As part of our ongoing research into the struggles and opportunities that challenger brands face. We caught up with 3 different food and drink brands and a distributor to see how they were fairing the storm.

From our isolation hub (dining room table) we chatted with Epicurium, Paddy and Scotts Coffee, Pulsitos, and Hogless Roast, a group of ethical food brands dedicated to challenging the norm through sustainability or health focussed offerings. Maybe this could provide an interesting narrative in a time where the only obvious silver lining is the recovery of the environment.

After mulling over the conversations, it seemed the brands' stories could be put into 3 main actions: Respond, Reimagine or Reserve energy.

Here's what we found:


All of the brands we spoke to had tried to respond to peoples' loss through gestures of kindness and goodwill towards those suffering the most.

One example was health-food distributor; Epicurium who delivered wellness food parcels to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Alice House Hospice. Similarly, Pulsitos joined forces with other brands to be sent out in similar packages of hope. There was also a lovely sentiment from one of the brands who had made anonymous donations but didn't feel this was the time for marketing.

Image: Epicurium food parcels

As well as responding to the crisis on a human level, there were some impressive examples of innovation which helped businesses stay healthy. Paddy and Scotts were able to shift from being mainly B2B to a consumer-facing brand almost overnight by creating a new e-commerce website where caffeine hungry social distancers could order online.

"We've gone from shipping pallets to parcels, B2B to's been emotional. I've lost half a stone, know how to deal with blisters, learnt how to work on my own and be completely respectful of delivery drivers!"

Scott Russell, Paddy & Scotts

Image: Paddy & Scotts Coffee


For some, this was a chance to reimagine their business to see if there was a more innovative business model that could work alongside the 'new normal'. Vegan hog-roast pioneers; Hogless roast moved from their pop-up events business model into an area they hadn't considered until now: Home delivery.

"Moving to a ghost kitchen model (or cloud kitchen as we like to call them) gives us the opportunity to scale as a business much quicker."

Matt Mitchell - Hogless Roast

Image: Hogless roast

Similarly, as well as the brands reassessing the changes, it was felt that consumers were also reassessing how they want to eat and drink. With an evident small recovery in the environment and time for people to reflect. Many of the brands felt that the trend of moving towards plant-based, sustainable foods would be accelerated by the virus.

"Despite the virus we've seen continued sales from across the faster growth challenger brands. In particular those with strong vegan and protein credentials."

Micheal Ratheram - Epicurium


Finally, there was some consensus amongst the start-ups we spoke to that this was the time when 'less is more'. A time to reserve energy and budget for the future. Pulsitos founder, Sean Morrison felt that their lean model thankfully removed the pain of having to furlough staff and meant that they could save budget and stock for pastures new.

"We're still pretty early on in the changes that this pandemic will bring. We're taking stock and learning when to act and when to be patient."

Sean Morrison - Pulsitos

Image: Pulsitos

Across the globe, the virus has been a great leveller for us all. If there is a silver lining the food industry can take from this, it could be that people seem to be more appreciative of the companies that provide them with the things they love. And if there's one thing that the people definitely love it's food & drink.

"People have realised, that if you don't buy from the local business in your area, it will cease to exist"

Scott Russell, Paddy & Scotts Coffee

Post by Andy Lester

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