Breaking into FMCG: Lisa MacFarlane, The Gut Stuff

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If you have seen the bubblegum-pink posters talking about poop dotted around London, you have probably heard of The Gut Stuff.

Identical twin sisters from Scotland, Lisa and Alana MacFarlane are The Mac Twins – DJs with over 100,000 followers on social media – who over the last year have added FMCG business owners to their ever-growing list of accolades, since launching The Gut Stuff in 2017.

With The Gut Stuff snack bars now stocked in WH Smith, Holland and Barrett, Superdrug, Ocado, Amazon and Boots, Lisa MacFarlane sits down with Grocery Gazette to talk about business, social media and how to break into the FMCG sector.

What exactly is The Gut Stuff, what is the message behind it?

“We are a brand that is built to empower gut health in everyone. We knew that the research was really new, so the category in terms of FMCG wasn’t really there yet.

“We also knew that consumers were really confused as to what gut and digestive health actually was, so we set up an educational platform in order to try and bridge that gap. That has now grown into a lot of different multifaceted areas of a business.”

How difficult has is been to break into the FMCG industry?

“Very hard. I underestimated how difficult it is! Firstly, because we’re competing against massive brands for shelf space within traditional bricks and mortar retail, it’s very difficult as a start-up to get the product that you want, how you want it. 

“We have no emulsifiers or preservatives in our products and you do have to fight quite hard to get what you want in terms of new product development. 

“Secondly, especially when the retail landscape is changing all the time, it is really difficult to project and plan for how to launch a product within this industry. You just don’t know what is happening.”

READ MORE: Advert Calendar: Our take on the biggest grocery Christmas ads

What steps did you take to get to where you are now?

“There were many, it was a long and winding road! In terms of a broad business perspective, we started off just by purely making content and putting it out there. 

“We knew that we did want to start to commercialise the business, and we wanted to find out what consumers wanted. So we did roadshows, supper clubs and popped up all around the UK to speak to people and see where the baseline knowledge for gut health was. 

“Once we’d done that, we thought that snacking would be a really interesting category to launch into – because a lot of the products that were already on the market were either confusing or really expensive. So, we wanted to bring a format that people are familiar with to the market – like bars – but with strong gut health messaging? So that’s what we did.”

What makes The Gut Stuff different to everything else on the shelf?

“I think the fact that we are baked on purpose gives us a point of difference. We were built to empower everyone’s gut health, not to be the biggest consumer product goods  business in the world. 

“We feel like consumers want more from brands than just a transaction – they want authenticity and honesty, they want content, they want to be educated, they want a story. the expectation from consumers is just a lot higher.”

So, you just mentioned the importance of content. You have over 100,000 followers on social media – do you think that has helped your journey?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely the engine of the business. 

“That’s the part of the company that runs brilliantly well; we have an amazing team of experts, we have an amazing team of content creators and that is the bit that gets us up in the morning. 

“It’s exciting to think that we can empower people through the content.”

Do you think every brand should be on social media?

“No, I think there’s still a place for brands, particularly in retail. There are a lot of other routes that you can reach consumers with, such as point of sale and retail events – just physically being there.

“But of course social media allows you to build a community and tell your audience more what goes on behind the brand. I do think social media is a great, immediate tool to reach an audience that you want to target.”

READ MORE: Ecoeats: meet the eco-friendly takeaway delivery company making a splash at COP26

How did you deal with the Covid-19 pandemic? 

“We were supposed to launch our products in April 2020,  which didn’t happen – we just had to put a hold on everything. We actually pivoted and went back to our roots. We hunkered down, went back to the community, ran workshops and Q&As, hosted live cookalongs, ran webinars for businesses…

“We were all faced with the immediacy of our health and so naturally a lot of people and companies started to look towards their wellbeing. We were able to step up and give people information, tapping into the experience that we have to try and bridge that gap and make everyone feel a bit more connected.”

So from the Covid-19 pandemic to Brexit, how has it impacted your business?

“Massively. Pretty much every curveball that could have been thrown at us has been, but we’ve managed to continue – growing. We’re just about to begin exporting as well; we have just sent our first pilot bars to Ireland. 

“It’s been a very steep learning curve, but that’s the same for all start-ups – you’re constantly going up and down and riding the rollercoaster. Of course it’s been heightened, because a lot of things have been changing at once, but really it’s just an extra couple of bumps!”

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is trying to break out into the FMCG sector?

“Think beyond your products. Having a great product is just the first rung in the ladder and the next bit has to be focusing on what do you as a business want to achieve? And how can you do that? You have to be more than the product.”

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