Oatein is a British brand with a big dream to bring delicious oaty, high-protein goodness to health-minded individuals.
Founded in late 2015 by John-Paul Gardner and Andy Dixon, Oatein has grown from a small healthy snack business to a global brand found around the world in over 55 countries. The company is currently based in the seaside town of Whitley Bay where they first started, a few miles north of the Tyne Estuary where the River Tyne meets the North Sea.
We sat down with Oatein co-founder Andy Dixon to go behind the brand and discover how the company started, explore their unique journey and find out which direction they’re heading in.
PUNCHING FOR SUCCESS
Andy and John-Paul first touched gloves in the boxing ring before shaking hands on business deals. As their friendship developed, they began working together on Bad Boy, a Californian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) outfitter specialising in supplying quality MMA equipment and clothing. Holding the official European licence, the pair helped Bad Boy internationalise this side of the pond and become a key player in the UK market.
Back in 2015, the high protein snack industry was in a completely different place. The only products available were chewy protein bars that weren’t too appetising and nobody was including oats in recipes to add an element of long-lasting energy, dietary fibre and minerals. Unsatisfied with the current market offerings, Andy and John-Paul knew together they could do something much better.
After calling around some factories in the UK about producing some high protein flapjacks, they settled on one in Wales, shared their ideas and received the first-ever protein flapjack samples.
Blown away with how good they tasted and how healthy they were, the entrepreneurs switched focus and began trying to build a brand around protein oat snacks. Their first task was brainstorming a hit list of the UK’s favourite desserts they believed consumers would love to enjoy guilt-free. The list included Cherry Bakewell and Cookies and Cream, of which, both are still prominent in the 2021 range.
Selecting the company name was taking a little longer than expected but great ideas often come at the strangest of times. Sat waiting at a bus stop to collect a friend on a cold, rainy day in North Tyneside, the name for their brand suddenly hit Andy… Oatein. It was perfect! Highlighting the two key components of their range in one short and snappy name. He immediately got on the phone to John-Paul and within a few days, they were in the process of registering their first brand trademark.
After various legal and registration fees, the trademark costs quickly tallied up to £35,000 (a huge investment at the time for a business just launching) but they felt it was worth protecting the Oatein name – an ideal fit for their products and long-term vision.
Most brands start selling direct to consumers before building strong business-to-business (B2B) relationships, alternatively, Oatein focused on growing their B2B connections early by visiting trade shows around the world. In 2016 alone, the Geordie pair attended nine shows including BodyPower at Birmingham’s NEC and Dubai’s internationally renowned Muscle Show.
Exhibitions are known for being expensive, you’ve got to pay for the placement, have a cool stand made and even provide lucrative offers to create a buzz. Andy explained that due to hard work and lengthy planning processes before shows, Oatein managed to make every trade show profitable from the high volume of consumer sales and the long-term business partners they struck deals with.
INTO THE DEN
It’s not often you get an outreach email from the BBC’s Dragon’s Den investment show so you can’t blame Andy and Paul for thinking someone might be playing a prank on them. After double-checking it wasn’t April 1st, it hit them that they’d genuinely been invited to the show’s auditions in Manchester.
Naturally, the thought of waiting inside the famous lift and coming face to face with several serial entrepreneurs was “very daunting at first”. Andy told us he and John-Paul got their “numbers and statistics down to a tee and had answers to every question they could ask”, to this day, they believe this intense preparation gave them a real sense of confidence going into the Den and made it an experience they could relish.
There aren’t any second takes and what most viewers don’t see is that you’re involved in the whole process for around two weeks with each business getting an intense two-hour grilling that’s trimmed down to just 15-minutes when aired live on TV.
Following three lucrative offers, they shook hands with Peter Jones on a £50,000 investment in exchange for 25% per cent of their business and a future 5% optional buyback. Peter’s “passion shone through when eating the bars” making their selection a little easier with Peter already being their preference before starting their pitch. You can watch the full clip that aired on the BBC below.
GRAFTING AND GROWTH
Instantly after featuring on the show, they noticed unprecedented spikes in online demand, enquiries from countries they hadn’t reached yet and endless messages of support.
From just two mixed pallets in 2015 to over 15 pallets per day in 2021, their growth has been phenomenal – especially within such a fierce market. Oatein puts this rapid growth down to having a close-knit team of great people, being transparent with consumers, knowing competitors and belief in their products.
A surprise to us was how much sales into the Middle East have become a major part of overall trade with the huge appeal UK health products have in the region. All Oatein ranges now have Arabic translations on the packaging and the Union Jack has prime positioning to signify quality, trustworthiness and innovation.
Two snippets of advice Andy would personally give to young entrepreneurs would be to “keep on grafting” and “remember where you’ve come from”. People might think that being so successful would allow the pair to put their feet up in certain areas but this is far from reality. John-Paul and Andy to this day still get stuck in helping with unpacking deliveries, boxing up orders for shipment and getting their hands dirty.
Looking back at their journey from the boxing ring, the biggest adjustment they’d consider doing differently now would be to not rush the production of their cookies. Opting to use an external factory instead of holding fire until their personal factory scaled was a mistake in hindsight. Oatein realised they needed to set up their cookie-game to become competitive and improve the quality so they would be in line with the Hype Bars, Flapjacks and Millionaire Crunch Bars.
Four reformulated cookies launched in late 2020 and they’ve all proven to be a massive hit with recent review ratings reflecting the big quality increases.
Still independently owned, producing vegan products so everyone can enjoy the great taste and macronutrients of Oatein is becoming a customary requirement. Three of the four bestselling ranges now have a vegan option, all of these products are certified by the Vegan Society to ensure they meet the strict and transparent criteria. The recently launched Succeed supplement range has also introduced pre-workouts, creatine, protein powder and BCAAs to their ever-expanding family.
The brilliant team has plenty of more exciting releases coming soon including the all-new Peanutty Caramel Protein Hype Bar that’s replacing the Hazelnutty flavour and the Oatein Brownies have made a legendary comeback after some time away from the spotlight coming in a White Chocolate and Vegan Double Chocolate option.
Andy and John-Paul place the utmost importance on staying ahead of the curve whilst being true to their roots. We can’t wait to see what the innovative British brand comes up with as they continue to grow on the worldwide stage.