Robert Jakobi is a true entrepreneur — he’s co-founded a healthy food company, disrupted a $12B soup industry with the launch of BOU, taken risks in food category innovation, and persevered through mistakes he’s learned from along the way. He attributes his success to his team that he credits as being ‘the envy of the food industry.’
Jakobi knows that building a great team is paramount to growing a successful food business. Read on to discover his story, how he launched BOU, what he looks for in great hires, and more.
ForceBrands: You have a very entrepreneurial background. Tell us a bit about your journey to launching BOU brands.
Robert Jakobi: In March 2009, while still working in finance, I was at the cinema in London and realized that there was a lack of healthy snack options. Inspired by this observation, I decided to launch a line of chocolate and yogurt covered edamame under the brand name Pod bites in the UK. The product took off and was picked up by Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. My next goal was to expand these products into itsu and Pret, which captured the attention of founder Julian Metcalfe who was impressed with my innovative products and arranged a meeting to learn more. The meeting led to the launch of Metcalfe’s Food Company in October 2010 which Julian and I founded together.
Metcalfe’s Food Company enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of over 200 percent in revenues between 2011 and 2014 and reached fourth place on the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list in December 2014 — a first for a company in the food industry. It was the fastest-growing, privately-owned food and drink company in the UK.
In September 2015, I spun Metcalfe’s skinny, the UK’s leading premium popcorn brand, out of Metcalfe’s Food Company. In January 2016, I sold a 26 percent stake in Metcalfe’s skinny to Diamond Foods (then the owner of Kettle Chips) and subsequently sold the remaining 74 percent to Snyder’s for a record EBITDA multiple in September 2016.
In May 2017, I launched BOU, a “better for you” line of products that aims to reshape the way we eat and cook and disrupt categories in the food industry that have not seen innovation in years.
FB: What is BOU and how is it disrupting the $12 billion-dollar soups industry?
RJ: BOU is a better-for-you range of bouillon cubes for creative cooks at all skill levels. The cube is a healthier, tastier and higher quality version of the pantry staple. Using a US-based proprietary manufacturing process, BOU uses natural, non-GMO ingredients to produce hassle-free flavor at your fingertips. BOU is a kitchen must-have for elevating the flavor of any meal, from soups and stews to grilled meats and vegetable stir-fries. BOU is gluten-free and comes in three flavors: chicken, beef, and vegetable.
We also launched a revolutionary line of gravy cubes and are disrupting the gravy market with a never-before-seen product. Our convenient gravy cubes are a first of its kind in the industry and simply require ½ cup of boiling water whisked over high heat to bring your next feast to new culinary heights in minutes. Not to mention, the gravy cubes are non-GMO, have no added MSG, and contain no artificial ingredients. They come in four flavors: chicken, turkey, brown, and gravy. Products are available for purchase at Whole Foods nationwide, as well as online at Fresh Direct.
We are now set to launch an exciting and innovative instant, better-for-you range of soup cups. These cups will cater to several markets that include on-the-go snackers and younger generations whose parents are looking for easy-to-make meal replacements.
Each one of our soup cups will include a custom see-through lid, a high-quality custom utensil, a reduced sodium BOU cube and a sachet of freeze-dried veggies with a grain (quinoa, brown rice, red rice, etc.). All you need to do is add boiling water, let sit for five mins and then enjoy a delicious meal wherever and whenever! Think ‘cup a noodle’ but healthier.
FB: Why bouillon and gravy cubes and soup cups? What inspired you to create these products in particular?
RJ: I wanted to disrupt categories in the food industry that have not seen innovation in years. And all of the above categories have lacked any real innovation. They are dominated by big goliath brands (Knorr, Heinz, Campbell’s, and Nissin).
I also found a range of products that are very hard to replicate. The cubes which form the base of all of our products are very difficult to make. There is really only one manufacturer in North America that can make these products. I have a very close relationship with this manufacturer and they are a significant equity holder in BOU. We are basically vertically integrated on the supply chain side.
After owning a popcorn brand, I said to myself if I was going to go back into the food industry again, I had to find a range of products that are hard to replicate and have a high barrier to entry. This is virtually impossible to find in the CPG world. Every category is highly commoditized with zero barriers to entry. It’s very easy to copy and replicate products. This is not the case with the products I have launched.
My determination to find something new, healthier, and unique is what inspired me to create this product line. I was also inspired by what Sir Kensington’s did in the condiments space. Before they launched, Heinz had a total monopoly over the market. They came in with a cleaner, healthier product range. We are doing the same thing in the bouillon, gravy, and instant soups categories.
FB: What advice do you have for ‘making it in New York?’ Do you have any career mentors who have helped you along the way?
RJ: Everyone who has a dream to change an industry and who are passionate about a product or an idea should go for it.
My advice is if you believe in something, don’t stop until you find a way to make it happen. Believe in your product and most importantly, believe in yourself. This is my advice for not only making it in New York but anywhere in the world!
There really has never been a better and more exciting time to be a young entrepreneur. I am still relatively young in my own business journey and am all too familiar with the pressures and challenges of starting a new business in the world today. All I can say is that it has definitely been worth all the hard work!
I really hope that my story will help inspire young people to start their own food businesses.
FB: Here at ForceBrands, we’re people for a HIRE purpose – in other words, we believe in the power of a great team culture. How do you build an impactful team culture? And what does the culture at BOU look like?
RJ: At Metcalfe’s Food Company and BOU, we have always focused on product innovation. We have taken risks and launched new products in areas that no one else has wanted to venture into. In the process, we have built a very dynamic, entrepreneurial, passionate, and young team that is the envy of the food industry. One of the main reasons I have been so successful is by building a very dynamic, entrepreneurial, and spirited team underneath me.
FB: Describe your ideal hire – what qualities do they possess?
RJ: Someone who is dynamic, entrepreneurial, passionate, and young. They don’t need to necessarily have prior experience in the food industry but they definitely need to possess these four qualities!
FB: If you could go back and change anything about the way you’ve approached building a business, what would it be?
RJ: Building a business is definitely not easy. I have made many mistakes along the way. If I could go back in time I would reverse these mistakes. However, the most important thing is to learn from your mistakes and this is what I have tried to always do. From my own personal experience, there are several pieces of advice that I would offer to early-stage startups/young entrepreneurs looking to grow:
I know first-hand how disheartening it can be to face rejection but at the same time how rewarding persistence can be when it pays off. When I started my snacks business, Pod bites, a range of chocolate and yogurt-covered edamame, I was intent on having them stocked in itsu as I knew it was the perfect outlet. I contacted Julian’s office weekly for several months and didn’t hear anything back. Eventually, he finally gave in and agreed to meet with me and the rest is history! The retail market these days is undeniably tough and competition is fierce but if you truly believe in your product you just need to persist until you find a way to make it happen. Believe in your product and believe in yourself.
- Listen and learn
But remember that doesn’t mean you don’t have an opinion. You just need to pick your moment. Always listen to what your customers have to say as fundamentally it is their business that will drive yours. With any retail business, you are often dealing with people that you are reliant on for your business to succeed.
- Build a strong team
One of the main ways that we have been able to maintain such growth is by building a very dynamic, entrepreneurial and spirited team underneath us. It is so important to work with people that share each other’s passion and are all dedicated to making the business as successful as it can be. Our team is the envy of the food industry!
FB: What excites you most about the future of BOU?
RJ: I am very excited by the opportunity we have with our BOU Soup Cups. They will fill a large gap in the market for healthier, on-the-go meals involving a broth base. Made with our better-for-you, lower sodium bouillon cubes, plus a high-quality grain, vegetables, and additional all-natural ingredients, our Soup Cups will give you a savory and comforting meal in five minutes.
We also have lots of new products in the pipeline so I’m sure we are going to have an exciting few years ahead of us.
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