How to build a brand that packs a punch

Juliet Barratt, co-founder and CMO, Grenade, explains how she and her husband built a strong and identifiable brand - and why it was key to their success.


Building a business from scratch is never easy. Shortly after Grenade was launched back in 2010, we were left with just £27 in the bank.

Fast forward seven years to 2017, and we sold a majority share of the businesses, valuing it at £72 million. Now it’s a market leading global sports performance and active nutrition brand. Grenade’s success was the result of years of hard work and dedication – but also a commitment to building a brand that stood out, and reaching a new audience in ways other competitors had overlooked.

How Grenade exploded onto the scene

After leaving my successful career in education, Alan and I had run a distribution business importing and exporting sports supplements across the world.

At this point, in 2006, sports nutrition products were largely either unknown to the public or stigmatised: there was a perception that nutritional supplements were only for extreme fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders. This wasn’t helped by the overly medical nature of the packaging, with ingredients that even a nutritionist would have difficulty understanding, let alone the average shopper.

Sports nutrition was a rapidly growing market, but it wasn’t dominated by a particular brand. Every product looked and sounded the same, and we found ourselves shipping thousands of indistinct white tubs of product, each with instantly forgettable names and making the same claims.

Our experience in the sector was invaluable because it gave us important insider knowledge on the burgeoning active nutrition industry – and its flaws.

Amidst a growing ‘war on sugar’ amongst the public and media, we spotted an opportunity to expand protein-based products to a wider audience of health-conscious consumers. In 2008, we sold the distribution business to build a healthy active nutrition brand with a difference.

We set about creating a brand that was memorable and accessible to all, inspired by products that were healthier, but which didn’t compromise on taste. Our first weight loss formula was so effective that a friend who sampled it compared its explosive results to a grenade. That product is now known as the Thermo Detonator®, and the name Grenade just stuck.

We trademarked the name in 2006, and spent the following four years perfecting the products, importing cutting edge sports nutrition ingredients from the US and testing different recipes in our own kitchen until we found the right ones to match the bold brand and deliver results for consumers.

Flexing our muscles

Stood on the shelf, in the shape of a Grenade, and with bright packaging and a bold logo, when we finally launched in 2010 we knew we finally had a brand that would disrupt the sector.

When we decided on Grenade as the brand name, we knew the risks involved. It was a real ‘Love it or hate it’ for consumers, but this was to our advantage. So long as consumers had an opinion, that was all that mattered to us. It was all about getting the name known.

That said, we had to make sure that alongside the products’ style – and substance – we were truly creating an audience-centric brand that resonated with people, and ultimately won customers’ loyalty in order to really grow the business. Our ultimate goal was to become a brand synonymous with the product it represented – like hoover.

So we set about creating a brand that had a distinct personality and voice too. We emulated the achievements of brands such as Red Bull and Monster, never taking ourselves too seriously and always willing to push the boundaries. One of the best business decisions we made was driving a tank to the Birmingham NEC for a fitness expo. It was one of our first trade shows and we wanted to make a splash. That day we certainly caught people’s attention and got them talking – even though at the time we couldn’t even afford a booth at the event. As word continued to spread, we grew and grew – our customers becoming natural brand ambassadors. Even now, almost a decade later, people still ask us about the tank!

Dominating the field

Thermo Detonator began to dominate its category, we knew that we had to diversify our product range to increase brand awareness and attract new customers.

In 2014, we made the bold decision to branch out from protein powders into the more consumer-friendly healthy snacking categories. After four years of experimentation (in our own kitchen sometimes!) we had created recipes for a portfolio of snacks including bars, brownies, shakes and spreads that were suitable for everyone – from diabetics to mums on the go.

In doing so, we opened up the previously exclusive sports nutrition market to a mass audience, including women. Before Grenade joined the market there wasn’t much on offer for women and the products were largely targeted at men. From our very first product, the Thermo Detonator (a fat burner) through to our later ranges (low-sugar bars and gluten free, protein-packed spreads), we appealed not just to fitness fanatics but also to people who were looking to maintain an active lifestyle – a large amount of which were women. We continue to build relationships with both male and female audiences through influencers on social media – particularly on Instagram – and they’ve been instrumental to promoting the brand in an organic and friendly environment.

All of this has helped us to dominate not only the field we set out in, but other adjacent ones. Consumers love Grenade, and we are now outselling the likes of Kit Kat, Twirl, Reese’s and Mars Bar. It’s not something that’s happened overnight. It’s taken more than a decade of hard work and dedication, and along the way we’ve taken some big risks and faced some difficult decisions. But over the course of the brand’s journey we’ve been able to earn our customers’ respect – and we intend to keep it!

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