This article is part of our Future of Business series, where we look at how businesses can positively impact the planet and its people, whilst turning over sustainable profit.
Square Root is an award-winning craft soda company which takes fruit to bottle at a small production space in East London, tackling food waste in the process. We find out 5 ways startups can future-proof their offering by looking into this innovative foodie brand.
Taking on the likes of Coca Cola, PepsiCo and the other behemoths in the soda market is a huge challenge - one which many founders will back away from, choosing a different part of the market to tackle. Not these guys, though.
How does Square Root do it? When asked, founders Robyn Simms and Ed Taylor shared with us their story. “We started Square Root in our kitchen back in 2012. In our brewery day jobs, we realised there was no one bringing the same energy and commitment to quality in fizzy pop as they were with beer, so we wanted a piece of the action and decided to corner the craft drinks market.”
A small, independent company with plans to become the market-leading craft soft drinks brand in the UK, they have lofty ambitions. So, what can the team teach other founders about using your size as a small startup to your advantage?
1) Be a small part of a solution to a global challenge
Businesses can do good - and we’ve learnt over recent months that designing your startup so it can help creative positive change is achievable, even for new ventures. Consumers are ever-conscious of the impact their purchases are having on environmental and social issues, and they’re moving away from buying into brands that don’t have a greater than money-making purpose.
To stand out from the crowd in a competitive industry, having a purpose-led brand can help customers notice you, especially in comparison to the big players. For Square Root soda, their purpose is tackling food waste by using fruity ingredients, and producing seasonal flavours to keep the ingredients locally sourced. It’s a clear and tasty value proposition which customers love.
The team says, “We control the whole production process, which means we can guarantee every bottle of Square Root soda only ever contains carefully selected ingredients and no added nasties - and we also are able to work with farmers directly to source the ingredients.
“This means working direct allows us to source retail rejects to make our fizzy pop in a way that’s good for everyone, reducing food waste in the process.”
2) Variety is the spice of life
Switching up your product ranges is essential to staying relevant and fresh in a saturated industry. However, don’t just release new products without a considered cause. You need to balance keeping things interesting whilst being aware that customers are trying to reduce their overall consumption rates.
The third most prominent lifestyle change consumers have made in the pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle is by reducing the amount of new products and goods bought. For Square Root, this means making soda seasonally. It provides that essential variety but doesn’t compromise on their purpose.
The team says, “The locality is a significant factor for our sourcing, so keeping seasonal allows us to source the majority of our fruit from British farms and keep those air miles low.
“Working seasonally is also a great way to keep customers engaged in our brand, because we can reflect people’s change in tastes as the seasons change. Ever found yourself craving darker and richer flavours in winter and lighter, refreshing tastes when the sun is out?”
3) Invest in your brand and your customers will, too
Designing a brand which customers can connect to is something that smaller, purpose-led startups can do more authentically than big businesses.
In order to future-proof the Square Root brand, this foodie startup has a merchandise collection where loyal customers can buy into the Square Root lifestyle. The company also offers the chance to pick and mix your drinks cases - something that’s traditionally against the business model for food and drink companies. The ability to personalise a customer’s experience with a brand creates a deeper connection between customer and startup.
The Square Root team says, “The indie food & drink scene has a great community of supporters, and gaining brand recognition is an essential part of succeeding in this space. Merch is a great way to solidify your brand.
“It was also vital to me personally to look into our merch's supply chain and ensure we weren't just pumping out some questionably made t-shirts that would end up in landfill. That's why everything is produced using organic cotton sourced from Fairwear Foundation accredited factories and screen printed in the UK.”
4) Listen to your customers, and watch out for changing behaviours
Having a product market is great, but be sensitive to how it can develop with changing tastes.
For Square Root, the startup has a dedicated collection online for Dry January, offering non-alcoholic options, cementing the startup’s position in both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic sub-sectors of the craft drinks market.
The team says, “At Square Root, we place a great deal of emphasis on the non-alcoholic side of things. We want to make drinks which taste great on their own, and then it's down to the consumer to choose what to do with them - to me, that feels like the most inclusive way to make a product. It also means we can cater to a vast part of the market and connect with different audiences.”
5) Look to the crowd to scale
Square Root are looking at crowdfunding to take their business to the next level. For startups in many industries, crowdfunding is a great way to future-proof your business. Equity crowdfunding offers an opportunity for your loyal audience to invest in your startup, helping grow an engaged tribe of customers-come-investors, whilst delivering a vital injection of funds.
By selling shares in your startup to those who truly believe in its success, you have a greater chance of sustaining support for your business long-term, and by taking your customers on your journey with you, you’ll have brand ambassadors to help spread the word about your mission.
The Square Root team see crowdfunding as valuable for small businesses. “We've always seen crowdfunding as a great way to engage with our current fans and reach new ones; that's why we took part in VSU's Crowdboost in 2018.
“For us, it feels like a great time to launch a campaign - we're about to launch in 70 Sainsbury's stores as well as a new export market, Norway, and this year we plan to expand our product range with cans giving us scope to list Square Root in more places.”
If you’re looking to learn how to scale your startup, apply for our popular StepUp accelerator. Over the course of 4 days, you’ll learn how to take the next steps with your business - and it’s free to take part.