Richard Baister is the MD of SUMO Drinks, a company which launched in October 2011. Sumo is a revolutionary new calorie burning soft drink which raises the body’s metabolic rate, and, following a hugely successful pilot scheme in Ireland which has seen major for group Musgraves commit to stocking the drink in over 400 of its stores, Richard is now looking for the right UK distributor to maximise the potential of the brand.
Hi Richard, Thanks for doing this interview with me. Can you give you some background information about yourself; were you the entrepreneurial type growing up?
Yes, I’ve always been selling one thing or another. Through secondary school I ran an unofficial tuck shop, which seems to be a common one for entrepreneurs. I managed to do enough business that the headmaster closed it down because takings were dropping at the shop the school ran – although the headmaster did say it was a good achievement. Through college it was estate agency software (at a very basic level!) and at university I was involved in supplying denim to high street retail groups and supermarkets, before moving into the drinks industry.
Tell me how the idea for Sumo Drinks came about?
Despite managing to pack in experience within a number of sectors, the drinks industry has been my staple since leaving university in 2004. I noticed the emergence of functional food and drinks and felt that within this sector a solid function was a great leveller in a market traditionally dominated by multinationals. There is massive growth in light or diet soft drinks, so it makes sense to take that to the next level and provide a drink that can burn calories.
The idea began to take shape and my gut instinct told me that this was something to pursue.
What were you doing before you started the company?
Prior to beginning development on SUMO I launched the world’s first range of flavoured energy drinks back in 2005, which taught me a lot about running a brand within the sector. I managed to progress with distribution and went on to sell this brand, leaving me to focus on the development of SUMO.
Going back even further, before I developed any of my own brands, I have been involved in the import and export of soft drinks, playing on the currency fluctuations and trading them as a commodity. The drinks were coming in from Europe and undercutting the UK market prices, because of the strength of the Pound against the Euro.
However, this never appealed to me as a long term option because it was only ever transactional, by which I mean that the only money to be made was the slim margin on each unit and no value could be attached to the business itself. To make any real money, it was necessary to trade very large volumes, but there was always more demand for product than there was supply. At this point I realised that I needed to control the supply chain and the natural answer was to develop my own brands. This was the best thing I’ve done in business and I’ve never looked back.
What is Sumo Drinks?
To put it simply, SUMO is the refreshing way to burn calories. It is a still, naturally fruit flavoured soft drink that contains functional ingredients which increase the metabolic rate and help the body to burn calories more quickly. It is available in two flavours – Tropical and Summer Fruits.
Why soft drinks?
It’s just a sector that I really like – and that probably comes from a personal interest. As far back as I can remember I’ve always been interested in new drinks, so it’s great to create them. I suppose in some ways I stumbled into it, but I do think it suits me. Up until I went to university I had always planned on a career in corporate law and it was whilst studying that I became involved in denim and first started importing soft drinks. I realized at the end of my second year that a career in law wasn’t for me, but decided to finish my degree whilst I worked out what I would do next. I did finish the degree and graduate, but spent precious little time at university. I did explain to my tutor why I was never there and he said that I was probably better suited to what I was doing anyway and wished me well.
Talk me through the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
Because of its unique calorie burning functionality the development process for SUMO was much longer than for a normal soft drink and took three years, having begun in 2008. I suppose the sheer length of the process was the hardest thing about it.
How were you able to fund the business?
Initial funding came from amongst the directors. Following this we were given two rounds of development funding by Northstar Ventures, who manage funds on behalf of the European Investment Bank. The fact that SUMO burns calories is well received by the EU, who are keen to help to reduce obesity and promote better nutritional awareness and I’ve been asked to prepare a report to the European Commission to let them know more about what SUMO is doing and how we can perhaps help to answer these issues.
Would you say the initial idea for the company, or that your business model has changed since last year?
I am pleased to say that it hasn’t and that we’re proceeding on the course we planned. Of course, things can change at a moment’s notice but as of today we’re following Plan A and we’re delighted with the results so far.
What would you say has been some of the most crucial that you've done to build the company to this level now?
There have been a couple of crucial achievements. Obviously securing the funding during the development process was obviously crucial to us, so that we could go ahead and create SUMO. From there securing our first distributor, which was for Ireland, was a very important step in the process as it took SUMO from a concept to a live, trading business. I also feel that building a solid team around me has been massively important and puts SUMO in a great position to grow healthily as a business and capitalise on the opportunities open to us.
Is the business profitable?
We’ve spent a lot of money on developing SUMO during those three years and we only launched in our first market in the second half of 2011. So, as yet we obviously haven’t recouped those development costs but we’re starting to make good head way in that direction and fully expect to do so within the next year.
What pieces of advice could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
For those starting or about to start a business I would say ‘keep the faith’ – there will be plenty of people who doubt the validity of your plans or your ability to execute them. If you’re sure that you’re onto something, get on with it and don’t waste time or energy on the naysayers.
What can we be expecting from you and Sumo Drinks in 2012?
Obviously we’re hoping that 2012 will be a big year for SUMO. We are working on several distribution deals and should be making some big announcements soon.
For more information regarding Sumo Drinks visit www.sumodrinks.com or call 0191 4909117