Green & Black's and Whole Earth founder in Gusto push
He admits: “It is a curse of my existence.”
He entered the healthy eating market in the 1970s with the Whole Earth health food brand way before it became on-trend.
And it was in the 1990s that he and co-founder wife Jo Fairley decided to do the same with the chocolate market by launching Green & Black’s.
“It was considered suicidal to do anything in the chocolate market in 1991 because it was all tied up. Now there are hundreds of artisan chocolate brands out there,” he says.
While Whole Earth and Green & Black’s are household names there was another brand in the portfolio - which was not as high profile – soft drinks brand Gusto Organic.
“Our company Whole Earth had its 20th birthday party in 1987 and I made up a drink that was based on Guarana, Siberian Ginseng and a Chinese blend called Free and Easy Wanderer,” he says.
“We had a great party at the Groucho Club and people said why don’t you bottle this?”
At this party Sams had created Gusto Original Energy, which has been mooted to be the first natural energy drink to hit the world market. Sams children, Rima and Karim, were the first to spot the drink’s potential and ran the drinks company for nine years.
When Sams sold Whole Earth a few years later Gusto went with it.
But six years ago Sams decided to see if he could buy it back.
“Gusto was not in their comfort zone. I made them an offer and I thought they would refuse but they didn’t,” he says.
“We got it back from the grave. It was in trouble. When a brand isn’t doing well in a large corporation nobody tries to breath life into it. When I came along and said can I have it, it was a nice exit for them.“
Sams added Cola variants to the brand including Real Cola, Naturally Slim Cola and Real Cherry Cola. They proved so popular that it is now the only Cola sold at the Tate Modern.
He says the drink is all natural, using sweeteners such as apple juice and Agave – which gives it a lower glycaemic index than many other soft drinks – and it uses Fairtrade products whenever possible. Its first creation Gusto Energy is still part of the range and other variants now include exotic flavours such as Fiery Ginger with Chipotle and Sicilian Lemon with Yuzu.
While the entire product is natural this means it is premium and has a premium price tag.
“We struggle to keep our price under £2. But have you had a coffee recently? They are are around £2.50 to £2.75. But we are staying at that price for the time being and we know the drinks work,“ he says.
A crowdfunding initiative on Crowdcube is currently at £260,000 with over 220 investors – smashing its original £180,000 limit.
Part of this money will be used to launch its range of mixers and push further into the out of home sector.
Its drinks are already sold in the Chiquitos restaurant chain, but the wider hospitality sector “is where we definitely want to be,” he confirms.
“When you are buying something on a shelf and Gusto is £1.89 you hesitate,” he says.
“When you are in a bar or a restaurant and you pay £3 for a drink it is not such a big deal.“
For Sams being ahead of that curve has been successful but he believes that it is as simple as “quality and ethics sells”.
“One of the things we will be doing is raising the profile of the Mexican farmers that grow the Agave sweetener that we use,” he says.
“It is an incredible project and we are proud to be at the centre of it. It is very much what we did with our chocolate farmers in Belize. Now the big chocolate companies are doing the same thing but with million dollar budgets.”
And what of the future of the industry?
He believes that consumers will continue to consume less and less and want drinks they can enjoy rather than “A two litre bottle of brown sweet, stimulation.”
But he predicts there is another factor coming down the line, which could hit much harder than the sugar tax – carbon taxes. And this could result in organic eventually being cheaper than mainstream drinks, which he predicts will “rattle a lot of cages.”
And Gusto Organic drinks could be in the just the place to capitalise.
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