Made in Britain: Sports nutrition brand ‘Protein Rebel’
Tim Boote of sports nutrition company, Protein Rebel, talks to us about his business and why he’s looking to challenge the big, whey-based protein brands
Tell us about yourself and your business…
I’m Tim Boote and I’m the co-founder of a Crewe-based sports nutrition brand Protein Rebel (together with my wife), which is focused on clean ingredients and sustainability. Our products provide alternatives to protein supplements that use lab-made and unsustainable ingredients, and bloat-inducing whey. What’s completely different is that in addition to plants, we use powdered crickets in our products.
We launched in August 2020 with three 100% natural protein powders aimed at endurance athletes (runners, cyclists etc) and active lifestylers. Our powders come in two flavours (dark chocolate and banana) and you can mix them with water, plant milk/milk to create a high protein shake. They can also be blended into smoothies and used in baking.
I have a background in interim marketing for food and drinks brands, and first conceived the idea of sustainable and 100% natural protein powders back in April 2019. It took 18 months from development until launch, which also included appearing on the BBC’s ‘The Customer is Always’ Right’ with a prototype of our plant and cricket-based powder, Reload.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Ten years ago, I first ate insects while volunteering at a Zambian national park and found them delicious. I was quickly sold on the idea of eating insects but didn’t realise their nutritional properties until a few years’ later when I discovered that insects, and particularly crickets, are nutritionally excellent and highly sustainable. They contain twice the protein of beef, five times’ the iron of spinach and four times’ the antioxidant capacity of orange juice. They’re also packed full of fibre, vitamins and minerals and use far less resource than traditional animal and dairy proteins.
In fact, crickets and other insects have a very low impact on the planet as they need less of everything – land, water and feed, and produce only 1 gram of carbon for every kilo of farmed crickets. Cows on the other hand produce up to 3000 grams for every kilo of farmed beef. As I’m concerned about climate change and the impending food crisis, I came to see insects as a solution to this.
In conjunction with this, I was getting fitter with running and cycling and my wife, Liz, was looking to get healthier. We looked to protein powders to help with this. What we found was that most were full of ingredients we couldn’t pronounce, whey-based protein shakes didn’t agree with our stomach and the sports nutrition industry as a whole was far from sustainable, from the ingredients through to the packaging. We decided it was time to shake things up a bit!
What is the size and scale of your business?
We’re only 8 months’ old so are still a micro-business. I work full-time on Protein Rebel, Liz works on it part-time, and we also have an intern, Jade, who has just joined us. Her experience is in social media, SEO and copywriting. We use partners for whatever we haven’t got time to do ourselves.
The protein market is fiercely competitive – how have you found running a business in this industry?
It’s a very competitive industry but thankfully for us, there are a lot of businesses and products that are similar. Eighty per cent of the protein supplements market comprises whey-based products which are far from sustainable and can have unpleasant side effects. This means that we’ve managed to carve-out a niche for ourselves, and our products have already picked up industry awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Award for most sustainable product (Reload) and Men’s Fitness Magazine’s Recommended Protein Powder (Recover).
The great thing about the protein market is that it’s still growing and it’s exciting to be part of an industry that is experiencing continued growth and innovation. What is challenging, however, is that some of the large whey-based protein brands have a huge influence and can be really competitive on price, making it harder for start-ups to compete.
What products/services do you offer?
We currently provide three types of all-natural protein powders:
Reload, containing plants and powdered crickets, is high protein with prebiotic fibre, vitamins, minerals and no added sugar. It’s great for after short exercise and strength training as it helps to rebuild muscle fibres to aid recovery. The use of powdered crickets makes Reload completely different to anything else on the market.
Recover is our vegan high protein and high carbohydrate protein powder, making it ideal for after endurance exercise as it helps to refuel glycogen stores as well as rebuild muscle fibres. Recover has no added sugar and the combination of plants makes it gentle on the stomach.
Replace is perfect for weight management and as a snack replacement by delivering time saving, healthy and filling nutrition. Vegan, high protein and high fibre with vitamins, minerals and no added sugar, it’s a great all-round protein powder for use anytime.
In your opinion, why is sustainability becoming increasingly important to consumers?
Climate change is no longer associated with ice caps melting. People can see the impacts of on the doorstep with more extreme weather and lost habitats. Combined with the growing coverage about carbon emissions and the impact of plastics, more than ever consumers are aware that their actions have an environmental impact and are looking to make more sustainable choices.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
The pandemic and lockdown have presented huge challenges. Launching a business during a pandemic while home schooling two children, chasing after a 1-year-old and Liz was still working for her PR clients was challenging to say the least. Most of the time since launching, sports events haven’t been happening and stores and gyms have been closed so that’s not been ideal.
What’s the best decision you’ve made so far?
Deciding to still launch Protein Rebel despite the pandemic. It would have been so easy to hold off, waiting for the perfect time. However, it’s only once you launch a business do you really start learning about your target market and their needs, so waiting can often do more harm than good.
Plenty! Usually starting with “Why didn’t we think of this before?” but it’s been an incredible learning curve. We started out thinking that our target audience would be gym go-ers but we’ve learnt that it’s actually runners, cyclists and people who spend time outdoors. They have a greater connection with the environment and are often looking for clean ingredients. I wish we’d figured this out sooner!
What is one thing that would make running your business a lot easier?
More hours in the day and more money but isn’t that everyone’s wish?! We’re actively seeking investment and have some really innovative ideas of what we could do with the money.
What are your hopes for the business?
We want to become the leading sports nutrition company for those wanting clean and sustainable protein products. We’ve won a European grant to develop another cricket-based product and we have other flavours and products in the pipeline so it’s an exciting time!