Q&A: Chris Thompson, Seed Stacked

How did you go from wrestler to seed bar entrepreneur?

I was backpacking around Thailand and doing some wrestling shows out there when I got really ill and had to come back to England. When I was back home, I got even more poorly. I couldn't go to the gym or go to the shows. I lost a stone in six months and was constantly going to the hospital.  The doctors finally told me I had Crohn's disease, a disease where the immune system attacks the intestines.

I looked into the condition and what I could take naturally to fight it. I kept coming back to seeds, for both the nutritional benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. I wanted to get them into my diet but I found them really boring, so I just began to mess around in the kitchen. I created the bars during that period. Since then, I'm now in remission.

What convinced you that your bars would make a good business?

I'd been working in a shop to pay the bills. And I couldn't get back into wrestling because I was still fragile. I thought there might be a gap in the market to sell my flapjack bars because there was nothing really out there that made seeds more palatable or interesting.

I made a batch of about 30-40 bars and put them on sale at the local university and they sold out in the first day. I got a call at about 11am asking for more! It's one thing when family and friends tell you your product is a good idea, but the real test is whether people will pay for it.

How did you fund your start-up?

I started out with a bakery and gave them the license to produce the product, this basically meant they produced and packaged our product under our label and sold it to customers. For every bar that was sold we were paid a license royalty. It let us get off the ground without having to outlay costs for production, packaging or ingredients. Therefore start-up costs were extremely cheap and there was very little risk involved for me.

How did you secure Asda as a stockist?

I entered a national competition that Asda ran. It was a Dragons' Den-style competition with Peter Jones on the panel. There were over 1,000 entries, so I entered my flapjacks and won. The prize included four weeks to trial our product in 150 Asda stores to prove it could sell.

Were you confident you could fulfil such a large order?

When I sourced the bakery I knew we could supply up to that amount. That was one of the things I made sure the bakery could do when I negotiated with them. I wanted to grow the brand and make sure they could produce the volume.

I learnt quickly one of the key things is if you contract a supermarket or any shop; make sure you have enough stock to supply them the product. They don't want empty shelves. Although, because we had been stocked first in a supermarket, that made it difficult to move to the independent health shops. They're naturally wary of anything that comes from a supermarket.

So how's business at the moment?

We're currently stocked in National Trust sites, universities and independent health food shops around the country. About 2,000 outlets in all. Export has been fantastic for us this last year and we're selling in 12 countries: Germany, Sweden, Malta, Latvia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, Denmark, Singapore, Finland and Italy.

What is the market like and who are you competing against?

Our main market is the health food market and there are new products coming out all the time. But I don't really see the health food market as our main competition. The more people in the market, the better the awareness of health in general and the more bars we sell. Who we're really competing against is the bigger businesses like Nestle and Mars. To compete with them, it's all about getting the choice to the consumer and educating the consumer on why they should consider our bars over others.

Is your focus on health what keeps consumers coming back?

Not just health, but convenience too. People inherently want to be healthy but not too many people want to step out of their way. We make it easy for them. People think that a "healthy" bar means it tastes like cardboard, and that's not true.

What's been your biggest challenge?

Not having a business mind. Initially it was quite intimidating. Starting a business and not having a clue.

It was a challenge but the skills I've learnt from wrestling, I adapted to my situation. When I was wrestling, I was self-employed. I was my business. I would go to a show and negotiate my fee. Then I would make extra money by selling pictures or merchandise. So my biggest challenge has been looking at what I already know and learning how to apply that to a business world.

What are your plans for the future?

Developing the brand and our product range and encouraging feedback. We've got a seed-based salad topping and a healthy topping for breakfasts being developed at the moment. At the same time, the inspiration from people is important. I can do what I want in my kitchen, but I need to know what customers want.

Find out more about Seed Stacked

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