The trick behind the treats
Innovative Bites Ltd is an import company based in Dunstable specialising in American brands such as Hostess and TGI Fridays
According to company director Vishal Midhu in an interview in Asian Trader, importing American confectionary to the UK is currently worth £32 million and the market is continuing to grow. What began as a niche market for people passionate for the likes of A & W Root Beer, Hostess Twinkies and Twizzlers has grown considerably with stores such as Tesco and WH Smith having dedicated sections for these much in-demand imports. While there have been many brands that have been brought over from America such as Pringles crisps, Kellogg’s cereals and so forth some items are not widely available for various reasons, leading to a demand for harder to source foodstuffs, as well as some flavours that might not necessarily be launched or are only available for a limited time in the UK market.
Trading under the name American Wholesale, Innovative Bites Ltd sells these hard to source items to both independent retailers and major outlets, giving people a wider access to goods that previously would have been a lot more difficult to get hold of.
Arguably one of the big demand drives for iconic foodstuffs such as Twinkies are pop culture references in TV and films as diverse as Ghostbusters, Zombieland, ET, The Goonies and many more. While nostalgia may not be the sole drive behind this desire for American confectionary it can be argued that this is coupled with a culture that is driven towards a fondness for this era in the wake of various Eighties film reboots and pastiches such as the Netflix show Stranger Things.
This retrospective fondness is not just exclusive to American items – the company’s recent purchase of Bond’s has also meant an increased range in British retro sweet favourites such as lemon sherbets and chocolate limes, while its Retrobag collection features well-known British favourites like Parma Violets and Refreshers.
Inevitably the customers who want these items are keen to get the latest products as new ranges are announced. For example in November 2017 Hostess brought out a press release stating that a new chocolate peanut butter range of Twinkies would be introduced in time for Peanut Butter Lovers month. As director Vishal Nadhu notes this particular taste combination is in vogue at the moment: “It is the latest flavour trend, Innovative Bites is excited to be the only official and exclusive distributors of this new Twinkie variant alongside the rest of the Hostess portfolio,” he proudly announces.
However there are also items that are specifically seasonal, which are much in demand and tend to remain popular with customers regardless of trends elsewhere. For example over Easter marshmallow Peeps are a traditional staple of American sweets during that period, while Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups have specific shaped cups for a number of special occasions such as hearts for Valentine’s Day, pumpkins for Halloween and various festive designs such as trees and snowmen for the Christmas holiday season.
While Innovative Bites is often associated with bringing in brands it is easy to forget that it has also developed its own. One prominent product created by the company was Mega Marshmallows, as the name suggests this is a larger form of marshmallow specifically made for roasting while it also recently acquired prominent snack food company Bobby’s.
In October 2017 there was also success as Bobby’s B-Pop Lollipop won Confectionary Product Launch of the Year at the Retail Industry Awards. The product was recognised for its distinct ‘crazy teeth’ design but Vishal believes there are more factors behind its success: “They’re fun, tasty and work both seasonally and year-round. I expect this will be the first award of many and look forward to the growing availability of this product across the UK,” he beams.
Bobby’s is just one element in the company’s growing list of big names alongside TGI Friday’s potato skin crisps and Ortega Tex-Mex range including salsa and make your own taco kits. Another recent development was the brand Baking Buddy, including such delightful goodies as strawberry flavoured marshmallow spread and the always popular mini marshmallows, ideal for topping off a cake or hot chocolate.
One of the reasons that the organisation is able to keep up with demand is its ability to import over 700 containers per year, allowing the group to sell imported goods at a lower cost compared to its rivals. Indeed originally the goal was to hit £200 million by 2020, a target that is three years ahead of schedule and has now been revised to £500 million. Considering that Vishal only joined the company in 2010 this is a very impressive achievement. Some key acquisitions such as the purchase of Bond’s helped, something that was not just about products but also in terms of bringing in a new customer base. This was a smart move on both business’ parts, with Bond’s turnover increasing from £42 million to £50 million in the process. In April 2017 the purchase of Hancocks Holdings resulted in an additional 5000 new branded goods and own label products in addition to 20 holding sites in areas as far afield as Dundee and Portsmouth. What this effectively means is that Innovative Bites can boast 3500 products as well as 7000 retail customers, increasing its ability to sell and distribute to its customers, in addition to offering a wider range of choice.
With any sector trends can come and go. In recent years people tend to have shorter lunch breaks or in some cases may work through lunchbreaks. Therefore there is increasing demand for a healthier substitute for a snack or in some cases even a full meal replacement and Vishal is aware of this as he looks into the increasing growth of the healthy snack sector and competition from the likes of Graze with its protein flapjacks and nuts. Vishal is addressing this demand with a new range that includes healthier options such as the recently launched Elephant pretzels: “They have been designed to be consumed as a standalone snack or with salads, dipped in cream cheese or hummus, or used as a bread replacement,” he elaborates.
Some critics could potentially argue that this is at odds with the kind of confectionary that the company sells elsewhere but this is all part of a wider strategy taking into account different tastes and needs. As Vishal observes: “It is important to have top sellers and a mix of product,” something that seems to sum up Innovative Bite’s ability to succeed, adapt and grow in a nutshell.