Time for another in our new series looking at what goes on behind the scenes at some of our favourite gluten free brands. Today we talk to Ian Hills, Head of UK Marketing for our breakfast favourites, Nature’s Path. Nature’s Path is a North American family-owned company. I first came across their products during a ski trip in Canada – fuelling up for the day on the slopes on yummy granolas and maple-infused treats made was one way this trip was very different from a European one!
Here in the UK you probably know them for their cereals in the supermarket, or perhaps their fun branding. As they launch new products, we wanted to know what it takes to bring a North American success to the UK market, and the path from children’s author to cereal enthusiast, via icecream!
What is your background and how did you come to be interested in working for a gluten free manufacturer?
For me the acid test for any brand I’ve ever worked on is do I really believe? Many brands exist but don’t live. Other brands posture, preen and mimic or worse still pretend to be something they’re not. As someone who was part of the original Ben & Jerry’s (from 4 people into a portakabin to post Unilever) I know what it’s like to work on a brand that’s not afraid to stand out from the crowd, a brand that prides itself on its quirkiness and that puts social responsibility at the heart of it’s manifesto. Over the years I worked in the organic sector, with a number of free-from start ups and a variety of personality-packed underdogs. In 2005 I even wrote a children’s book, The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy, that repackaged the very real issues of addictive fast food and obesity as a full-throttle kids story.
I’m quite clear in my mind that if Ben & Jerry’s had gone into breakfast cereals they would have been Nature’s Path which is the greatest compliment I can bestow on any brand.
Tell us a little bit about Nature’s Path – what is the history of the brand and it’s involvement in the UK gluten free market?
Nature’s Path is a Vancouver-based business has been championing organic, gluten-free cereals in North America since 1985. As far as the UK is concerned we’ve been around far longer than you might imagine, first cutting our teeth in the independent health food sector some 8 years ago, although our 1st supermarket break came in 2010 when Waitrose bought into our vision of championing a brand determined to escape the worthy, ‘brown paper bag’ look adopted by so many of our contemporaries. From the outset Nature’s Path recognised that in order for gluten-free to truly succeed it needed to offer ‘mainstream appeal.’ We were one of the first brands to adopt a more vibrant look and approachable voice, which sits comfortably with the fact that after all these years we remain a fiercely independent, family-owned business.
There has recently been an increase in the number of Nature’s Path products available in the UK. Does this reflect a new direction for the brand?
That’s an interesting observation because in reality we’ve been a significant voice within the UK gluten-free scene for some while now. In our original guise we did have a number of curious identities sitting loosely under one roof so you might not have realized that they were in fact all us. Despite being a Canadian brand we felt it was imperative to champion a bespoke UK identity from day.1 recognizing the fact different markets have very different outlooks and priorities.
Another reason that we might look bigger than others, is that whilst they adopt a scatter-gun approach to their product ranges, we knew from the outset that breakfast cereals was our specialist subject (a cereal specialist, not a serial dabbler) and so our portfolio huddles closely together on shelf.
Nature’s Path is originally a Canadian brand. What do you see as the main similarities and differences between the UK and Canadian/North American gluten free markets?
North America, despite being a little behind Europe and the UK in the sphere of food & drink is actually about 5 years ahead when it comes to gluten-free. The big trend over there which is now beginning to gather momentum over here is adopting a range of more indulgent offerings whose appeal extends beyond hard-core coeliacs to conscientious healthier eating types.
What do you see as Nature’s Path’s place in the UK market? Who do you see as the main customer groups?
Cereal enthusiasts, its as simple as that, our goal has always been to be best in class not best on shelf. We appeal to everyone from organic believers and ancient grain enthusiasts to those of us simply looking to lose a little weight or adopt a less gluten-rich lifestyle.
What can we expect to see from Nature’s Path in the coming year?
The completing of our breakfast puzzle that has been missing something hot (Hot & Steamy porridge oats) and something portable (Nice & Nobbly granola bars)
And finally, Gluten Free B loves breakfast. When you’re not munching Nature’s Path products – what do you like to have for breakfast?
I do like my golden syrup flavoured porridge although I will convert in a few weeks to our Maple flavoured offering (Hot & Steamy) as this with a banana and a light smattering of cashews is truly heavenly.
Nature’s Path cereals are available at most major supermarkets throughout the UK.
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