"Everyone needs protein"

This Irish company has very aggressive international expansion plans...

"Everyone needs protein"

Fulfil / Facebook

"If you go into Penneys now - I went into the Blanchardstown one - I've never seen anything like it," Fulfil co-founder Niall McGrath told Newstalk.com, reflecting on his brand's presence in the north Dublin store.

The Irish protein bar company has experienced rapid expansion in the 14 months since it launched. It manufactured more than 15 million bars in 2016.

 

Fulfil co-founders Niall and Tom with Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane at the launch of its partnership with the FAI

Gains

Niall spoke to Newstalk as he walked around a Belgian supermarket where he was working with its staff on the positioning of his products. The company is growing at a pace of knots and hopes to be selling in 15 countries by the end of this year.

It's current headcount is 13 - but that number is growing, "I couldn’t tell you right now honestly what the numbers are going to be - but I’d comfortably say there’s going to be double that in a year’s time," the entrepreneur continued. 

"We rented an office on the 22nd of December - we thought there’s plenty of room there - we actually [now] have it full. The next door [office] came up so we optioned that at the end of January and we actually have that held," he added- saying that he is now confident that the business will take the space.

New markets

The bars are currently on sale in Ireland, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Greece and Germany.

They are also due to be rolled out across UAE, Kuwait, Norway, Finland and Denmark in the coming months, and Australia, New Zealand, Sweden in the second half of this year before taking on the US market in 2018.

When it is put to him that the company is taking on an aggressive expansion strategy, Niall replied:

"Hugely aggressive - bananas like. I’m pretty much living on planes at the moment - but we have a dream. You can laugh at it if you want - but our vision is to make this the world’s number one ‘better for you’ snacking brand."

Standing out

The company is pitching its protein bars to a mass market and if you pay attention you'll see brightly-coloured boxes of their bars sitting next to checkouts in supermarkets, service stations, and department stores around the country.

The company imported food trucks to bring free samples around the country to improve brand awareness

Niall and his business partner Tom Gannon worked together in a marketing firm.

Tom went through a body transformation and started eating a lot of protein bars. Niall tried one and was unimpressed and wondered why no one had produced a better tasting bar.

He began experimenting by adding protein power to smashed-up chocolate bars in his own kitchen with limited success.

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The duo thought they had spotted a gap in the market for protein bar which appeals to a larger market then existing protein products which were aimed at fitness nuts and body builders - not casual gym goers.

They then went on to spend two years developing the bars, taking a gamble by re-mortgaging their homes and burning through personal savings, as they laid the company's foundations.

Leading Irish nutritionist Sarah Keogh oversaw the development of the products and to this day"everything" the company does has to be approved by her.

The company ordered an initial batch of 120,000 bars which they shifted in four days.

"Thank God its worked out," Niall says looking back.

Mass appeal

Having worked with food and drinks brands - Niall spotted a mismatch as women were buying 70% of products sold in the 'healthy snacks' market - while protein bars were being bought by more men.

Fulfil hoped to establish a protein bar brand which would appeal to more women. The company hopes to tap into this market and is producing 'Lifestyle' based video content for its social media channels, including a series of Fulfil-based recipe ideas with model and cook book author (and 'influencer') Roz Purcell.

It's also signed a new partnership deal with the FAI and is creating branded content with international footballers.

When discussing the association with the FAI - Niall commented that the average soccer player has a physique with would be descried as "fit," rather than "muscly."

The partnership is in line with is ambition to make protein products more approachable by moving away from marketing campaigns used by its rivals which are, "very much muscle focused" and generally feature, "guys with their tops off flexing their muscles."

Debate

With the rise of gym culture protein products have never been more popular - Glanbia's impressive recent growth has been fueled by its suite of sports supplement brands.

But not everyone agrees that regular gym goers and amateur athletes need these products to reach their goals.

While Niall is clearly aware of the on-going debate over whether products like protein bars are needed he replies to criticisms by saying, "everyone needs protein".

He argues that their bars offer a healthy dose (20 grams - about the same as three eggs) - along with macro-nutrients.

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The next step

When asked what the main challenge that the company faces at the moment is, Niall replies that it's holding himself back from "racing ahead."

He says the bars could jump into 20 markets tomorrow but he wants to make sure that things are done in the right way.