Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Belazu

Magazine article Marketing

Brand Builders: Belazu

Article excerpt

Locally sourced, high-quality produce has won over the nation's chefs as well as consumers. Samuel Solley reports.

Adam Wells and George Bennell first met at the age of 11, when they sat next to each other on the first day of secondary school; 26 years later, the two friends still spend their days together, but now as owners of upmarket food brand Belazu.

The concept behind the brand is so simple it seems crazy no one came up with it earlier: a branded premium foods business for consumers who want to buy the same quality ingredients as the best restaurants. Yet the pair have clearly spotted a gap in the market - their company's turnover jumped from pounds 4m in 2002 to pounds 7m last year, and is estimated to reach nearly pounds 9m in 2005.

The focus is on Mediterranean produce. There are foodie essentials such as olive oils and vinegars, along with olives, pastes, pickles, tapenades and North African delicacies such as pickled lemons and barley couscous.

The brand's credentials are helped no end by endorsement from some of the country's top chefs. For example, Belazu products feature on the menu of Jamie Oliver's high-profile London restaurant Fifteen. Nigella Lawson swears by the brand's rose harissa paste, while Raymond Blanc describes its balsamic vinegar as a 'must-have' ingredient at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.

After 14 years in business together, Wells and Bennell say they have built a good working relationship. 'Trust is important' says Wells, 'and we both bring different things to the business'.

Wells happily admits that Bennell, a chef by background, 'brings the product knowledge and cultural understanding', while his role is more administrative.

It was Bennell, whose mother lived in the south of France, who spotted that the quality of most of the ingredients available on the continent was far better than what could be bought in many UK supermarkets. Indeed, his insider knowledge on the ingredients and the best place to find them was key to setting up the company.

The pair's first foray into the business of selling food was the Fresh Olive Company. They borrowed pounds 10,000 and began by shipping back buckets of olives, which they sold to delicatessens.

They admit their success is down in no small part to luck, as the launch of their business coincided with changes in many Britons' lifestyles.

'We caught the crest of the Mediterranean food wave,' says Wells. …

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