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Real business story

An authentic vision and willingness to learn turned Creative Nature into a multi-million-pound brand

Communicating your value to consumers and retailers isn’t easy. For Creative Nature, learning fast, being authentic and staying true to its vision have helped turn a formerly failing company into a multi-million-pound success story.
Creative Nature allergen free

Creative Nature has stood out in the market by having a very clear USP

Creative Nature manufactures snack bars, superfoods and baking mixes that are free from the top 14 allergens. Stocked in major retailers and with a turnover set to hit £2 million, the business has proved to be a hit with consumers.

Creative Nature CEO and owner Julianne Ponan was 22 years-old when she bought the company in 2012, as part of a management buyout. It sold candles, incense, statues and oils – and had debts of £56,000.

Over the following 18 months, Julianne transformed the company into a superfood brand and gradually brought it back into profit.

One of the reasons Julianne was so driven to create free-from products is because she has suffered from anaphylaxis since she was two years-old. As a result, she understood customers' frustration over the lack of products on the market.

Julianne’s story and the company mantra of “delicious without doubt, top 14 allergen free” resonated with customers and Creative Nature has gone from strength to strength.

In the latest episode of It’s The Small Things, we spoke to Julianne about pitching to major retailers, how to fail fast and learn quickly, the importance of customer feedback and how to ensure your product stands out on the shelf.

The full podcast episode is available on all major platforms and immediately below. Click through to find it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast, Spotify and SoundCloud and subscribe to make sure you don't miss out on new episodes.

Access the full Creative Nature podcast transcript

Fail fast, rectify and learn

Being able to learn from mistakes helped Creative Nature grow into a retail success. In the early days, every wrong turn was rectified quickly and treated as part of a learning curve.

One of the biggest lessons for Julianne is that customers want to see the personality and story behind a brand.

“At the beginning of my journey, I didn't want to put my face to the brand or my personality behind it. However, I found that people were actually resonating with me. So we decided to incorporate my story into the brand because it was true and authentic,” she said.

The business spent a lot of money on an expensive PR firm in the early days, believing it would deliver the best results.

However, six months later and with little to show for the investment, Julianne learned that having somebody that understands your branding, mission, vision and message is the most important thing.

“There were definitely decisions that I shouldn't have made. But, as a lot of entrepreneurs say, when you make the wrong decision, fail fast, rectify and learn from it. And that's exactly what I did.”

Julianne Ponan – Creative Nature

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Creative Nature Gnawbles

Julianne Ponan has focused on bringing her own personal story into Creative Nature's offering

Understand your value proposition

People often ask Julianne how Creative Nature got into the big supermarkets so fast. Her advice? Tell buyers how you add value, what customers you’ll bring into their store and why they should stock you over a competitor – not how great your business is.

When supermarkets first introduced free-from aisles, they were for people with allergies, not lifestyle customers. However, Julianne found that 90 per cent of free-from aisles stocked products that contained nuts.

Demonstrating to buyers that this was a problem and there was a need for allergen-free products gave Creative Nature a way in.

“Get your retailer or buyer to understand your product. Don't just bombard them with how amazing your product is and how many awards you've won because that's not going to make them choose you. The thing that's going to make them choose you is if they fully understand what value you're adding, what customer you're bringing to their store and why they should have you on the shelf over another brand.”

Julianne Ponan – Creative Nature

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Creative Nature banana bread

Matching retailer needs with product offerings has produced results for Creative Nature

No product is right first time, so get feedback

Getting customer feedback, analysing the data and using it to hone products has always been an essential part of product development for Creative Nature.

These days, Julianne is a keen advocate of focus groups for getting feedback. While this can be expensive, the results are well worth the investment.

However, when Creative Nature started out and couldn’t afford to run in-depth focus groups, Julianne would conduct customer research at trade shows and markets. She estimates that she attended almost 100 events a year, painstakingly collecting opinions.

“No product is perfect off the bat. There are always tweaks and changes you can make to the packaging and product. It’s really important to get feedback and test your consumer. So when you can't afford a customer focus group survey, what you can do is go out there to small local shows.”

Julianne Ponan – Creative Nature

Creative Nature Julianne Ponan

Not being too precious with existing product sets has allowed the brand to innovate

Less is more and bold is better for packaging

Originally, Creative Nature crammed its packaging with information about the product. Julianne wanted to highlight all the allergens the product was free from, plus that it was vegan, high protein and more.

But upon hiring a branding specialist, she learned that if the customer doesn’t understand the message in three seconds, they’ll pick up another product. As a result, Creative Nature focused on the taste and the brand logo.

“We summarised all the information into just one single stamp: ‘delicious without doubt, top 14 allergen free’, which is our catchphrase for the brand,” Julianne said.

Another key thing was changing the package colouring from pastels to bolder colours which stood out more on the shelf.

“Go to a supermarket shelf, look at all the brands there and understand what you need to do to stand out against them. You could then do a mock up and put it on the shelf to see what it looks like. That, I'd say, is key.”

Julianne Ponan – Creative Nature

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Lessons learnt

No product is right the first time – it needs to be honed and developed. Speak to your target audience in focus groups, at trade shows, markets and other events.

Make sure your product stands out on the shelf and that customers can understand your offering within three seconds of looking.

Instead, tell buyers how you add value, what customers you will bring into their store and why they should stock you over a competitor.