UK vegan chocolate pioneer LoveRaw has been reinventing confectionery since 2013, and along the way, founders Manav and Rimi Thapar have rejected offers on Dragons Den, developed multiple innovative products and sold millions of units in both mainstream and independent retail, gaining a loyal following from non-vegans, vegans and “nonvegan vegans” as coined by the entrepreneur couple.
“We welcome major brands joining us, it validates what we are doing”
After the phenomenal success of the Ferrero Rocher-style “Nutty Chocolate Balls” which launched this June and sold a quarter of a million in just three weeks, LoveRaw today launched the Caramelised Biscuit Cre&m Wafer just six weeks later. Is there no stopping this vegan power couple? It was time to catch up with Rimi and Manav again to find out.
What have been LoveRaw’s biggest developments since our last interview in 2020?
So much has changed and developed since our last interview in 2020! We rebranded, and LoveRaw as you know and see it today was born with our stand-out iconic packaging – and miniature versions of ourselves – across our products.
Our game-changing M:lk Choc Cre&m Wafer Bar launched to much acclaim in September 2020, changing the future of LoveRaw forever. By 2021, this epic product launched into 380 ASDA stores nationwide. To build on the success of the M:lk Choc Cream Wafer Bar, not long after we launched the bars in two new flavours, White Choc and Salted Caramel.
In January 2022, we revamped our M:lk Choc Bar range, in caramel, orange and smooth choc, and February saw our Peanut Butter Cup range reformulated and refined to M:lk and White Chocolate flavours. January 2022 also saw our first ever brand awareness campaign, where we caught up with heritage chocolate heroes like the cowboy kid and the drum-playing gorilla, to find out where they are now, and introduce the chocolate of today, plant-based LoveRaw – giving two fingers to Big Choc!
We have launched two further flavours of our hero Cre&m Wafer Bars: white choc and salted caramel. And, hot off the press, we’ve just added the Caramelised Biscuit Cre&m Wafer to the line-up. We’ve also reformulated our Buttercups & Milk Choc Bars; we set the bar high with the wafer bars, so we have brought the rest of the range to the same level. And you’ll probably have seen that we most recently launched our Nutty Choc Balls which have changed the game, they are so good!
We have scaled and grown as a company. As the fastest growing plant-based chocolate brand, we have tripled the size of the team and landed some very exciting listings: Asda, Holland & Barrett, Waitrose and BP, to name a few.
Could you explain your retail strategy?
Plant-based chocolate is not a fad. In the UK, recent data from YouGov suggests the size of the vegan population is around 2-3%, and vegetarian 5-6% so we’re looking at a potential target audience of 6.5m at least, the opportunity is huge! All retail channels are seeing demand, so LoveRaw has a role to play in all channels, from grocery to convenience stores to coffee shops.
At LoveRaw, our finance and sales team work together closely and have a clear strategy for each channel so that we’re ready to adapt and move with the market.
More and more major confectionery brands are entering the plant-based market, is this a threat or an opportunity for LoveRaw?
We welcome major brands joining us, it validates what we are doing. They will bring more people to the category, so that is only a good thing for us. It proves that plant-based isn’t a trend and is here to stay, and it shows there’s a growing consumer demand for plant-based confectionary. It also gives an opportunity for challenger brands to be part of a larger category and, crucially, gives the consumer more choice.
However, the performance of some major chocolate brands that have tried – and failed – to move their way into the plant-based market, speaks volumes about what works. We would never venture into the dairy chocolate market just to gain market share. We make plant-based chocolate. That is our identity.
“We make plant-based chocolate. That is our identity.”
We believe in our strong brand identity, we stand head and shoulders above our competitors. We know who we are and where we are aiming to go. Investing in marketing and being in the right place at the right time is important to us and this is something we prioritise to keep ahead of new entrants to the plant-based chocolate market.
And, of course, we don’t fear a challenge! We see new brands entering the space as an opportunity, and a way to keep upping our game and staying ahead of the curve.
You recently launched your new “Ferrero Rocher style” Nutty Choc Balls, how do you decide which products to develop?
We have built a great community on our social channels, and love to engage and find out which products our followers would like to see ‘veganised’ next – that’s what inspired our latest round of NPD and it’s gone down a real treat.
We also like to keep up with the latest consumer trends, and seasonal hooks – this is something we’re bringing into the NPD pipeline over the next year or two with limited-edition products to keep momentum up.
“First and foremost, it has to taste amazing – we have very high standards”
In the background, we work on a multitude of products, but only the very best make it to the market. First and foremost, it has to taste amazing – we have very high standards. Secondly, we are always innovative in our approach. The Nutty Choc Balls are exceptional.
What about the wider plant-based market? What excites you most about it?
In terms of the wider market, we’re excited to see where the vegan cheese market will go next. Vegan alternatives to traditional cheeses are performing well, and we do think there’ll be a lot more to come over the next 12 months. There have been certain categories that have been disrupted, such as plant-based milks. We want to disrupt the plant-based confectionery in the same way, proving that plant-based confectionery can taste just as good as dairy – with no compromise.
“We want to disrupt the plant-based confectionery … proving that plant-based confectionery can taste just as good as dairy – with no compromise.”
As consumers are thinking more about the impact of their choices on the environment, the plant-based market is just going to keep growing. With initiatives like ‘Meat-free Mondays’ becoming popular with flexitarians, people are becoming increasingly aware of their diet throughout the week too. That’s where products like plant-based chocolate and snacks will come into play more, and we’re there ready to deliver delicious choc that doesn’t compromise on taste, like some vegan choc can.
You recently hosted your first influencer event, what was it about?
LoveRaw’s first influencer event was to celebrate the launch of our latest tier one campaign, the Nutty Choc Balls, at Feel Good Club in Manchester. We were joined by 20 influencers from across the country with a combined reach of more than 1 million, along with our friends at Beau’s Gelato, who served up some delicious plant-based ice cream.
I (Rimi) spoke about LoveRaw’s journey and how Manav and I started with £600 and a food processor to now offering delicious, heritage plant-based choc alternatives today, with no compromise on taste.
“We’ve reached +47% growth in the last 12 weeks alone, which is a huge milestone and there are no plans to slow down.”
Our “Nutty Choc Ball” launch night was about creating a buzz around our brand new product and, more importantly, building a community. We have a fantastic loyal following of around 105k on social media and we have so much playful banter on the channels, however, meeting in real life brings a different dynamic. Given all the restrictions of COVID, a real-life influencer event was long overdue!
Can you reveal the next big steps for LoveRaw?
We’ve always aimed high, and that’s exactly what we’ll do over the course of the next year. We’ve reached +47% growth in the last 12 weeks alone, which is a huge milestone and there are no plans to slow down.