Here's a new interview I gave for Organic & Natural Business Magazine recently. More juicy details of my sordid past, I hope you enjoy reading.
This Working Life
Dan Whitehead tells Organic & Natural Business about his joumey to setting up The Organic Protem Company.
Name: Dan Whitehead
Company: The Organic Protein Company
Many people find their way into the natural and organic industry through frustration at not being able to find the type of products they want, that taste good, and that are good for you. This was certainly the case for Dan Whitehead, a former gardener who led an active lifestyle and wanted to take a protein supplement to support his training.
And so he launched The Organic Protein Company, a brand committed not only to quality product but to the animal welfare of the cows that provide the ingredients. And the future is certainly looking bright for this young company. "There are lots of exciting developments going on, some of which are top secret but we're launching a fab new website very soon and due to popular demand our organic whey protein powder will be available in larger sizes soon too," Dan said." There are some exciting new products planned further down the line too, so watch this space."
Dan's background is in horticulture, having studied for a National Diploma in Horticulture. He then worked as a gardener. "It was great working with plants out in the open, especially where I lived in the Surrey countryside - great views. But it was solitary work indeed, so I spent a lot of time planning my next move," Dan recalled. It was the active nature of his job, along with the fact he enjoyed going to the gym regularly, that first made him look into the protein industry. "This led me to try out quite a few protein supplements, all of which I felt were disappointing one way or another. None of them were organic, they always seemed to contain at least one dubious ingredient and generally tasted pretty awful," Dan explained."I was certain that I couldn't possibly be the only person crying out for an organic alternative, so I threw the spade and trowel to the wind and the rest is more or less history."
However, an idea is one thing, making it a reality is another, especially when you're not very familiar with the sector you're going to sell into. But that didn't deter Dan. He admits: "l knew absolutely nothing about the industry to start with and, like most things in my life, I've learned quickly from the mistakes I've made along the way. I could have gone down a purely fitness focused route but, although for the natural products industry a new protein powder can be a harder sell, I believed from the start that it would be worth putting the extra effort in to get it into health food stores and into the hands of health conscious consumers as opposed to mainly bodybuilders."
But given the protein market is a pretty saturated one what did Dan believe he could bring to the market that wasn't already there? For a start, it went right back to the field, the source of the protein. "The welfare of cows is at the heart of everything we do. We believe high quality dairy foods can only be achieved by letting cows graze on grass pastures for as long as the weather will allow, and providing generous living conditions during the periods when they are indoors," he explained. "We put our money where our mouth is by donating 25p to Compassion in World Farming for every pack produced, helping improve the welfare for cows and other farm animals around the world."
The fact that there was little in the way of organic protein also convinced Dan that there was a market. He explained: "It always seemed glaringly obvious to me that an organic option in the whey protein product category would be a big success. In a slightly arrogant way, I thought, well if I'd buy it then surely there must be loads of other people who would too. At the end of the day though, there was and still is a rapidly growing number of people out there buying protein powders for health related reasons and with very little in the way of products catering to this niche. At the start, it really did seem like a no brainer."
Since setting it up, the business remains small, with Dan as sole Director and a small team supporting him. This means he gets involved in everything. "I am still very much involved in most aspects of the business, with the additional admin that comes with being a certified organic business," he explained, adding: "When I'm not answering emails and phone calls or juggling invoices, I turn my attention to the marketing side of things, be that preparing for exhibitions, advertising or social media and networking, when I find the time. "At the moment, our website is undergoing an overhaul so that's taking up a lot of my time lately. I'm slowly but surely passing on the more tedious admin related tasks onto other people, so in six months my focus will hopefully be more consistently on the product development and marketing side of things, both of which don't get quite enough attention on a regular basis at the moment."
It is the face-to-face contact that Dan says he particularly enjoys at trade shows and consumer exhibitions. "Actually being there when people are trying the product I worked so long and hard to bring to market always feels great and 90 per cent of the people who try it are pleasantly surprised that it does actually taste good," he added. "Meeting existing customers at these shows is equally as exciting - occasionally, someone will come over to say how much they love the product, which is absolutely brilliant!" And it's an industry he's glad he came into, adding: "Whether I'm flicking through an industry magazine or taking time out from our stand at a trade show to have a look around, there's always a fantastic selection of weird and wonderful products to try, and talking to the people who founded some of these companies can be really interesting. So many natural and organic brands came about through real passion from the people who founded them so it's wonderful to hear the stories behind the brands."