s no use of loads of insights sitting on my laptop. So we’re going to take these insights and we’re going to action them. And the action means we’re getting a lot of plant-based food businesses together at the end of February in London for a one-day event where we’re going to workshop, some of the problem areas within the category, taking a real pragmatic approach like, what are we doing right? What are we not doing right? What can we do then to move it on? And that will then generate, a playbook like a roadmap for the plant-based sector. And as far as I know, I think we’re only one of two markets that are taking this approach. So it’s a really new way of working, which is exciting.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, that’s all very exciting and I look forward to seeing everything come into play this year.

Indy Kaur: Thanks very much.

Bethany Jolley: Yes. Well, thank you once again, Andy, for sharing your invaluable insights and the visionary work of Plant Futures. For those looking to delve deeper into the world of plant-based food business, visit the Plant Futures website linked in our podcast description. Don’t forget to subscribe and share your thoughts on today’s enlightening discussion. Join us next time on Neutra Manure for more exciting dives into the nutraceutical and plant-based industries. Stay curious and stay informed. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Nutra Preneur. If you enjoy the show, please subscribe and better yet, leave us a review as it really helps us grow the show.

Michael Bush: You’re also starting to see some novel ingredients in the probiotic world. Postbiotics are becoming very important. Postbiotics are cool because they’re basically what a probiotic will do in the gut, you do in the fermenter, and you have a postbiotic, and so you have no stability issues. And so you can get that benefit that the probiotic produces in the gut or some of the benefits. But you’re going to get that through the product that’s already you’ve basically killed the cells and you’re using the metabolites. So there’s just lots of neat things happening. I see like I said over the next couple of years, it’ll be interesting. In addition to these condition-specific, to see where is consumer acceptance of genetically modified things. We accepted plant-based meats and grown meats and things like that. And so it’s just becoming more and more where we’re starting to understand that GMO does not mean bad necessarily.

Bethany Jolley: Welcome to Nutra-Preneur, the Neutral Industry podcast. I’m your host, food scientist, and nutraceuticals consultant, Bethany Jolley. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive in the nutraceutical industry. From conversations with successful nutraceutical entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to tech executives whose innovations are reshaping the nutraceuticals industry, we explore the innovations and trends that are shaping the next generation of nutraceutical businesses. Welcome back to Nutra-Preneur, the podcast that brings you cutting-edge insights from the world of nutraceuticals. I’m Bethany, your host, and today we’re excited to have Michael Bush, managing partner at GrowthWays Partners. Michael brings over three decades of expertise in the natural products industry, from startups to global corporations. Michael, it’s great to have you on the show today.

Michael Bush: Thanks for having me.

Bethany Jolley: First off, could you share with us how your journey in the natural products industry began and what really inspired you to become Managing Partner at GrowthWays?

Michael Bush: I started out my career in healthcare as a biomedical engineer working in hospitals, and was pretty bad at that job, and repairing medical equipment is not something you want to necessarily be bad at, and so got into the management side of healthcare and healthcare services. And in I guess it was around 2000, I made the transition into the world of bioinformatics and more biotech and things like that, and did some advisory work, but did some turnarounds at some companies.

And then in 2006, I was consulting and wound up consulting and being brought on by a company called Ganeden Biotech, who had a line of probiotic supplements marketed under the Digestive Advantage brand. And they wanted to really look at what was going on in the market, what else they could do with their ingredient, and we decided to start an ingredients business at Ganeden. And so we ran that from 2006 till 2017. We sold that business to the Kerry Group, and at that point I decided to go off on my own and start GrowthWays, really to support other natural products companies, ingredient companies, primarily venture capital, and private equity-backed firms that were the objective is to ultimately sell the business. And so because that’s my area of expertise, and that is making decisions to build value and ultimately increase exit value for companies as they grow.

Bethany Jolley: So with your broad experience, how do you see the evolution of the natural products sector over the last few decades?

Michael Bush: Well, over the last. It’s funny, I’ve got a book that I just finished writing and will be published in the first quarter of this year, and I tell the story about how when I first started in the natural products industry, my first introduction was at Natural Products Expo West, and I believe that year there were around 50,000 people there, but it felt like a small gathering. It was intimate. Everybody knew each other and I literally knew I found my home. It was an interesting group of people, to say the least. Most products that were in the market had little if any, clinical data behind them when it came to supplements and things along those lines. And I saw an opportunity to take what are ordinary ingredients that can be used in food or supplements and do the science and do it the right way, and saw an industry that was ripe for being able to help more people than you could with a traditional pharmaceutical or biotech approach, which involves hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, and a small population of people that ultimately receive the benefit.

And so I fell in love with the fact that you could take, for example, a probiotic and put it in food that people ate every day and provide them with full clinical benefits by being able to eat a bar every day or drink a kombucha, rather than having to take supplements or rely on pharmaceuticals. And so when I see the evolution of natural products, industry really is becoming more there’s a convergence where the functional ingredient side of things and the natural products. There’s a merger of those two technologies, which is a nice clean label, technically natural product coupled with a clinically backed functional ingredient. And so I love the space. I think it’s going to continue to evolve. I think we’re going to continue to see enhanced science, bigger studies, and more relevant science. Up till now, the only approach was really pharmaceutical or OTC. And so we’re going to be able to use food as medicine the way we’ve been trying to forever.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think consumers are also just becoming more educated. And they want to see the science behind the ingredients that they’re putting into their bodies.

Michael Bush: Absolutely. It’s funny to see when we were at Günaydin, we had a website for our B2B website. We were a B2B company, but we also had a consumer website where consumers could go and they could read the clinical science and they could pull things. And it was one of those things that we thought, oh, let’s just put it up, and then we can share the data. And we really surprised at the number of consumers that went to that website every day and were downloading white papers on clinical trials and things like that. We’re really pleasantly surprised to see how involved the consumers were at vetting the ingredients that they were consuming.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And what other unique strategies do you employ at GrowthWays Partners to optimize the exit value for companies in the pre-, pro, and Postbiotics and the functional ingredient spaces?

Michael Bush: Well, so the whole premise behind what we do is to start with the destination in mind. With the upcoming book, it’s really about there. It’s about using what I call a guard railing and using the guard railing to really start with the destination first. And so, “Okay, I’m going to start an ingredient company, or I’m a venture capital firm and I’m investing in a company.” I think it’s a fun exercise if the company was designed to be sold. So if you have a venture capital investor, you’re going to sell the company or you’re going to take a public or something. There’s going to be next. And so one of the exercises I like to do as early as possible is to actually name the company that will buy your company, whether it’s a private equity firm or a strategic, it’s literally “sit down.” The founders of the company or the management team need to sit down and say, “Okay, if we’re going to sell this business to X, we want to sell it, We would love to sell it for a certain return.

And that return will require us to generate a certain amount of revenue and profits.” But if we’re going to sell to X company or a company like them, what do we need to do? In every decision that you make, forever, the entire life cycle of that business has to be in alignment with that ultimate destination. And it’s really a capital D, destination where we’re really focusing on where are we going as a company, and does this decision get us closer to our destination or not? And it’s one of those things where by really keeping your eye on the destination, it allows you to make decisions as far as things that you don’t really think of as value generators, but are you going to build a manufacturing facility? Are you going to use a contract manufacturer? Are you going to work with universities to run clinical studies, or can you do it with a contract research organization? Then what are the advantages of doing so? It really helps you outline your IP strategy around whether you’re focusing on patents or trademarks or trade secrets or whatever the case may be, and also even lets you guide decisions like hiring.

One of the things I’ve always done in practice forever is whenever I interview somebody, I tell them that this company will be sold someday. That is the goal of this organization. You’ll either be working for a bigger, better company someday that ultimately buys us, or a private equity firm or somebody, or we may lose our jobs. They may decide that they’re going to buy this business, and there’s a bunch of redundancy. And so one of the things I think that a management team really is responsible for doing is really thinking long and hard, as when you’re bringing people on, especially as a company evolves, and think, “Is this person going to be replaced or not needed when the company is sold?” And if that’s the case, think long and hard about whether or not you hire this person, because do you really want to hire somebody as a stepping stone, knowing that they’re going to lose their job in a couple of years? And so it’s just all those little things, how long of a lease do you take out on an office? And all of those decisions are guided by the guardrails that ultimately shape the value generation of a business.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah, and that’s a really unique approach that I think a lot of companies probably don’t even think about, but it really helps them strategize throughout their whole path basically.

Michael Bush: It guides everything. It guides from your fundraising strategy. It informs the way you make decisions. But as you said, not a lot of companies think that way because, for example, they’ll think, well, we’re going to be raising money next year. So we need to do these things now so that we can raise money next year. Rather than thinking, if we continue to build value, then obviously the valuation at the next round will be higher. And so it’s by making all these value-generating decisions and using the guardrails as the guiding principle. I put two things into consideration when any decisions are being made and the two factors are, “Does it get you towards closer to the destination and is it a good decision?” And one of the reasons I enjoy working in the natural products industry is you don’t have to really explain to people what good and doing good is. There are some industries where if doing good is one of the two most important things in your decision-making process. But probably there are industries where goodness is not taken into consideration. But the natural products industry really is driven by doing good and doing well. And it’s what I love about the industry.

Bethany Jolley: I think I can agree with that. The natural products industry is just a little bit different in that aspect. So given the diverse range of companies that you’ve worked with, what key factors do you believe are crucial for success in the natural products market?

Michael Bush: It’s really doing something unique and being willing to really be different. There’s a different approach that you can take to building a business and growing a business, and one of the unique challenges that we see is one of the big issues that everybody has is “how do we grow revenue? How do we put together a commercial team?” There are a lot of people that have expertise in taking consumer brands to market. But when it comes to, for example, functional ingredients or a product that has a unique value proposition because everybody’s fighting for space, especially when it comes to the ingredient side of things, on the B2B side of the natural products industry, if you’ve got a kind bar, everybody wants to get their functional ingredient in that kind bar. And so the kind folks have to say be fortified or protein. Do we want to put an immune-enhancing ingredient? Do we just want it to taste good? Do we want to add fiber, whatever the case may be?

And so by doing that, by putting yourself in a position where you’re the company of choice because one, you’re the best one to work with and you’ve done everything right, you’ve gone through the right regulatory paths, you’ve done the right clinical work, you’ve done clinical work that you needed to do to support claims so that your end consumers and your business customers are receiving the benefit that they think that they’re going to be receiving, and you’ve got the data to support that. And so there’s just so many things that go into making sure that the business is growing the right way, and the natural products industry just lends itself towards doing things the right way. But right now, there are challenges in building commercial teams, as I mentioned, building go-to-market programs because there’s been so much consolidation in the space. A lot of the industry veterans are going elsewhere. They’re selling their companies, they’re at the end of their careers, or maybe they’re switching industries. And so it’s the time of inflection in the space. That’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of years.

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We’ve already noted a few of the challenges that you face, but are there any that you’d like to talk about, particularly in any projects at GrowthWays, and how have you navigated those challenges to success?

Michael Bush: I would say the common denominator right now in a bunch of clients that I’m working with, is really leadership development and helping establish that kind of, How do we make decisions as a leader? How do we make decisions? How to go to market? How do we build a team? And so it’s funny, everybody’s unique, but sometimes you feel like telling your five clients or your ten clients or whoever it is and say, “We’re going to just have one call on this because we’re all dealing with the same issues right now.” And here it is. It’s January, it’s the beginning of the first quarter. Everybody’s concerned about Q1 revenue and what’s going to happen in 2024 and putting goals together.

So one of the things that we worked on at the end of the year last year that’s being implemented now is novel approaches to compensation plans for teams to incentivize them to grow the business the right way. We’ve been doing a lot of compensation plan development and putting together individual plans for whether it’s a management team or a sales team or individual contributors. And so it’s an area that it’s fun because if we tweak the comp plan a little bit this way, does it move the needle when it comes to revenue and recurring revenue and having the right kind of revenue and the right kind of profit and margin that builds value in a business. And so there are things that you can do with incentive plans that allow you to align the investors’ goals or the company’s goals very much with the employees’ goals. And like I said, with consolidation, some of the ways that the bigger companies handle compensation are very different than the way an entrepreneurial company that’s trying to grow should be handling it. And so it’s interesting, but it’s also a very common problem that I’m seeing, especially this time of year.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah. And you’ve worked with a lot of different types of companies. It sounds like. And so how does GrowthWays tailor its approach when advising startups versus the established global corporations?

Michael Bush: We sit down and we do an assessment. They usually come to us with a problem. An investor will come to us and say, “We need commercial help with a company XYZ.” They’re very early, they’re pre-revenue, or they’re hitting a plateau, or they’re launching new ingredients. And one of the common things I’m seeing right now is companies that are hybrid direct to consumer, or B2C companies that are now wanting to become more B2B. So when they come to us, they’ll say, “We’ve got a D2C team, we’ve got this really good team, we’re really good at Facebook ads, or we’re really good at getting consumer engagement in stores.” We realized that the direction that we’ll build the most value for the business ultimately will be a B2B business that produces more margin and has less spend when it comes to marketing and advertising.

So that’s one of the areas where it typically is brought in from an investor or somebody on an advisory side of things where they’re coming and help the management team, put this plan together. This time of year is fun for me because we do a lot of get-togethers with companies and do strategy. We did that later in the year, last year too. I typically recommend that people do really detailed forecasts, and so we do literally account-by-account forecasts in some cases. In some cases there are five accounts on that forecast. Sometimes there are five hundred. But it allows companies to have more exposure to the way the business is going to run in the subsequent years. And you make sure that you’re hitting your goals and doing things like that. But usually, it’s they’re coming in and asking for help formalizing a commercial plan or refining strategy or building a strategy right from the get-go.

Bethany Jolley: You’re very obviously tuned in with the industry. And so what emerging trends do you predict will shape the natural products industry in the near future?

Michael Bush: I really think that over the next, let’s call it five years, we’re going to see more acceptance in genetically modified organisms and things in the probiotic world, for example, there’s just so much that can be done with gene editing or even directed evolution, which is not necessarily you’re not doing Crispr on an organism, but you’re pushing it in a genetic direction or in an evolutionary direction. So I think you’re going to start seeing in the natural products industry, in particular, when it comes to the ingredient side and when it comes to even the product side, you’re going to see more specific, condition-specific, or more market-specific people. You’re seeing energy. There’s just a ton going on with energy, stress, mood, sleep. And we’re starting to find that there’s a variety of things that happen that affect stress and mood that are happening, for example, in the gut where neurotransmitters are being produced. Years ago, we predicted that the probiotic world would shift to much more condition-specific probiotics. So a probiotic for protein metabolism or a probiotic for stress and mood, probiotic for heart health and things. And you’re starting to see that come true now. You’re also starting to see some novel ingredients in the probiotic world. Postbiotics are becoming very important.

Postbiotics are cool because they’re basically what a probiotic will do in the gut, you do in the fermenter and you have a postbiotic, and so you have no stability issues. And so you can get that benefit that the probiotic produces in the gut or some of the benefits. But you’re going to get that through the product that’s already you’ve basically killed the cells and you’re using the metabolites. So there’s just lots of neat things happening. I see like I said over the next couple of years, it’ll be interesting, in addition to these condition-specific, to see where is consumer acceptance of genetically modified things. We accepted plant-based meats and grown meats and things like that. And so it’s just becoming more and more where we’re starting to understand that GMO does not mean bad necessarily.

Bethany Jolley: Exactly. I think it’s always had a negative connotation, but there can actually really be some great ingredients that emerge from that technology.

Michael Bush: Oh yeah. You say there’s an organism out there, hypothetically, that could create some incredible benefit or produce some compound in the gut, but that particular organism may have a characteristic that you don’t want it to have. Let’s say that it is a spore-forming organism and you don’t want it to go into spore form. Well, using GMO, you could stop that or if there’s something where there’s a potential pathogen, for example, you could just remove that from the organism. And it’s not nearly as complicated as people think it is, especially using some of the new technologies out there. And I’m on the board of one of the Ginkgo Bioworks companies, Verb Biotics. And it’s just amazing to see some of the things that can be done using GM technology. And so I think that there’ll be some advancements over the next couple of years, and it’ll be interesting to see how it’s accepted in the industry.

Bethany Jolley: Yeah. And you’re also deeply involved with volunteering for not-for-profits. So how do you balance all of these endeavors?

Michael Bush: You block time, right? I’ve got a calendar. And so I’ve also had three daughters. How do I have time for them? It’s just one of those things you just allocate time. My wife and I love giving back and we love working with not-for-profits. And where we just recently helped set up the board of a not-for-profit that actually does improv and teaches. It does outreach to schools and things, using improv as a way to teach team building and things like that. So it’s fun. You never know what you’re going to stumble upon when you’re open to helping. But we just balance our time and we do what we do and wherever we are. And so it’s one of the good things that came out of the pandemic was, is it gave people the ability to things technologies like Zoom and things like that, where we now can work with companies that are on the other side of the world or the other side of the country without having to jump on a plane every time.

Bethany Jolley: Absolutely. That was such a horrible time, obviously, but then it opened up a lot of new opportunities as well and adjusted. And I know for me, it’s been great to do a lot of the things virtually. What upcoming projects or collaborations at GrowthWays are you most excited about this year and why?

Michael Bush: One of the companies that we helped co-found is a company called Step Change Innovations. So I’m doing more and more work with the folks over at Step Change. They were some of the folks from Günaydin got together and it basically a lot helped. It’s an organization that helps people take functional ingredients to market. There are some neat things going on over there. Like I said, I’ve got this book coming out this quarter, so there’s a lot of activity going on around that. And so just tons of advisory work going on, while at the same time trying to keep space to stay sane and do other things. I just recently became a certified meditation instructor, and so it’s always been a part of my lifestyle. So it’s interesting how I’m now starting to incorporate that into some of my advisory work. And so so that’s a lot is going on for GrowthWays book coming out, some new client announcements, and some just good stuff. It’s a fun time to be in this industry.

Bethany Jolley: Yes, it sounds like you have a lot of exciting things ahead.

Michael Bush: We do.

Bethany Jolley: So Michael, thank you once again for sharing your profound insights and experiences with us today. For our listeners who want to learn more about GrowthWays Partners, and their impactful work in the natural products industry, be sure to check out the links in our podcast description. Remember to subscribe to get more engaging discussions. And join us next time on Nutra-Preneur as we continue to explore the fascinating world of nutraceuticals. Until then, keep innovating and inspiring.

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