Hi all and welcome to episode 103 of the Marketing Freaks podcast!
Over the next two weeks, Jon is joined by the truly inspiring Harry Thuillier, co-founder of Oppo Brothers, the award-winning British ice cream and healthy snack brand that has taken the market by storm.
If you haven’t heard of the Oppo Brothers, you’re missing out on an exhilarating story of entrepreneurship and success. So let us be the ones to enlighten you…
In this week’s episode, Jon and Harry discuss the journey from their Oppo Brothers concept through to Brand Development and being stocked in some of the UK’s largest supermarkets. They also go over some of the difficulties that Harry and his brother Charlie were faced with when starting out in their new business.
So where did it all start? We can put money on the fact you’d never guess the following answer:
Their journey began in Brazil, where Harry and Charlie set out to break a record for the longest distance travelled by kite power on land. Despite having only two hours of kite experience between them and using buggies with no brakes, they pressed on, often dragging their buggies through mangrove swamps for over 30 miles at a time. The arduous journey left them with little food, forcing them to forage for wild fruit and coconuts along the coastline.
It was during this time that they discovered the delicious and nutritious taste of wild fruits, which sparked an idea: “Why couldn’t all food be like this? What if people could indulge in sweet treats without the guilt of consuming loads of sugar and additives?” When they returned home, Charlie immediately got to work in the kitchen and spent the next two years perfecting a recipe for healthy ice cream, one that people would never need to resist.
The rest is history…
Now this incredible, impulsive brand is stocked in Waitrose stores nationally and can be ordered online at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Ocado or Amazon.
If you’d like to learn more about Harry and Charlie’s incredible story in starting the Oppo Brothers, take a listen to this week’s episode!
Hello everybody and welcome back to the Marketing Freaks Podcast. In this week’s episode, I have a very special guest, Harry, co-founder of Oppo Brothers Ice Cream. So we’re going to be talking about their journey from concept through to being stocked in some of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains and everything in between. So really hope you find this one useful and enjoy it as much as I did recording it. If you do find this one helpful, please do come and subscribe or drop us a note on social. It’s always massively appreciated and let’s get started with the episode.
Harry, thank you so much for coming in and chatting with me about the OPO Brothers story. Pleasure. Because it is a really good one and I’m really looking forward to thank you asking you lots of questions. Cool. Uh, we’ve also thank you very much for bringing a tub of your wonderful product.
No worries. Um, we’ve already had the sticks as well, but they’re not featuring because they’ve been eaten. They’ve already
The tub is a little bit squishy, we’re just saying I’ve just cycled over here and, uh, it’s, it’s probably now about perfect bit to eat, so you can, but
It is, it’s the, we’re going to talk about the branding cause I love it. Uh, and uh, I’m not just saying this, but I had some this week and it was absolutely amazing. But I loved it. That’s great. Thank you. I’m genuinely not just saying that cuz you’re here. Um, it was amazing. So awesome. We’ll have some of that while we talk. Yeah. Great. If that’s okay. Yeah. Um, brilliant. So why don’t we just kick off with like the story of mm-hmm. <affirmative>, how on earth did you end up founding an ice cream brand?
Yeah, I mean I was reflecting on it over the way here and I wouldn’t have got a job in an ice cream brand based on what I was doing before. Really, really? There was zero transferable skills. Yeah. Um, apart from maybe a bit of management mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, and like, you know, write writing an email maybe. Yeah. Um, so how did we get into it? Um, I was uh, I was working in actually in performance marketing. Okay. Um, wonderful. Um, and, uh, I was, I was working fairly closely with, with Google, um, on an online education platform and, and my brother Charlie, he’s a few years younger than me, he was just about to start a grad job at Diageo. Okay. Uh, and, uh, managed to get a little bit of, uh, a time off work in the summer cuz we used to really enjoy doing like, micro adventures.
Okay. Like, just sort of just stuff that’s, you know, not, not not climbing Mount Everest, but just little things that are Yep. Kind of take you outta your comfort zone slightly. Yep. Um, and I dunno how we did it, but we, we managed to get like six weeks off off work in the summer, sort of buying some holiday or something and, um, and, and we, we thought, well, where’s the windiest place in the world at this time, July. Um, and it’s, it’s pretty much like Brazil. It’s really windy and um, northeast coast and, and, and we saw on Google Maps this massive long looked like just massive Long beach maybe Google Maps then was like, this is 2011. You know, it was like not such high resolution but simpler. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And we thought, oh, that’d be cool. And then we thought, wouldn’t it be good to like break a record for traveling along that by like windsurfing or something.
Wow. Um, and in the end we thought actually let’s do it with kites and do it, do it on land with kite buggies. And these things go like, they go like 60 miles an hour, they’ve got no breaks and that’s pretty terrifying. Yeah. Um, and um, especially we, we only, we’d done one session to learn it before. Um, so well we ended up, you know, it’s just snowballed. We got sponsorship and we, we did, uh, raise some money for charity and um That’s amazing. The whole thing was almost like setting up a little business, you know, in terms of, you know, an expedition. I love it. Um, figured out we could work together. Yeah. He’s more sales. I’m on, I’m on marketing. Um, and uh, and that was, that was sort of how, how that that started. Um, and uh, we ended up doing it and went about, you know, one kilometer in the first day cause we just messed it up and crashed into a cliff and, and then we, we started getting going quite well, but then we came across whole, you know, hundreds of miles of mangrove swamps.
Okay. Um, this is sort of over a thousand kilometers Yep. Sort of stretch. And, um, so we had to walk our buggies through thick mud ended up, um, running out of the energy bars we’d taken. Right. And only for like a day, but we were doing, we did a bit of foraging and eating some sort of coconuts and stuff Yeah. And fruits and um, and, and just started talking about food really as you do when you’re hungry mm-hmm. <affirmative> and thinking why does food have to either be, you know, really healthy, you know, broccoli or, or really unhealthy, which is, you know, fat and sugar basically. Yeah. Cake, ice cream. Yeah. That’s the stuff that we are involved to want cause it’s high calorie. Yeah. Um, so, um, yeah. Just got us thinking about that, thinking, you know, could ice cream actually have less fat sugar in it and still taste as good as, you know, the, the the best, the best stuff.
Yep. Um, so we, we managed to, you know, we, we, we hit our, our target, we, we did a thousand uh, kilometers, um, the kite bugging and came back and my brother Charlie was, was the one that was like, I really wanna work on this. And I was thinking that sounds really difficult. Um, but, and I was quite enjoying my marketing job, <laugh> and he wasn’t really sort of, he started doing a sales job but wasn’t really, wasn’t really into it. Okay. Small cog in a big machine. Yep. Um, and thought, what, you know, what can I lose by just trying this out and just trying recipes in the kitchen. Yeah. Um, got got some grants for, you know, managed to, to work with some, you know, some sort of proper kitchens to, to, to do the research and development. Ended up going to these, you know, the talks that you go to and spoke to a, a large ice cream manufacturer, the research guy, the head of product or something, and he said, look, we’ve, we’ve spent millions trying to do what you’re trying to do, you know, healthy ice cream and, and it just didn’t work out.
Um, and, and Charlie was like, it was this kind of innocent naivety Yep. Where you haven’t been in the industry for 20 years or even two years and just thought, well why not? You know, probably can, we can try it. Let’s try it. It was almost like more of a risk to I love that. To not try it. Yeah. Then cuz he was interested in it and, and I was helping out from the sidelines with some of the brand stuff. Yep. And, and uh, um, you know, and going to meetings with factories and, and retailers and, um, I I, yeah. I’ll stop there for now.
No, I love it. Like, so you’ve basically, you’ve got, um, very experienced, uh, individual from a large ice cream brand saying, we’ve tried to do this, we’ve spent millions of pounds, never going to happen. Mm. And there’s you two
Screwing away in the kitchen going Oh, right. Come on then.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, let’s do it. Not at, at that point, not so much me. Um, I was, I was helping out, Charlie ended up living on my sofa in Brixton, south London for a bit. Um, but and he, he was doing that and, and sometimes it does just, it takes different people to, to do things. Yeah. And, um, it takes one sort of, sort of slight nutter really. Or or someone that’s a bit unreasonable. Yep. Um, high expectations, high optimism to get, get a ball rolling. Yep. And then other people can then come in and go, oh, ball’s rolling slightly. I can now I can add into it and help out and people see a little bit of progress and think, alright, there’s something here. Yep. And, um, and that, that’s how it happened. Yeah.
So that first bit, so what year was that? That was what? That
Was. So, so this expedition was 2011 and, and then the sort of development started, you know, 2012. Okay. So we were working on it for 2012 and 2013 and, um Yeah. And, and we, we thought Right, this needs a really good brand. Yeah. Cause it’s really hard to pitch something really indulgent and something that’s healthier as well. Yeah. It’s this duality, which Yeah. You don’t often get that in branding. Yeah. Um, and in, you know, in in products Yeah. They’re normally are more of a singular proposition. Yeah. Really hard to pitch. Especially when you’ve got, you know, like few, a few centimeters on a frozen Yeah.
How’d you get
That frozen Yeah. Behind a, a frosty freezer door. Yeah. Uh, it’s really hard. Yeah. So, um, so we, we thought, right, we need to get branding agency. Um, and uh, and as I was, I was saying earlier, we got, um, this, this, this very well regarded agency to do it pretty much for free as a, as an exercise with some of their guys to, cuz they thought it might be fun and as long as we weren’t being an annoying client and sort of telling them what to do. Yeah. They were cool and they, and they, it was about taking a bit of equity in the company as well. Um, but in the end they had a management change and, and didn’t wanna take equity. They wanted to take a bit of, bit of our profit, uh, in a few years. And we, we said, well, we’re not, probably not going to be profitable for a good few years, but that’s what they wanted to do. Uh, and so it ended up the whole lot being big for free. But this brand, um, was, it was all about this duality. So it was like, um, sort of one side of, it was like a hippo, the other side was like a feather Okay. Or like an elephant and a and someone really light or a whale and a mermaid. Yeah. Yeah. And it was basically going like, you can be like really gluttonous, but then you could be really healthy
At same time this can come together. Yeah. Yeah.
Like healthy indulgence and it was all like, there was a line down the middle of the tub. Okay. So it was a cool concept. Yeah. And it was like nice design. Yeah. But people don’t wanna see like a whale on the side of an ice cream tub when they’re buying. They’re like, what? They don’t know what it is. Yep. Um,
But this version, obviously this is much later and further down the line, but it does, it looks like a premium ice cream brand looks indulgent, but you, you know, it clearly states Yeah. The benefit of this brand. Yeah. Um, so how long was it? So there was a, there was a gap of several years wasn’t there? Between, okay, let’s do this, let’s work on the recipe, let’s try and make this happen to the first big kind of step forwards, which was getting into Waitrose. Right? Yeah. So what was that, what was that first bit like? So when you’ve got, um, I’m going to put this here as some product placement for you <laugh>, um, like what was that first bit like when you’ve got Okay, you’re working your away on the idea, um, but you’ve got no sign of future success at all. You, you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. Yeah. You don’t know what’s around the corner. Yeah. Um, how, how’d you get through that period of time? What was it like? Yeah.
You’ve gotta have a lot of belief and a and a and a vision that, you know, you have that first taste and you think that’s actually does taste quite good. Yep. And this really should be on shelves and it’s, and it’s better than, than what’s in the market at the moment. Um, it’s better than, you know, at that time it was sort of frozen yogurt was really big.
Okay. Yeah. And that
Was tasted all right. But it wasn’t as indulgent as like ice cream. Yeah. So I guess it’s the vision. Yep. And then it’s sort of some conversations with people. You only need like one person out of 10 to be like, really positive Yeah. And that, that keeps you going. Yep. And so, yeah, there was a brandy agency and then we were speaking to about three factories Okay. To help us make it. And the problem is the, with with ice cream factories and we didn’t wanna be piddling about trying to make this at home in like tiny, tiny batches and then not, you know, selling it. Like, it just, it just wasn’t going to work. Yeah. Wasn’t going to be a business. And it’s sort of trying to think big. We, we worked with a couple of factories and eventually one said, okay, we’ll we’ll help you trial it, we’ll make it, um, and the problem is then that, um, uh, they need a certain minimum order quantity and, and you’re, you’re talking about, you know, 50,000 tubs you’ve gotta make and therefore it’s Right.
Okay. Well supermarkets then and, and getting it into, and that’s, you know, the vision is, you know, make, uh, you know, sort of, sort of ice cream healthy really, and, and make indulgent stuff healthier and better for you. So you need to be in supermarkets and doing that in a big way rather than in just in one health food store for example. Yeah. So we, we, we then realized, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got a factory that we need to tell, we’re going to get some sales for this. And then, you know, we then speaking to supermarkets to say, we can supply it, we can, we’ve got a factory and we’ve got, we’ve got the ingredients. So there’s a little bit of, um, I don’t wanna say fake it till you make it, but, um,
In the egg Yeah. A little bit. Definitely. And
Like, sort of yeah. Positive forecasting. Yeah. Well you’re
Both clearly good, uh, good at sales or selling yourself cuz like if you, if you can convince a, um, a factory that you are a viable, um, customer of, there’s a client of theirs and there will be orders and you will be able to hit the volume. But at the same time you’re trying to convince the supermarkets that this is a viable product and people are going to want it. And there’s a lot of, I imagine there’s a lot of, um, yeah. Convincing the right people to, to move forwards with this along the way with very little evidence that is going to very
Little evidence. Yeah. And it was, that was the toughest period probably, um, because then you’re, you’re running outta money as well, you know, the sort of savings. And um, and there was one bit where, you know, Charlie was sleeping on the factory floor for a couple of days and, and basically, and then one of the offices and, um, bit like Elon Musk actually sort the other day was sleeping in some library on the seventh floor,
Yeah, that’s a good comparison. Um, yeah. So, uh, he was doing that and then had a production which went wrong and, and only had one pound and left in the, in the bank. Jeez. Um, so, um, you know, left available to draw down. Um, so, um, so that was pretty tough. Basically we made it too viscous, too thick, and it burst their pipes and so they were just like, no,
Go now. Um,
Oh my goodness. But,
But there was a grant, um, at uh, uh, an old, old old uni and, uh, with Santander, and it was for two grand, which was how much a trial production cost really. And, um, went in for that and did it, and made the required change to, in that case, the viscosity. And, and, and that worked and, and we could pull through there,
But even so this is your first business, right? Yeah. But you’re both clearly super entrepreneurial and in, and I mean that as a, I think that phrase gets overused a lot, but Yeah. The mentality of just finding ways to make stuff happen, like even that, um, the trip to, right. We’ll look at Google Maps, we’ll find a beach that looks really long. Yeah. I reckon that’ll be fun. Right now we need to find, um,
One step at a time
Basically. Yeah. That then we need to, oh yeah, let’s get a sponsorship and let’s find the charity to partner with and let’s try putting stuff together from a Yeah. Just a, an idea. And I think a lot of people have ideas. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, not many people are very good or can quickly enough pulled the right things together to make it happen, which clearly is a
Yeah. And, and I think we all go through periods in our lives where we might be good at that. And we happened to be in our early twenties and didn’t have kids and all the rest of it. And at that point, um, yeah, well one of us didn’t have a mortgage and, and you know, he was sleeping on my safe there and it so you can be a bit more risky, I guess. Yeah. Don’t need as much to live on. Yeah. Um, but I, I fully appreciate that for, for, for, for others and, and there’s different and lower risk ways to go about things. Um, but I think it’s, you, it can also give you a bit of paralysis when you think just a sheer amount of stuff that you’ve gotta to do to get somewhere. Yeah. I think it’s probably good to have a a somewhere you wanna be a goal and then just don’t think too far ahead, just, just just go to the next step.
Then you eventually get there.
And did you have the support of your family in that time? Definitely.
Definitely. Yeah. We, we were really lucky. Um, they, they thought the idea was crazy and, and, but then if it’s like, okay, you want, you wanna do it, then, then yeah. You know, you get, you get support and I, you know, and they, and they put a bit of money in, um, early days before we then got crowdfunding. Okay. Um, and, uh, got, you know, got formal investors, but, um, we were really lucky there. Yeah. And I, and I always think like, um, you got, people have got different levels of opportunity Yeah. And whatever opportunity you do you have then is good to use
It. Yep, definitely. And, um, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Totally agree with that. And what, was there any point, uh, at, at a certain stage where you’ve been doing it for developing it for a year or a couple of years or whatever, and was there any of ever any conversations of, um, guys should we do, do we need to sit down and have a little think about this because it’s not really happening yet, or all the
Time and it happened every couple of years as well, right. <laugh>, we, we, we’ve launched in, wait, trade eight, eight years ago, just over, over eight years ago. Yep. Eight and a half. And, um, uh, probably every, you know, every couple of years some, uh, something hits the fan and, um, it, you know, it’s, you have, you have these kind of thoughts, you know, whether you’re running out cash or Yeah. Lost to supermarket listing or two or whatever’s happening Yeah. You know, or lost a factory or they don’t wanna make it anymore or Yeah. Whatever it is, there’s existential conversations with yourself and with your team or with investors very frequently Yeah. In the life of most startups, I think.
And do you find that, um, what’s the balance in your head with that between exciting and terrifying? Or is it just, do you just see that as part of the day to day now, like dealing with, um, I
Think the first, the unexpected, it’s terrifying at first, and you’ve gotta be the kind of person that has a bias for action. Um, or have people on your team which have a bias for like, there’s a fire over there. I’m not just going to look at it, I’m going to try and put it out. Yeah. Um, and, uh, and, and so that, but, but then when it happens the second time you think, well, we got through it, then we figured out a solution, so we can probably figure out a solution now. Yeah.
Yeah, the skin gets a bit thicker.
It does. It does. Yeah. And you get that experience, but comp, but companies are going under every day. Yeah. Uh, and, uh, that’s, you know, it it can, it can happen. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s just, uh, the way of, that’s life, isn’t it? It is, but it’s never
Smooth and they’ve got a good sheet for this in the states. Yes. You know, sort of fail fast and, you know, way we think about it is like an mba.
Um, and, and actually we, you know, we haven’t done an mba. Yeah. Um, so it’s like, okay, this is great learning experience. Yeah. Um, but then it just happened to, to take off nicely and I like that. And it’s more than a learning experience now. That’s really cool. We’re employing a lot, you know, good, good number of people. Yeah.
That’s really cool. I love that. Looking back now, like what would you say are the biggest, uh, like tipping points or milestones where you really felt, okay, this is now happening, it’s stepped up a notch. Like what would you say are the big standout points? Yeah.
Yeah. There, there were, there were quite a few. Um, so I, the first one obviously is when Waitrose said, okay, we’ll take it. And, and they, and they worked. Um, you know, we had, we had a number of meetings with them and, and it was hard enough to get through to the buyer at, at, at the start. It was, yeah. It was calling reception and going that we just had a voicemail from the, from the buyer. Um, just, uh, but I couldn’t really hear his, um, extension that he gave just, um, yeah. And then, oh, I love that. And then just kind of going, yeah. Uh, sorry, it’s really cheeky, but you need to taste this. It’s going to be good for your category and there’s a gap there and, and all the rest of it. And, and they tasted it and it, it was mediocre and, and then going, but there, you know, there might be something there if you can improve it then come back. So we, we’d come back with another Tupperware box of Yep. Of product. And, and, and it did get better and better and they said yes. So, so that was, that was one. And, and they said we thought it would be like 20 stores or something in our local area, um, naively, but they put it into, uh, 117. Wow. And, um, there’s about 350 stores total, so it’s, well,
So it’s a significant amount.
Yeah. And it was spread the whole country, so like, okay, now we need some money to make enough stock to supply and also to support it with Yeah. With some marketing. Wow. Um, so, um, at that point, I think my dog’s just broken wind. I’m really sorry.
Got Poppy, the spaniel here, and she’s, um, she’s disgusting animal. That’s okay.
<laugh>. That’s okay.
Um, yeah. So, um, uh, that, that sort of waitroses milestone was great. Um, and so we needed, we needed some money to, to raise for, for the production uhhuh and, um, we, we were having to, to, to make too much of a batch, uh, of product once. And, uh, there was a cafe below our flat. Okay. Um, and we said, look, we just give some ice cream out for free. And so, so we did. And, and one of the people that said, you know what, my husband loves ice cream and he, and he runs, um, an equity crowdfunding platform. Um, so I’ll give some to him and, and you know, if you guys are looking to raise money then, right. We were like, that sounds way better than, you know, normal venture capital route. Yep. Um, because we didn’t get a great feeling about the investors we were speaking to at that point.
Okay. And, and actually here was a way to, it was kind of fairly early on in equity crowdfunding days Yeah. Where we could, people that liked the brand and that were buying it could, um, you know, could, could, could put, put 10 quid in mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, and have a part of it. Yep. Um, so we did that and we became the fastest food and drink company at, at that point in 2014 to raise money on equity crowdfunding. And, uh, and then we did it every year for, for three years. Um, and raised sort of total of, of just over a million pounds. Andy Murray tennis player, um, came in on the second round. That’s amazing. So that’s a good bit of publicity as well. Um, and, uh, and, and that’s, that, that was another, uh, tipping point to answer your Yep. Your question. Um, another one was, uh, was when, um, uh, the guy that owns Capri Sun in Switzerland, um, there’s people that that work with him were X Unilever, um, ice cream.
Okay. Yeah. And, and they said, this looks interesting. Um, you know, can we invest? So they ended up buying out all of the crowdfunded people really. So we, we were quite, wow. There weren’t many at that point who had had seen a crowdfunding camp, you know, exit. And, and we got sort of four times, actually five times for the people in the first round return. So if someone put in 10 quid, you know, they were getting sort of 40, 50 quid back. That’s amazing. Which is, which is really nice. Yeah. Um, one of the main stresses for someone starting a business, well, in my case anyway, was like, you know, my aunt’s put in 500 quid, uh, and um, you know, or a friend might have done the same and they don’t really have that kind of money, but they might have been a bit naive about it.
Yeah. Uh, but thinking they’re going to get loads back. And it was nice to be able to, to That’s amazing. Facilitate that. Yeah. Um, so that was definitely a tipping point. And then there’s, there’s probably two more that I can think of. One is getting into Tesco that was we just banging on their door for like three years Yep. Or more. And in the end we ended up buying some data. Okay. Um, and going, how do we compare both our competitors and, you know, the sort of flavor Yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s doing well, what’s not, not doing well. Smart. And, um, and, and it, you know, it was probably, I can’t remember, 30 grand or something. Um, but we, we bought the data and we were able to, to make a case to them and they ended up taking it and Tesco’s is a really good account for us now.
Amazing. And, uh, so that was good. And then, and then the final one, which is all part of that is just bringing on a, bringing on a, a few of the right people. Yep. You know, the mantra we have is to hire, which isn’t hard, hire people that are better than yourselves. Yeah. Uh, or you know, more experienced or more, you know, got more skills. Yeah. And, um, that’s what we always try and do. And when we did that and we were like, you know, let’s really invest in, in, in some good, good people. Yeah. It’s far better to have a few good people than a lot of slightly less experienced people, I find. Yeah, definitely. Especially if you can give, you can give them, uh, plenty of, uh, I don’t wanna say a long lead, but like, uh, autonomy. Yeah, yeah. Um, rather than always trying to tell ’em what to do.
Definitely. Then that’s, that’s my approach anyway. And that was, that was a tipping point as well. Amazing. When you start getting more results.
Yep. Fantastic. Fantastic. Look, I think that was a really like, brilliant overview of the story so far. So we’re going to call that part one. Cool. We’re going to come back next week with part two. We’re going to talk a little bit about marketing and the branding. Great.
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