SME talks to brothers Tom and Nick Watkins about their plant-based milk brand, MIGHTY
Tell us about MIGHTY. When did you set the company up and what was the thinking behind it?
Tom: We started MIGHTY in 2018, from Nick’s basement in Batley. Nick and I both suffer (like many people out there) from an intolerance to dairy. We found the dairy-free milk alternatives to be lacking, whether it be in nutrition, taste or functionality, so we quit our jobs and began brewing! Unsurprisingly, our first attempts were not a success! But, after more research and testing we found yellow split peas could be used to make plant milk and they quickly became a central ingredient in our M.LKS. Our M.LK has way more protein and calcium than regular plant milk, and Split Peas have a tiny carbon footprint so it’s super sustainable too. Our formula has improved massively since we launched, who’d have thought M.LK made from Yellow Split Peas and Oats could pack so much goodness? This has really helped us clarify our vision for MIGHTY and helped us become the UK’s fastest growing plant milk brand.
Who are the people behind the venture? What did they do before launching MIGHTY?
Nick: My background is in FMCG and I started my career trading at Asda House straight out of university, before moving to the supplier side as Director at NAMS, an outsourced National Account Management solution for UK grocery trade, supplying all major retailers. Tom was working for Mondelez across several of Cadbury’s brands, including Oreo. However, it wasn’t long before I seized the chance to work together and brought him across to NAMS, taking on a role to help top brands get their NPD creations listed. This move, and the seven years that followed, laid the seeds for our MIGHTY partnership together.
What were the challenges in the early days?
Nick: The key challenge at the start was funding, and then finessing, the formulation of our plant-based milks. In order to create high quality, functional and great tasting products, we knew we would need to invest in technology, and the only way we could do this was through external investment. We spent a decent amount on some great graphic design and started pitching. We secured our first investor, Claire Smith, who must’ve seen how determined we were. This allowed us to get enough funds to get the factory trial samples developed that we used for our Sainsbury’s pitch, which landed us our first big listing. We have now raised £8m investment, which has helped us develop what we believe is the next-gen of plant milk.
Tell us how your plant-based milk is produced.
Tom: Whilst we can’t give away all of our secrets, we’ve invested heavily in our new technology Plantech, that uses biomass fermentation, which is leading the way for plant milk innovation. Biomass fermentation uses natural processes to add the ‘dairy’ factor without the dairy. It’s used to replicate the flavourings, so the result is a plant-based milk that finally tastes, looks and feels like dairy milk! Our new M.LKOLOGY range uses our exclusive Plantech to break down the barriers for those who enjoy the taste of milk, that want a more environmentally friendly option, but may not be so keen on the often unique tastes of plant milk.
Due to the success of our new M.LKOLOGY range, we will be beginning to roll the tech out across our core range too. Plant milks were already gaining in popularity but fermentation has just upped the game, think plant m.lk 3.0 – we’re onto a winner.
Sustainability is central to what you do. How is that reflected in your business?
Nick: We think that transparency with our customers is key to opening up the sustainability conversation. More than a third of UK shoppers have stopped buying from food and drink brands that lack eco-credentials, but many shoppers may not know just how sustainable a product is by simply looking at the packaging.
According to Deloitte, the sustainable practices shoppers look for from a brand include waste reduction, reducing carbon footprint, providing sustainable packaging, committing to ethical work practices, and respecting human rights. We’ve chosen to work with environmental labelling organisation Mondra, which provides transparency and clarity about MIGHTY products in these key areas captured by Deloitte. Mondra monitors the lifecycle impact of a food or drink product, measuring carbon emissions, water usage and biodiversity loss, which helped us find ways to improve our supply chain.
We are one of the first brands to use environmental labelling across its products and one of only two plant milks with a Mondra “A” score. We continue to strive towards A* rating, consistently reviewing our supply chain, the ingredients we use, packaging and more to achieve the lowest environmental impact we can.
There is no policy in place to demand labels such as these on food and drink products, but we think there should be. All food and drink brands should be striving to be part of the climate change solution, not problem.
Where are your products available?
Tom: Our products are stocked in all Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrisons, ASDA, Ocado and Co-op as well as direct-to- consumer through our website. Our Barista SKU will also be available in coffee shops as we plan to hit food service hard this year.
What advice would you give someone thinking about setting up their own business?
Tom: When setting up your own business, focus and passion are key. Have faith in yourself and your team and use all of your passion to turn it into a reality. Nick and I are the first people to say that we couldn’t have got where we are with MIGHTY on our own, our team are the core, so investing time in building a strong team, who are as invested in the product as you are, is so important.
It’s vital to consider what is going to resonate with your target consumer, both when starting a business, and being successful, by creating a vision and brand story, rather than just a product to sell. For us, it’s imperative to get the personality of MIGHTY across, not just, here’s some plant-based milk! A product is not enough – that’s so important for standing out in a competitive market.
Where do you hope the company will be in five or ten years’ time?
Nick: Our ambition is to bring the next generation of dairy alternative milks to the world and we are working on big expansions plans to break into different global markets, with launches in Australia and Europe coming soon. We are the fastest growing plant milk brand in the UK and there’s no sign of this stopping now.