Interview with Mark Walker
From the book Fabulous Food Concepts.
Published by Luster Books. Available on Amazon.
Much sooner than planned Mark Walker hit Wallpaper Magazine with his brand new vegetable juice brand Wild Bunch Juices, and business broke loose. Two years before, while working in the advertising industry in London and New York, Mark suffered from a medical condition, which meant he had to change his diet. “Nothing serious but I was obliged to make certain adjustments. One was that I could no longer drink fruit juice because it has too much natural sugar. Therefore I had to switch to vegetable juice and I soon discovered that unfortunately there was not so much choice available for vegetable juice as there was for fruit juice.”
He researched the best way to make vegetable juice, detected some old European techniques and developed a machine to make beetroot and carrot juice, for himself and his partner. He was quite happy with the results but never intended to market it.
However, he did not count on the word-of-mouth promotion that got into its stride.
Before he knew he was delivering pure organic cold-pressed vegetable juices not only to family but also to friends, and friends of friends.
Mid 2007 Mark launched Wild Bunch juices in Singapore. Because of ambitious plans to make Vegetable products, the name was gradually re-baptised into WB&CO or Wild Bunch & Co. Soups, biscuits and even vegetable skin care products are on the programme. In 2010, Wild Bunch & Co entered the UK market. The line is currently sold at Waitrose, Daylesford Organic, Selfridges and other “leading” retailers.
Can you tell me more about how things went concretely from production for personal use to business?
"Some time after I started making the juices for myself, my mother-in-law got cancer. She recovered, but while she was in remission she was too weak to eat. Her body’ could not digest food so she could not take in the energy and nutrients she needed. ‘Therefore I began making<vegetable,juice for her. It did her u,ell She told her doctor ,about it, he told other patients and soon we began receiving, requests from diabetics, people with cancer and people on restricted diets. In the beginning it was kindness it was among friends but after a while the urge to deal with more properly grew. Our first mission was how to help people on restricted diets to get stronger.
And then it grew from there to targeting other people as well, people who want to live a healthy live That became our second and off course main customer group."
Can people get cured when they drink the juices?
"No, I do want to stress that this is a complementary therapy. We are not going around telling people it is a treatment or a cure. But as everybody knows, eating or drinking vegetables does help a big deal to build resistance. Plenty of raw fresh organic vegetables in your diet are an insurance policy that can guard against future diseases, as the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients speed up the action of the body’s natural detoxification process. That is the whole genesis of the company: it began from providing people the nutritional benefits of organic vegetable juice. The reason why that is important today is because it is still part of our business It also means that everything we make is completely natural because cancer patients cannot take any toxins into their bodies so there are no additives, no pasteurisation and no preservatives. Other vegetable juice brands can sit on the shelf for more than a year. WB&Co is absolutely pure organic juice."
The name speaks for itself. Why did you change it into WB&CO?
"The idea for the name came from us. We did not go through large brainstorms, it was a simple process. It is a simple and fun name, not abstract. It is organic so it is wild. The name connects with people easily, also with those on a restricted diet. When people are ill they do not want to be reminded of that and they certainly do not want to be approached with more Latin names. We changed the name of our company to WB&CO because of two different reasons: we want to provide our customers with new vegetable products, other than juice, and we were also planning to go oversees so we needed an even more international name."
What is the company mission today?
“Offer vegetable products in exciting and innovative ways. Vegetables are not appreciated the way they should. We want to make the use of vegetables more convenient so it becomes part of people’s daily lives. We are what we eat. But people need to accept that concept and then they will realise that vegetables are an important part of the quality of your life.”
Can you tell me more about the production of the juices?
“We daily produce pure organic cold-pressed vegetable juice. Each morning, the juice goes from our WB&CO Pressing Plant in London straight into the stores. The juice is a hundred percent organic. The organic veggies and herbs we use are sourced locally and are certified as organic at source. Our current range includes Carrot & Ginger, Organic Beetroot, Carrot & Celery and Organic Spinach, Carrot & Parsley. The absolute profit with organic vegetables is that they can contain up to forty percent more vitamins and minerals than non-organic and that they are naturally sweet to taste as they contain less water.”
You first opened a WB&CO shop in Singapore while you were in England. Why Singapore?
“We indeed launched the Wild Bunch shop bar in Singapore, just to put the product the product down to market. We had an idea but there was no real business model. To a degree it was uncharted territory and that is why we started Singapore. A good thing about Singapore is that it is small and ideal ti test a new product, to see what people buy and what they reject. In Singapore, you get a sample of what may happen somewhere else because it consists of such a cross section of people. Soon alter the shop was opened, Wallpaper ran an article on us and we got an awful lot of response. We actually did not plan that because we were in a stage where we still wanted to learn before sending out press releases or hyping the brand up. Business boomed faster than we planned.”
The WB&CO bottles are like little design pieces. Who took care of the design?
“One thing I knew for sure: I did not want dancing or jumping carrots on the bottles. The bottles had to be simple, beautiful and stylish but most of all different from other brands in that category. So we searched for inspiration in another sector: the one of cosmetics and more specifically perfumes. That is where the shape of the bottle comes from. It is quite organic and it has balance. It is really all about communicating the respect for the product and the concept. The design is a perfect reflection of our quality. Seed Singapore designed the logo and the bottle."
Do you spend a lot on marketing and communications?
“Our product range is not mainstream. When we are talking to our customers who have severe illnesses there are even restrictions to what we can say. So we do not actively target those people. We mainly reach them through word-of-mouth and when we talk at conferences. It is a very distinct market and will represent in the long term probably no more than 10% of our business.
With the second customer group the majority, we can communicate through our retail channels. We work with stores who cater to our customers. To this end much of the our advertising and promotion is driven by in-store marketing."
WB&CO is organic but are you all the way green?
"In my opinion, no company who manufactures and distributes on any reasonable scale can claim to be, “all the way green”. Like many companies, we work within the waste management infrastructure of the local authority (in our case London) and try to combine this with our company’s own initiatives. In regard to these initiatives, we refill and reuse approximately 30% of our glass bottles. In addition to this, all the pulp (the part of the vegetable Leftover from juicing) is delivered to the Royal Parks in London (Hyde Park, Kensington etc) and used as organic compost. Sustainable initiatives are never the product of one company, if retailers did not make the effort to collect the glass bottles these ideas would never work."
What is your view on sustainability?
"For WB&CO, the biggest challenge facing the food industry is food waste. This is not typically seen as a sustainable issue *but it is Billions of Pounds of food is wasted in the UK and throughout the world each year. This impacts every part of the supply chain and is a contributing factor to the current high cost of food. When we begin to reduce food waste — then we will know that people are starting to value what they are buying. And when they do this, all the other sustainable issues such as primary and secondary packaging etc will reduce. This is what WB&CO will be campaigning for in the future."
What do you dream of for WB&CO?
“Most of all I dream of making vegetable organic products available to as many people as possible. Hopefully we will be able to create enough awareness so people understand why vegetables are so good for them. Our mission is to make vegetables exciting”
Written by Mr. Sigrid Vandensavel