At Vevolution we love inspiring entrepreneurs who are helping to bring about this plant-powered revolution that is happening all around us.
At our last event Vevolution Topics: Environment we were joined by one such entrepreneur in Paul Brown, Founder of BOL.
Paul's talk from the evening inspired evening will be released to watch soon as part of our growing library of online talks but in the meantime we put some questions to him about his career and what motivates him, BOL and the future of the food industry.
Interview with Paul Brown Founder of BOL
1) Tell us a bit about your background? How did you end up running BOL?
My family has been involved in the food business in one way or another for as long as I remember. I wrote my first food business plan after a stint as a snowboard instructor in California during my early 20’s. The healthy outdoor lifestyle inspired me to create an on-the-go food concept that would make it easy for busy people to eat well. As I was fleshing out my ideas I met the founders of a little smoothie company – innocent. At the time innocent was in its first year (selling just in London). Little did I know that I would spend 14 years with them, most latterly as the Food Director. In 2012, when innocent was bought by Coca Cola - which decided to strategically focus solely on their drinks offering - I saw the opportunity to build on the concept of the Veg Pot. With innocent's blessing and with the help of many friends as well as chefs and nutritionists, I launched BOL.
2) There is a huge focus on single use plastics at the moment with customers wanting to see businesses change practices. What challenges do businesses like BOL face when it comes to finding alternatives to plastics?
Thinking about sustainability in creative and innovative ways is in the BOL DNA. We have selected and designed our packaging to be recyclable, microwaveable and dishwasher safe, free of BPA and more – all to avoid the pitfalls of single-use plastic and to provide an item that is fully upcyclable as well as recyclable.
In our approach to plastic, we think about the three Rs: Reduce, re-use, recycle. We have reduced the amount of plastic in several of our ranges and are also investing in marketing initiatives around upcycling with our #dontwastecreate campaign. When it comes to recycling, we will be pioneering a returnable scheme by the end of the year: our Return-a-BOL. Customers will be able to return their pots to us and we will recycle them responsibly or repurpose them in creative ways. We are looking into a full range of creative ideas around this concept.
Every decision around sustainability for a business is a balancing act that needs to account for multiple factors: shelf life, cost, food waste, health and safety, consumer satisfaction and financial viability to the business. We are currently looking into a variety of alternatives to virgin plastic including glass, cardboard and veg ware. These all have their pros and cons, and we want to be sure that whatever our next major step is in substituting plastic we have fully explored it’s potential, ensuring that the transition is not just a way of appeasing public opinion but a solution that is truly viable and future proof.
By way of example, we could transition much of our range to cardboard, but this would mean the fresh layers which often encourage people to pick us up on the shelf would no longer be visible. More importantly, we would lose around 2.5 days of shelf life. The drop in sales and shelf life created by a cardboard transition would increase our wastage (i.e. the amount of food that goes from shelves to waste). Similarly to plastic, waste is a huge problem and we do not want to simply push problems around the eco-system but find a sustainable long-term solution.
3) BOL has undergone a radical transformation over the past year with the business shifting away from using animal products. What initially inspired you to make the change? And how did ditching meat and fish impact your business?
Like many others on the plant-based journey, I was hit with my cowspiracy epiphany. After seeing the documentary and reading books like The Food Revolution I started to realize that what we eat is the single biggest environmental decision we face every day. I did not want BOL to be part of the problem but the solution. Being responsible has been part of our DNA since our first year, when we donated 100% of our profits to Action Against Hunger. Going 100% plant-based felt like the right thing for us to do as a team of people trying to create a business we can look back on with pride. We are absolutely not perfect, but this will not stop us trying to evolve and improve with every decision we make.
Dropping meat and fish halved the size of our business overnight, but despite the huge sales shock, it felt like the best decision we’ve ever made. We will continue to make decisions that are better for people and kinder to the planet. I feel privileged to be running an ethical food business that is part of a paradigm shift in how we eat and that could have a positive impact for many generations to come.
4) BOL recently made the commitment to go 100% plant-based by Summer 2018. What has been the most excitingly aspect of making this shift?
Growing up, I always thought that milk would make me big and strong - that dairy was a necessary part of my diet. As I realized that dairy was not needed in diets, I started challenging whether we needed it in the business and looking into the ecological impact we would have by removing it. We are incredibly excited to embark on this new journey. By taking this step we will save 7 million litres of water, 194 tonnes of C02 emissions and 91 thousand square meters of farmland every year. We look forward to pioneering this movement towards sustainable business. As we redevelop our recipes to be 100% plant-based we are seeing how delicious and nutritious they can be.
5) Tackling climate change and environmental pollution are such massive topics. What advice do you have for people reading this who want to live a life that has a positive impact on the planet?
Every small step counts. We want to be a positive inspiration for those on a journey towards more ethical and sustainable business, while we offer people the chance to eat healthy plant-based foods when they don’t have time to cook from scratch. We ourselves are on a journey and do not judge where people are coming from or how far they have come. Each meal you have gives you a chance to do good, each plastic jar you upcycle does good, every time you think of both people and the planet you are on the right track. Don’t get discouraged and enjoy being part of the generation that delivers this positive change.
6) What innovations are you seeing in business that give you hope for a more environmentally friendly future?
First and foremost, BOL is a food business. From an innovation perspective, we’re seeing a huge amount of plant-based innovation which will help attract more people into eating plants. The Western world is waking up to how bad our diet has been for so long: it is simply not right that there are as many people suffering from malnutrition from over-eating (1.2b) as are suffering from acute malnutrition. If the US were to reduce their meat intake by 10% the grain saved to feed livestock would be enough to solve world hunger. This is in-part an oversimplification, but many of the problems we’re facing as a planet have not come about because Mother Nature is not providing us with enough to survive, but because we’re not using her resources effectively. For me, the most important and successful innovations will help change our mindset at a global level. We have a responsibility to change the way we eat and start respecting the wider population and planet. We have to push towards a greener future in all the innovation we do.
BOL are a headline sponsor of Vevolution in 2018, we are proud to be working with such an innovative and creative company. You can meet the BOL guys at our next event Vevolution Topics: Health and Wellbeing on the 8th May - Tickets are available here.