Essex snack bar company goes nuts over Brexit

Praveen Vijh, co-founder of Eat Natural snack bars

Praveen Vijh, co-founder of Eat Natural snack bars - Credit: Archant

A fruit and nut bar company that makes more than 100 million bars a year has been ordering in extra chocolate from Belgium, in preparation for the fallout from a no deal Brexit.

Eat Natural bars

Eat Natural bars - Credit: Archant

Eat Natural, which employs about 350 people from its manufacturing base in Halstead, exports to 37 countries, and saw a 6% increase in value of exports last year.

But the pound has devalued to such an extent that it’s had a “serious knock-on effect” on the prices the company pays for its raw materials, says Praveen Vijh, who founded the company with two friends 22 years ago. “All of our raw ingredients are imported and it’s made them 15-20% more expensive. It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination,” he says.

Although Eat Natural won’t be stockpiling - because its products have a short shelf life and are made to order - it has been making provisions to make sure that it can continue supplying to the UK, whatever happens with Brexit.

“We have been making orders from our suppliers for certain vulnerable raw materials such as chocolate from Belgium, with one month of extra cover, to cover us for any eventuality,” explains Mr Vijh, who is 52.

“If we can’t get our chocolate in April, the UK will have far more problems to worry about - you won’t find other products in stores either.”

Mr Vinj says that Eat Natural will continue to prioritise growth in Europe, “whatever Brexit may throw our way”. “We’ve been trading in Europe almost since we started and it has become an integral part of Eat Natural - 20 years in Malta, 15 years in the Netherlands and 14 years in Sweden...You don’t suddenly turn your back on your customers because it gets difficult. We are invested in Europe, with bespoke packaging and marketing plans.”

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The snacking landscape is now crowded with energy, protein and granola bars and cereals, but Eat Natural claims that it remain the only fruit and nut bar, and the only UK bar manufacturer that makes its own products.

Protein Packed is now its best-selling bar, having overtaken the apricot and almond bar last year.

“We made 24 million of them in 2018 –an increase of just over 17m in 2017,” says Mr Vijh. “In the last two weeks alone, we’ve had bonkers orders come through for salted caramel – massive numbers. We also have a protein packed granola which performs really well.”

Vegan products are “what everybody is talking about right now”, and being keen not to lose out, Eat Natural

launched a new range of vegan granolas in Waitrose last autumn, using coconut blossom nectar instead of honey. Mr Vijh says it’s performing well.

“I think people are adopting more healthy lifestyles, and our products reflect that,” he adds.

Competition is growing in the health bar sector, but Mr Vijh claims that Eat Natural is well prepared for it. “There are so many new bars coming into the category - the snacking and cereal bar categories are growing enormously in countries where we have for a long time been the only premium snack bar. However, competition isn’t always negative as it focuses retailers and grows the space available.”